top of page

The Value of Asking Questions


Teacher, Educator

Minakshi Balkrishna has a teaching and administrative experience for over 30 years. She has vast experience in teaching in international school in India and abroad, and has implemented the International Baccalaureate PYP programme. Her last tenure was at an international school as Executive Director. She has attended workshops at Harvard Graduate School of Education for the Future of Learning programme. She has attended several workshops to get insights of teaching and learning and trickled it into her school domain. She is now an educational consultant for several schools and is also on the advisory committee and board of some schools in Ahmedabad. She is pursuing her PhD in education and management from the Academy of Human Resource, Ahmedabad.


In this article, Minakshi Balkrishna speaks about the importance of asking questions. NEP 2020 suggests inquiry-based learning and, asking questions is just the start of a good inquiry! It is easier to judge the mind of a man by his questions rather than his answers.” Pierre-Marc-Gaston, duc de Lévis (1764–1830). A kindergarten school student, when sowing multiple seeds for germination, asked, “how will the seed know when to come out?”

Another asked, “what if all the seeds fight inside the soil?” That is the value of asking questions. 

These justify the fact that asking questions is so easy in kindergarten. The foundation of any inquiry starts with asking questions and then seeking answers. If we look at our learning cycle, it suggests asking questions before we explore organising them to get our facts or data. Then, asking questions as a form of intellectual exploration becomes an art to enhance our learning cycle.

Young children are full of questions and curiosity, rather than a desire to impress. But over the course of their education, students and adults ask fewer questions and more passively accept facts as ‘the way things are’. I have witnessed this particularly in high school, where students accept the ‘what’ more easily than asking a ‘why’. However, it is not an inevitable outcome of the educational pipeline. You cannot expect to wake up and run a marathon. You start training for a marathon. The same goes for asking questions. It is a skill that requires practice, training and guidance. If a child is placed in a setting that does not encourage active questioning, then that skill will not become an active habit of mind. Using the inquiry cycle framework to start asking questions and go further helps in developing a thought chain to ask questions. Hence, it is worthwhile to ask whether we could promote questioning as a fundamental tool for education and in the practice of understanding multidisciplinary disciplines. The ability to ask questions, collect information and actively explore one’s environment is a powerful tool for learning about the world. It is transdisciplinary in nature to understand the nuances of how the world works, how we organise our world, how we discover or how we share the planet, or how we express ourselves, who we are and what it means being human.

How to ask questions One idea is information-seeking or inquiry-learning, which is similar to scientific experiments. A child shaking a new toy, a student asking a question, or a person trying out their first smartphone, can all be compared to a scientist conducting a carefully designed experiment to test their hypotheses (Gopnik, 1996; Montessori, 1912; Siegel et al., 2014). The core assumption in this work is that people optimise their queries to achieve their learning goals in the most efficient manner possible.

I wonder So how do we start to wonder, investigate, record, discover, think, try and finally, reflect? How do we explore the unknown? Questions were a means to educate students by drawing out their understanding and then leading them to discover a set of logical conclusions. The inquiry cycle helps to nurture true inquiry and children will be able to construct their own meaning. Socratic questioning is still another method that is advocated as a powerful contemporary teaching method (Brill and Yarden, 2003).

Independent learning and inquiry Virtually all educators agree that teaching should involve more inquiry-based learning and less fact-based memorisation (Commitee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards, 2012). Pursued properly, a good question also can be an excellent vehicle to start a process of inquiry. Investigating an answer to a question need not require a laboratory, special equipment or money. The goal of asking and answering a question is not necessarily to probe a completely untouched area of discipline. Rather, it should be a personal quest to resolve a curiosity and grapple with trying to understand the answer. Furthermore, researching one question often results in a further round of questions that dig deeper into a phenomenon.

Let's consider some examples of questions. Let us try to understand and explain ‘simple’ questions about our everyday experiences. ‘Why is the sky blue?’ can be used to learn an enormous amount about light and the atmosphere. Even the question ‘what is light?’ is enough to set off an endless string of subsequent questions. Questioning can be used to promote independent learning in a school setting in a variety of ways. The key ingredients are that students should have some freedom to choose a question in which they are interested, have an opportunity to research the answer on their own and then have an opportunity to share what they learnt.

The new role of the internet When I was in school and if I wanted to find an answer to a question, I pulled the Encyclopaedia, our family's prized possession - 12 big volumes hardbound. I was fortunate to have a source of knowledge at home. How different has the world become for kids today? Through the internet, they have access to information virtually on the entire scope of human knowledge. A click of a button and you have thirty thousand sites! It has become a virtual extension of our cerebral cortex. Today, global connections can be made between a child in India with a question and a scholar in England who can provide a response. However, the rapid expanse of the internet poses a couple of problems—our time is limited and there is no easy formula for integrating information. 

Thus, in my opinion, the most important skill for the 21st century is learning how to judge and integrate information from multiple sources to generate conceptual understanding or a new idea. Most schools are teaching students to ‘become life-long learners’, but this will not happen unless students see connections between how they research a question for school and how they would research a question on their own. 

The ability to ask a question, research the answer and present it to the class requires some degree of flexibility in the lesson plans. Most teachers do not have that luxury due to school curriculum pressures. However, weaving good questions into the text is a nice way to involve them in the thought process.

In summary, asking questions is a part of the joy of learning. It begins as soon as we can utter the word ‘why’. Even much later, one can continually learn from and strive to perfect this gift of human intellect. Just ask ‘Why’ Why not?


bottom of page