Prof. Springman visiting Singapore and the ETH Alumni Chapter Singapore
07.04.2017 | Alumni Chapter Singapore
Von: Katja Fink
A full house awaited Prof. Sarah Springman on her recent visit to Singapore for a panel discussion about “Critical Thinking in a Changing World”. The Swiss Embassy, together with ETH Global and the ETH alumni chapter in Singapore had organized the event that was also attended by other Swiss alumni organizations and members of the Swiss Business Association.
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The UBS Business University, a colonial-style building that was used as Command House by the British, provided a fantastic venue and the late arrival of Prof. Springman from a delayed flight therefore went almost unnoticed.
In her speech Prof. Springman informed about the The Critical Thinking Initiative at ETH and stressed the importance of nurturing a culture of critical thinking as part of a comprehensive “Ausbildung”.
A culture of empowerment is one of the core values of the initiative. Committees representing individual groups of a university such as students, lecturers etc, are given a voice and have a direct say in the governance of ETH. Prof. Springman also highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary and intercultural collaboration to prepare students to deal with questions on ethics, sustainability or the common good. ETH is well aware that education as a way of society building should go beyond technical knowledge transfer.
The panelists for the ensuing panel discussion were, besides Prof. Springman, Prof. Beatrice Weder di Mauro from the University of Mainz and currently at INSEAD in Singapore, and Prof. Jasmine Sim from the National Institute of Education (NIE) in Singapore. The panel was moderated by Katja Fink from the ETH Alumni Chapter Singapore. Prof. Weder di Mauro started the discussion with a presentation on critical thinking in the context of politics and economy. She highlighted the example of Brexit where a false fact, namely the amount of money that the UK paid to the EU, was publicised stubbornly and abundantly. The amount of pounds purportedly spent became engrained in the brains of people by the simple act of repetition, ironically also by those people who intended to set the facts aright.
Later in the discussion the panel moderator asked whether society has become less critical given the apparent ignorance of fake news that spread via social media. The panelists agreed that this was a worrying trend that has emerged and has become apparent only relatively recently, but that it was not necessarily a matter of critical thinking or its absence. The way particularly young people read and absorb news today has changed, contributing to this trend. Prof. Sim mentioned that when asked what they read, her students often reply with “facebook”. Addressing the seeming “ignorance” towards fake news might need another change in the education system, going beyond critical thinking and including societal and ethical values.
When to start Critical Thinking?
Someone from the audience later asked whether critical thinking would not have to be taught earlier than in the university. Christoph Hoelscher from ETH responded that indeed, critical thinking should start even before primary school, hence parents have a role to play as well.
Critical thinking is also an important aspect of the curriculum at NIE, Prof. Sim pointed out, even though Singaporean students might in general be less used to question or “hinterfragen” compared to their Western peers. Prof. Sim told the audience that an important competency she wanted her students to develop was empathy. True to this, one should consider that social harmony in a multicultural population living on a very small area of land is unique to Singapore.