Critical Thinking In Education
The significance of critical thinking in 21st century education can hardly be exaggerated. In ordinary parlance, the term ‘critical thinking’ entails the ability to understand why things are the way they are and the potential consequences of actions. It encourages to see the connection between ideas as a discipline of analysis. With an emphasis on formulating own opinions and drawing conclusions, critical thinking can also be regarded as an independent thinking process that promotes a culture of questioning and evaluation.
Despite the fact that it is one of the pertinent skills required in the modern day competitive world, traditional methods of teaching have reigned supreme. Particularly in the context of underdeveloped countries like Nepal, the status of critical thinking in our academia is at the lowest ebb. Owing to the exam-centric focus in education, promoting such skills in classrooms have been hardly contemplated. In other words, rote learning is still considered as a prized virtue. Culture of questioning and reflections are almost abandoned, further shrinking a room for rigorous discussions on the subject matter being discussed. Acceptance without argument is still considered as a hallmark of students’ success. High order skills of analysis and synthesis are overlooked on various pretexts. Hence, the responsibility of teachers in determining the fate of critical thinking is huge.
The role of educators in advancing the critical thinking exercise in academic institutions is great. Designing an interesting lesson plan that involves brainstorming and discussion at the beginning of a class will definitely be a crucial step in this direction. With an innate passion to nurture the analytical abilities of the students, there is a space for improvisation in the instruction methods even within the orthodox curriculum. For instance, starting a class with a question and testing prior knowledge of students will enthuse the students for learning.
Peer groups and role plays among others are some of the globally recognised techniques for fostering this skill. Empirical evidence suggests that critical thinking has positive consequences in students’ learning capacities. In their research on the impact of enhancing critical thinking among students in science classes, Tsai, Chen, Chang and Chang (2013) concludes that such skills helped them better understand scientific process as well as make them more experimental and questioning in nature.
Nevertheless, establishing an advanced assessment system can provide meaningful solution. Drafting challenging questions for students to appear in exams that compel them to think ‘out of the box’ will be pivotal. However, it is pathetic to note that most of the educators in the current system in our context adhere to a very comfortable approach to design assessments i.e. asking the same questions every year with slight changes in vocabularies. This is further evidenced by the personal observation of this author who himself is a part of the teaching community. In several interactions with different teachers, the dominant opinion is that students will find it extremely difficult to face challenging questions. Instead of pushing beyond our own limits, teachers themselves are undermining the value of critical thinking abilities which is a very unfortunate situation. How can we expect students to hone this skill when we have not invested in the same ourselves? Easier said than done, a transformative shift in the teachers’ thinking has remained a long overdue.
In light of the above, institutional arrangements for training teachers on critical thinking and analysis can perhaps be a turning point in introducing new pedagogies in classroom. Even from the elementary education, efforts towards improving the critical thinking capacities of students can be put into action. This should go hand in hand with honing the skills of teachers as well. Continuous monitoring and support instruments for schools and colleges ought to be devised for practicing critical thinking exercises.
It would be a mistaken notion to equate critical thinking with abilities that only higher education students can master. As stated above, it is simply about the skill of analysing information rather than just acquiring it. Being inquisitive is at the heart of it. What is worth mentioning here is that critical thinking may not provide right answer all the time but further exposes more issues allowing for differing evaluations of topics.
It is high time that the ‘spoon feeding’ method of teaching be deconstructed to produce a group of analytical students that can challenge any intellectual thoughts or ideas with a valid logic. Becoming a passive recipient of any knowledge is unlikely to trigger the academic and professional growth of students.
Teachers should be equally willing to stay abreast in the latest development in teaching innovations around the world. Instead of acting as an authority figure in the classroom, serving as a facilitator to better the existing knowledge, skills and values of students has become urgent.
(The author is a member of the Social Science Faculty at NIMS College)