Work in Progress - Thinking Through Philosophy

Jeanie Govinder - a teacher on the pilot programme

If schools are encouraged to become ‘communities of enquiry’, that must be good for a country’s education system. This is the idea behind ‘Thinking Through Philosophy’ (TTP), a method developed by Scottish head teacher Paul Cleghorn. Paul, who is a Friend of the ERT, spoke about TTP to an ERT conference for teachers, in 2004.

It works like this. The teacher presents a story or a poem, and prompts a dialogue about it, using open-ended questions. The stories are designed to encourage children to debate ethical questions. The approach helps develop the use of reason, creative thinking and the ability to evaluate and judge what is heard or read. With skilful facilitation TTP can take young people to their core beliefs, so that they find out what motivates themselves and others. Children learn to make informed choices.

Central to Thinking Through Philosophy is a calming exercise, which begins and ends each session. It helps to bring about a trusting, open and respectful atmosphere. In turn, this leads to lively discussion in which every offering is respected and encouraged. As these comments from South African pupils show.

‘I now understand what the different choices to make are when I’m in trouble.’
Siyabonga, 12

‘I can listen, understand and not judge people’s situations’
Anthony, 12

For the past two years, a team of volunteers in Johannesburg has been running a pilot TTP programme in 5 state primary schools and a state secondary school. 45 teachers and 4000 children are taking part. Project leader William Angus says that the head teachers and their staff have wholeheartedly embraced the project.

The potential for TTP to uplift South Africa’s schools is increasingly recognised. Now the team is being asked to take the project to other parts of the country. So the ERT trustees were delighted to award William and his colleagues a two-year grant, to help them take TTP to schools in Cape Town and KwaZulu Natal.