For decades, the top-down approach to teaching and learning has been the accepted norm in many schools across Southeast Asia. The teacher is regarded as the bearer of information, the source of knowledge, and the undisputed authority in the sphere of education. Students, on the other hand, are expected to master content by paying attention, following directions, and absorbing and retaining information imparted by the teacher. To a large extent, this pedagogical approach has thrived in Southeast Asia because of its compatibility with the Asian culture of respect for hierarchy.
Educators, education scholars and cognitive scientists, however, note that this traditional teacher-oriented approach to learning has become less effective in the face of today’s vastly transformed environment. Twenty-first century society is fast-paced, globally interconnected, and technology-driven, especially at the wake of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that ushers in more complex interconnection of technology, society, and even the human bodies. For individuals to successfully integrate in 21st-century life, they must be able to think critically and creatively, solve problems, communicate ideas, and collaborate with others. They must be flexible, adaptable, curious and eager to learn, culturally literate, and socially aware. Inquiry-based teaching and learning (IBTL) has been proposed as an alternative path for cultivating many, if not all, of these 21st-century skills.
IBTL is a pedagogical approach in which students construct knowledge by pursuing answers to questions which are often open-ended or by working out problems. They are encouraged to explore, investigate, analyze and ask more questions. The role of the teacher is to facilitate or guide the students’ activities and discussions, prompt them to extend or deepen their thinking, direct them to relevant resources, and create a supportive learning environment. While the outcome of the inquiry is important, IBTL places as much value on the process of inquiry. It is through the inquiry process that students hone critical thinking or the ability to organize, evaluate, connect and synthesize data and information; exercise their creativity and imagination; and develop their ability to identify and assess various options to tackle the problem and take necessary action.
Against this backdrop, the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Center for Educational Innovation and Technology (SEAMEO INNOTECH) embarked on a descriptive research project on “Nurturing Critical and Creative Thinkers through Inquiry-based Teaching and Learning in Early Childhood Care and Education” aimed at documenting various inquiry-based teaching and learning practices in selected learning institutions (i.e., schools and community learning centers) in selected countries in Southeast Asia.