I recall as a young boy I would be fascinated by many things. I remember being fascinated by how a wrist watch worked, before the times when watches had batteries, and my way to investigate this was to take my recently received Christmas present apart to find out. I was amazed at the intricacy of the mechanism I discovered and I probed deeper to try to increase my understanding.
After my experiments the watch never told the time again but I found that by removing a small part the hands would whirl round at high speed, which caused much amusement when I showed my friends. While this may not be groundbreaking science, for a nine year old it was inquiry based learning after which I more or less understood how a watch worked and I had found out for myself. The fact that I can remember this many years on, shows how effective that learning was. This was learning born from fascination. In education there is the temptation to lead students through a curriculum that will result in them gaining useful skills and knowledge which will eventually be valued by an employer. While there is certainly some merit in this idea it shouldn’t be the full story. Learning for the sake of learning should also be the aim of an educational system and a goal for students. Learning something which is useless yet fascinating has a place in education. Many developments in science and technology have occurred because scientists followed their fascination for a particular area of research. The drive to know more has produced many spin-offs. The material to be used in the next generation of computer and smartphone screens, for example, was invented as a result of a scientist who was just interested in the material, without any concept about its future use. There are many examples of this kind of accidental discovery through fascination. Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, in his annual speech to the University’s Congress, defended this idea that learning for learning’s sake needs to remain at the centre of the University’s philosophy. This goes back to a long standing arguments about the difference between education and training. For me, education is about developing students’ fascination to ‘find out’ something new where training is about telling them how to do something which has been done before. Finding out about something that appears to have no practical value today may well turn out to be essential tomorrow. So it is our challenge as educators and parents to give our children the right kind of stimulus, instill the confidence to explore and provide the supported environment where they are encouraged to develop their natural fascination for the world around them.