Bring back wonder | Inquirer Opinion

Bring back wonder

/ 05:06 AM September 18, 2023

My first encounter with a microscope was in fourth grade when my science teacher aimed to teach her young students the importance of boiling water before consumption. To illustrate, she let us examine two prepared slides under the microscope. One slide showcased boiled water with no discernible activity. In contrast, the slide containing unboiled water had wiggling, sinister-looking microorganisms. This unforgettable lesson ignited my fascination with things invisible to the naked eye.

Thanks to the invention of Filipino engineer Jeremy de Leon, more students can now easily explore the unseen world. The Make-roscope Keychain is an affordable single-lens keychain microscope that attaches to the front-facing camera of a smartphone or tablet and can magnify samples up to 400 times. Last week, De Leon won the top prize in the Philippine leg of the James Dyson Award, which allows him to vie at the international level. During an interview, he shared a touching story of a teacher from Basilan who reached out to order one Make-roscope for the entire school. A science enthusiast since he was a child, he wants to make the Make-roscope more accessible to teachers and students, especially those in remote areas, and ignite in them the same passion for STEM that has fueled his journey.

De Leon’s story highlights the importance of fostering wonder in education. Various research shows that wonder is deeply intertwined with human flourishing. The experience of wonder encourages people to question, explore, and embrace the complexities of the world around them. This shift in perspective can be transformative, as it inculcates a love of learning that extends far beyond the classroom. When we nurture wonder, we lay the foundation for more profound and meaningful education, ultimately enriching the quality of life.


Historian and German philosopher Anders Schinkel beautifully captures the essence of wonder as “defamiliarizing the familiar.” While curiosity revolves around exploring new or novel subjects, wonder enables us to see the familiar in a new light. Unfortunately, the concept of wonder is not always included in discussions on education reform. The pressure to meet high academic expectations has led to a preference for structured approaches and stringent curriculum demands. Consequently, this has resulted in educational environments that inadvertently deprioritize wonder.


For instance, the needs of children greatly differ from those of adults, yet many schools impose adult-centric routines on children, leading to very early morning classes and prolonged seated time. Recently, our country’s public school classrooms adopted a mandate to maintain bare walls, to ensure that nothing would distract students from paying attention in class, even if there are also methods for designing joyful learning walls without leading to visual clutter.

In June, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the Senate basic education committee, reported that four out of 10 Filipino children who enter Grade 1 drop out by Grade 10. A 2019 survey conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority to understand the causes of high student attrition found a “lack of interest” as one of the primary reasons cited by respondents for dropping out. Perhaps one crucial question we need to ask to address this challenge is how we could rekindle wonder within our learning institutions.


One solution lies in allocating more time for play-based activities in the classroom. In the race to address learning loss, both schools and parents have been pressured to cut down on a child’s playing time. However, a 2022 study published by the University of Cambridge found that guided play or play-based learning is more effective in helping students acquire essential skills like numeracy, literacy, and spatial awareness compared to traditional approaches that emphasize explicit instruction.

Findings show that guided play proves effective because children can take ownership of their learning while benefiting from adult support to extend the learning opportunity beyond what they might have achieved on their own. Play naturally cultivates that student’s motivation and agency to learn, but having a teacher who guides them through open-ended and reflective questions significantly deepens their understanding and experience.

Schools must adopt schedules that provide students of all levels opportunities for more intentional play experiences: both through classroom activities and after-school programs. Technology can be a powerful ally, as the integration of innovative and cost-efficient technologies, such as the Make-roscope Keychain, can engender more immersive learning experiences. These simple changes could help foster an environment where both spontaneous and profound learning thrive.

By bringing back wonder into our schools, we can ensure that every child is not just present in the classroom but authentically engaged and excited about the possibilities that education offers.


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TAGS: education, invention, Science, Technology

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