Reading crucial to develop critical thinking: sociologist

“This generation doesn’t read enough they need to turn the pages of a book.”

That was the comment by University of KwaZulu-Natal clinical sociologist Dr Mariam Seedat-Khan, about learning skills and how to address challenges facing the education system.

Seedat-Khan has recently been accredited by the Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology (AACS), making her one of only 25 certified clinical sociologists in the world and one of three women in South Africa.

She said she felt honoured at this recognition by the Certification Review Committee at the International Sociological Association World Congress in Canada with regard to her research into developing teaching and learning interventions, which have resulted in a management tool which provides learning tools and techniques for individuals.

Having completed her undergraduate degree at York University in Canada, Seedat-Khan returned to Durban where she completed her PhD.

Since then, she has spent 20 years in teaching and research at the universities of KZN, Johannesburg and Wits.

‘“I had ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) as a child, but there was no such thing as ADHD then and it was only when I was at university in Canada I discovered this is what I had experienced during my entire school career.

“There was medical intervention for this, but I wanted to improve concentration and learning styles, so I developed tools for the differently abled learner,” she said.

Having focused on developing learning interventions for those with conditions such as ADHD, Asperger syndrome and autism, Seedat-Khan said that as a scientist, it was important to apply stringent scientific methodology, adding that each learner requires a unique solution, with factors such as individual intelligence, attention span, interests and learning style being considered.

“Each student is different, you may have a kinaesthetic (tactile) learner who can’t sit still for long or an auditory learner (depends on listening or speaking).”

With regard to young people and children in today’s technological age, she said reading was crucial to develop critical thinking and engagement.

“I think this generation doesn’t read enough. If you are not a prolific reader, you cannot expect to be a good writer.

“With the advent of the internet, people have become lazy and it’s a challenge this generation faces. School teaches you how to learn and regurgitate, but in grades 11 and 12 you have to start applying more critical thinking and it’s a skill that takes time to develop. If first-year students are asked to read a chapter and summarise, they are good at it. But if I give them a definition and ask them for an opinion piece, they have great difficulty.

“There is too much screen time and something is taken away from students when not turning the pages of a book,” she said.

“There needs to be greater appreciation for teachers, as well as allocation of required resources. Schools need to be equipped, they need access to water, toilets and a safe learning environment. Violence has erupted in our schools. As parents, behaviour begins at home.”

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