Children's moral and educational future was at the forefront of the second session of Riyadh's Philosophy Conference on Friday.
Over the course of the three-day event, numerous workshops and panels were set up to tackle the integral role of philosophy in the daily lives of young people.
“Engaging youth at the early development stage, when children are not burdened by many layers or conflicting thoughts, sets forth a positive precedent to assist our youth in cementing a better way to process ideas and thoughts from the start,” said Saed Al Bazaei, director of the Publishing and Translation Commission at the Ministry of Culture.
That is what Dalia Toonsi, founder and general manager of Baseera Educational Consultancy, has dedicated all her energies and career path towards: teaching philosophical thinking from the earliest school years.
“Dialogic teaching and learning have been the centre of my interest when it comes to developing my field as an educational consultant,” said Ms Toonsi.
“It was then I realised my dream profession: to share the know-how of philosophical thinking and teaching with educators using the P4C discipline.”
P4C refers to a dialogical approach to teaching and learning that improves children's meta-thinking and improves their academic attainment through the exploration of an idea.
Raising her own five children led Ms Toonsi to acknowledge the value of self-learning and debate through dialogical teaching.
“Children, as philosophers, have so much to tell us and our future is going to be prosperous and promising,” she said.
Ms Toonsi is hopeful that this revolutionary model of teaching philosophical thinking can be a reality in every Saudi classroom.
“In order to reimagine our pedagogical vision of education, we need to adjust and set the bigger picture: how do we want our future generation to become more efficient leaders and responsible actors in our society?” she said.
Creating interest and desire among learners by giving them the gift of questioning is one part of the challenge, she argued — but the provision of a curriculum that sets the stage for an egalitarian relationship between teacher and learner in the frame of dialogue has yet to be adopted.
Even though the theme of the conference — organised by Saudi Arabia's Literature, Publishing, and Translation Commission — has focused heavily on the themes of space and time, knowledge and the quest to acquire it dominated workshops set up on the sidelines of the main event.
The conference also featured activities and workshops for young people, including a debate competition for college students under the theme of “Reading between the Lines.”
The three-day event provided young people with an outlet to engage in discussions with international academics as well as a space for children and young adults to participate in critical thinking activities in the Philosophers of Tomorrow pavilion and the Philosophical Camp.
The chief executive of the Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission, Dr Mohammed Alwan, explained that one of the aims of the conference had been to raise awareness in schools and universities in line with the Ministry of Education’s introduction of philosophy to the curriculum in public schools.
“As a father, I think children are philosophers by nature. They look at any situation from a different perspective,” Dr Alwan said.
“Their view is void of any preconceived ideas or notions, making them the perfect candidates to absorb and understand philosophical ideas and theories.”
In 2020, Saudi Education Minister Hamad Al Sheikh announced that philosophy and critical thinking courses were being added to the high school curriculum to encourage freedom of thought and promote tolerance among pupils.
Dr Alwan said it would be a waste not to invest in teaching philosophy and critical thinking at a young age.
“A child's mind is a lot more accepting of philosophy and critical thinking due to their tabula rasa — a clean slate — state of thinking,” he added.
“They don't have to adjust to thinking outside or inside the box. The box, for them, doesn't exist.”
The Riyadh Philosophy Conference is an expression of Saudi Arabia's goal to work in partnership with leading universities and academics throughout the world and establish itself as a major global centre of learning and knowledge.