- By Minal Anand ( Founder, CEO GuruQ)
The Indian Education System is one of the largest in the world with more than 250 million children. While the number of students getting schooled is high – how many of our students can take on real-life situations, right after school? How many of our students are equipped with the ‘critical reasoning’ ability that will help them steer in the right direction? While knowledge is readily available with just a few clicks and swipes, students need the ability to make sense of that information using their critical thinking ability. Instead of learning critical life skills on how to manage money, how to negotiate, or how to communicate, kids are mostly taught to memorize information. While we don’t deny the importance of this but the question is if we can afford that at the cost of critical life skills. Schools are set up to teach curriculum but not set to teach us what matters most.
75 percent of employers claim that the students they hire after 12 or more years of formal education lack the ability to think critically and solve problems. Those statistics were indicated in Academically Adrift, a book by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, which caused a stir when the authors asserted that students made little to no progress in critical-thinking ability during their college years. We are in a position to ensure that today’s students go on to become tomorrow’s skilled thinkers without having to overturn things.
To begin with, what is critical thinking?
One of the impediments that have stalled our progress over the last several decades is how we comprehend the concept of critical thinking. The failure of this has held us back from integrating it into the curriculum. To elucidate, critical thinking simply involves thinking in a structured way.
Most of our communication involves human language rather than codes, it is imperative that skilled critical thinkers are adept at translating spoken and written language into precise statements that can be built into a logical structure. This translation process is as much art as science. Students can execute this translation on anything from historic or literary documents to scientific ideas and mathematical proofs with substantial practice.
Another fallacy that has slowed down integrating critical-thinking instruction more deeply into the curriculum is the fear that teaching skills, including critical-thinking skills, must come at the expense of teaching academic content. Objectively, it is not possible to think critically about a subject without knowing what the subject is about. Since background knowledge related to the academic disciplines, is a vital part of being a critical thinker, understanding content and thinking critically about it are in no conflict with each other rather they are in perfect harmony.
Critical thinking includes three interconnecting elements: knowledge, skills, and dispositions (such as the willingness to apply critical-thinking principles, rather than relying on existing unexamined beliefs).
How can we teach our students to think critically?
Research shows that elements of critical thinking need to be taught explicitly rather than as a part of course content. Activities involving informational reading and argumentative writing provide ideal opportunities to introduce students to imbibe logical arguments in which evidence leads to a conclusion.
Unlike other skills, critical thinking is of no use if not put to practice. Students must be taught to put their knowledge to work through deliberate practice that allows them to develop this ability successfully. This can be accomplished through carefully designed activities and assignments that provide students opportunities to practice applying critical-thinking principles to answer questions and solve problems rather than direct questions that only require a student to memorize content.
One critical-thinking researcher has pointed out that becoming a skilled critical thinker requires the same amount of practice required to become a highly-skilled athlete or musician which is approximately 10,000 hours. If this holds true, it indicates a problem, since no single class, or even years of education can provide this amount of dedicated practice time. That is exactly why professors must not just teach students critical-thinking skills and give them opportunities to put them to use, but they must also inspire them to continue practicing those skills in all areas of life. Given that thinking is something we do every waking hour and does not require separate efforts or special equipment, students can apply the critical-thinking skills they learn in class to improve their grades and make better decisions in life, reinforcing their values and creating an environment of learning that has real-life implications.
Embracing a culture of critical thinking does not require overhauling education, eliminating courses, or even asking professors to sacrifice approaches they have developed and used successfully over years. It simply involves adding new tools to their arsenal that allow them to accomplish what they already believe in helping students develop the skills needed to think critically about the world.