chapter  9
Creating autonomous learners in small classes: The critical importance of motivation and wellbeing
Pages 17

Within many countries, particularly those of East Asia, the millennium has seen a determination by governments to bring about substantial changes in education, in recognition that the twenty-first century would require a smarter, more flexible and creative workforce if current levels of economic development were to be sustained or even bettered. In Singapore, according to Gopinathan (2010, p. 130) this shift in emphasis, initiated by the then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, marked a transition from an ‘efficiency driven to an ability driven’ education system which could develop ‘knowledge workers who are better able to cope intelligently with the complexities of the new century’. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s (2004) speech led to the call for the profession ‘to teach less so students could learn more’ (Singapore Ministry of Education, 2009). In Hong Kong the emphasis was placed on learning how to learn (Hong Kong Curriculum Development Council, 2001). It was argued that technological advances had reduced the need to commit large chunks of information to memory since it could be readily obtained by using one of the major search engines. What was now of crucial importance was the ability to locate the source of the required knowledge and to apply it in rarely encountered or novel situations. In mainland China, the Ministry of Education issued their document on basic education curriculum reform in 2001, in which a key objective was to pay ‘attention to learning processes and approaches, encouraging development of active, interdependent learning strategies’ (Zhou and Zhu, 2007, p. 24). The principal purpose, according to Liu and Fang (2009) was to shift the emphasis from teacher-centred pedagogy to student autonomy. The new approach required students to learn through cooperation with others so that eventually they could conduct similar conversations with themselves through engaging in what Brophy (2004) called ‘thoughtful discourse’. Brown (1997) makes a similar point by pointing out that learning becomes autonomous when a person is able to rehearse both sides of the argument for themselves when deciding on a particular course of action. She characterised such cognitive activity as similar to that of the ‘lone scientist’.