ITEP C103K: Module 4 – Encouraging Inquiry

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Assalamualaikum WBT. Alhamdulillah, Solatan wa salaman ‘ala Rasulillah. Amma ba’du.

Sheikh Ramzy Ajem described the topic excellently and I benefited a lot from it. The extended explanation and tadabbur on the verse (فاعلم أنّه لا إله إلا الله) is very important that Allah declares even the highest degree of  recognition the truth (there is no God but Allah) is still by seeking knowledge.

It reminds me on the explanation given by Ibn ‘Abbas r.a. regarding the origin of Shirk, back in the time of Prophet Nuh ‘alayhi al-Salam. On commenting verse 22 chapter Nuh, Ibn ‘Abbas r.a. said:

هذه أسماء رجال صالحين من قوم نوح، فلما هلكوا أوحى الشيطان إلى قومهم: أن أنصبوا إلى مجالسهم التي كانوا يجلسون أنصاباً وسموها بأسمائهم، ففعلوا، فلم تعبد، حتى إذا هلك أولئك ونسخ العلم عبدت

“They (for those whom the idols were named) were the names of righteous men among Nuh’s AS people. Then when they died, Shaytan inspired their people to set up images at the places where they used to sit and call them by their names. So they did this, but they were not worshipped until when those who made them had died and the knowledge of the origin of the statues was altered, they were worshipped. (al-Bukhari 4920)”

When faith is no longer based on knowledge and understanding, what happened to the people of Nuh a.s. and the famous Ashram Cat, will continue to damage the foundation of our ummah.

I strongly agree that the totalitarian approach in Islamic Schools is a form of Jahiliyyah, against all the examples we learn from the traditions of the Prophet as listed in our handbook. Some even misuse verse 101 chapter 5 (al-Māidah) in a wrong context:

“O ye who believe! Ask not of things which, if they were made unto you, would trouble you”

But yes, as Sheikh Ramzy Ajem said, we also need to guide our students how to ask. The Prophet PBUH was not only encouraging the companions to ask questions, but sometimes he also corrected the questions asked or directed it to a more relevant topic. Once a Bedouin asked the Prophet, peace be upon him, “When is the hour?” [the Day of Judgment]. The Prophet said, “What have you prepared for that final hour?” The Bedouin said, “I haven’t prepared a lot of salah and I haven’t prepared a lot of zakah but I am preparing one thing – my love for Allah and His messenger.” The Prophet (pbuh) said, “You will be with who you love.”

But culturally, our students are mainly shy away from asking questions. The effort here is double or triple than what I experienced when teaching in Ireland many years ago. Students here need a huge paradigm shifting in order to raise their hands or move forward to ask questions.

QUESTION: What do you currently do in your classrooms to enact this principle. There is great learning through sharing of ideas so please try to post your thoughts, activities and approaches.

First, we need to understand why students do not ask questions. There is a huge influence of cultural background that causes the students to remain silence. The reason is different from one community to other. As for the Japanese, many believe that it was a sign of strength to solve your problems yourself and not to impose them on others. [Tateishi, Carol A. “Taking a chance with words.” Rethinking Schools 22, no. 2 (2007): 20-23.]

As for Malaysian students like in our country, Peen, Tan Yin, and Mohammad Yusof Arshad suggested that problem-based learning (PBL) proves to be able to promote teacher and student questioning in Malaysian classroom context during sharing phase, and students are able to adapt to this new learning approach. However, the ratio of high order questions to low order questions is still low. Teachers need to develop better facilitating and questioning skills. One of the methods is by extending basic low order questions with the ‘why’, ‘how’, and ‘what if’ reflective questions. For example, “why do you say so?”, “why is it so?”, “how do you do that?”, “how does it happen?”, “what if that’s not …?”, “how about other options…?”, etc. These types of questions stimulate students to think critically and creatively. Teachers should continuously reflect on their own questioning practice and make enhancement. [Peen, Tan Yin, and Mohammad Yusof Arshad. “Teacher and Student Questions: A Case Study in Malaysian Secondary School Problem-Based Learning.” Asian Social Science 10, no. 4 (2014): p174.]

In our school, we see improvements after shifting the instruction from teacher centered classroom into the current learner centered progressivistic classroom. Students involve in three different types of learning:

  • Active learning – games, quiz, group discussions etc.
  • Inquiry learning – instead of answering students questions directly, teachers encourage students to explore more to a broader spectrum of the subject. For instance when a student found on his calculator that 0 / 0 = error and asked the teacher why, the teacher directed the students to ask history teacher about the history of zero from al-Khawarizmi’s time, and how zero entered modern mathematics. The student also met Usul al-Deen teacher and tried to understand error in illogical questions such as can Allah creates another Allah, to understand why 0/0 is error.
  • Contextual learning – we bring students outside classrooms and encourage them to relate what they discussed in the classroom to the real world. When learning about prayer while sitting because of sickness, students came out with a project to design a pamphlet which can be distributed in hospitals. In history, students are sent away to investigate topics assigned involving interview, visiting relevant institutions, transcribing interview, processing data and presenting their finding before the assembly.

We explore many aspects of non conventional learning, with one specific reason, we want to promote that knowing is fun, our students are no longer act as receivers of knowledge but builders of their own knowledge with teacher as facilitator, not as provider.

In parenting course, we also encourage parents to discuss about the learning process at school with their kids. We provide them some tips on how to engage with teenage children beginning with understanding what happened at school.

May Allah ease the process, ameen.