Salman Ansari Menschen · Natur · Leben · Literatur · Musik


“Children will go along with anything, even if it’s nonsense”

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Salman Ansari is a doctor of chemistry and special education teacher. He was born in India in 1941 and has been living in Germany since the 1960s. He lectured at various universities and developed the project “Kinder fragen Kinderfragen” (“Children ask childish questions”) for the Telekom Foundation.

Ansari is an expert in early childhood learning. His new book “Rettet die Neugier: Gegen die Akademisierung der Kindheit” (“Save curiosity: against the academicisation of childhood”) was published by Fischer Verlag earlier this year.

Interview as first published on Bildungsthemen

Bildungsthemen: Mr Ansari, you research and write about promoting early development in preschool children. How valuable are programmes that attempt to attract children towards the natural sciences at an early age?

Salman Ansari: I would prefer to use the term supporting rather than promoting. There is nothing negative about supporting. The question is only how and what should we support? Obviously we can only support something that already exists. First we need to find out what the children already know and how we can make this knowledge useful, so that the children can discover and learn new things based on their knowledge. This is the approach that is taken in educational psychology and the cognitive sciences.

What exactly does the concept “promotion of early development” mean to you?

I don’t think that the way in which the term is generally understood is appropriate, because it is based on a particular academic perspective that has become too far removed from how children learn in the first place. For me, the issue is how children learn, how people learn. I think that this is the most important issue and not how certain predetermined learning activities serve to promote early development without a clear definition of the concept.

What would be your definition?

If children are always defined as explorers or scientists, we have to consider how children explore and how the real scientists explore. Scientists always start with a particular hypothesis. Then they test the hypothesis by using experiments, field studies, statistics or surveys. Scientists have to design experiments and set the parameters to determine which factors should be variable or constant. That means, throughout the entire process, scientists assume that they can control what they are doing. Real experiments must be controlled, and there must be a method and a design. Children follow a completely different process. They do not plan, they do not control anything in their quest for knowledge and they do not use any methods that could be described as particularly scientific.

How would you evaluate the recent numerous initiatives for promoting early development, many of which are sponsored by the Ministry of Education?

I take a very sceptical view of activities for promoting early development, such as the Haus der kleinen Forscher (“house for budding scientists”) or the Science Lab in Munich. The organisers of many of these initiatives do not consider what actual benefits there will be for the children. Does it help children to keep thinking? Does it support their progress? No, it does not help children. Of course children will go along with anything enthusiastically, even if it’s nonsense, because they cannot decide themselves whether it is significant for their emotional and mental development or not. This is the task that adults must do. Therefore I do not consider “motivating children” to be a criterion for learning.

But you obviously support the idea of promoting early development. What specific aspects of these initiatives do you object to?

Natural sciences are something complicated, as are concepts such as experiment or scientist.We need to define precisely what we understand by them. I have already explained my understanding of experimentation. This is a historical concept and it is defined technically, academically; it is not a vague concept. Experiments in the context of early development are nothing but confirmation experiments. There is no trial and error stage. That means that it has nothing to do with science or research but rather with deception. You tell the children, “Look, things are just as we told you. We’ll prove it to you with this experiment.” Therefore, these experiments always lack a scientific component, as there is when children discover new things independently and things sometimes go wrong or mis- takes are made. Therefore I consider this to be mere idling and not necessary, and an unnecessary financial expense.

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