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The training of the critical mind

22 January 2013

Prof Tan shared insights on the future of education

Are our students, our graduates and our institution ready for the future? How do we shape education for the future given the increasing commoditisation of information, the complexity of issues and the rising prominence of Asia? These were some questions raised by NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan at the first 2013 U@live forum on 21 January.

The central focus of our education should be on the "training of the critical mind", stressed Prof Tan. He said that the critical mind must do a number of things: sense-making, or the capacity to figure out masses of data and come up with better solutions; the ability to "zoom-out" to find connections between disciplines and "zoom-in" to analyse issues of great complexity; as well as the imagination to think of different outcomes and possibilities for the future.

In addition, students need to own values and interpersonal qualities to succeed and bring value to the society. This will involve teachers and professors acting as "guideposts", a mindset that is less focused on grades, and rethinking critical inquiry in the Asian context.

Some students already possessed critical minds, essentially honing their rigour and contextual understanding at the University. Others such as Prof Tan, who came from sheltered backgrounds, were introduced to new modes of learning and new stimuli. This allowed for the charting of a directory which goes beyond the University.

Prof Tan shared that it was at the University that he became exposed to a much wider range of opportunities, especially during his stay at a hall of residence. Even though he studied medicine, he broadened his interests to embrace diverse activities ranging from arts, travel and culture to sports.

He went on to hold key leadership roles, including his current appointments as the Chairman of the Board of the National University Health System; Deputy Chairman of Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research; Senior Advisor to the Governing Board of Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School; and a member on the Monetary Authority of Singapore's Board of Directors.

Dispelling the view that Confucianism and rote learning hinder critical thinking, Prof Tan felt instead that such a learning approach helps build discipline of the mind, gearing students to become creative and critical thinkers.

Concluding the forum, he fielded questions that touched on student and teacher interaction, university rankings, and the importance of a moral foundation when nurturing critical minds.

Initiated by the NUS Alumni Advisory Board, U@live is spearheaded by NUS alumni and the Office of Alumni Relations. The forum featuring prominent alumni speakers is webcast live to the student population on campus.