Critical thinking continues to remain unattended in school curriculum. Dr Richa Mishra tells you why it is important to incorporate the subject in order to make students excellent leaders
The coronavirus pandemic is the greatest public health crisis the world has faced in over a 100 years. It has forced educators and students to move from physical to online teaching spaces. The most pronounced aspect of this immediate transition is that a majority of students don't have access to devices and high speed internet connectivity needed for distance learning. When it comes to access, we fail to address something more inequitable than access to technology — access to critical thinking resources.
The gap needs to be addressed
Ask any expert about how technology is going to shape the future of work, and one they will all tell you that knowledge and skills are not the only things you need. The ability to unlearn and relearn is essential. If we want to prepare students to solve problems we have not yet seen, making use of technologies that are yet to be created, in fields that don’t exist, educators should make teaching critical thinking their priority.
Unfortunately, critical thinking continues to remain a unattended in curriculum. The core set of skills, including the ability to reason, analyse multiple perspectives, display healthy skepticism, and seek evidence in order to support or refute claims, are hard to teach. What complicates this is the fact that it gets even harder to teach critical thinking across disciplines. For instance, the critical thinking skills needed to ponder complex questions in the field of medicine requires a great deal of insight into expertise that is subject specific. It is vastly different from what a social media marketer or a fact checker would need. Moreover, difficulty alone does not help us address the gap in reality. Most educators swear by the importance of future-readiness for students, but only a small portion of them make it a point to teach critical thinking.
The gap in critical thinking pedagogy is one of the most significant and overlooked challenges across all levels of education today. Education leaders are trying to solve distance learning related access challenges at a time when schools are cancelling standardised tests till everything gets back to normal. For the point of view of equity, it means we will return to a system where the underprivileged students will end up failing these exams disproportionately. For teachers who make it a point to talk about the absurdity of teaching for tests, understanding that these tests require a lot of critical thinking helps. The question is — if it is so essential, why is it still not a core to teaching pedagogy?
The pandemic and critical thinking
With the pandemic upending day to day lives, teaching critical thinking is more essential than ever before. With the lockdowns across the country, the current situation presents a great opportunity to teach young people to navigate their way through the uncertainties when they come of age. The pandemic and our reaction to the crisis have driven home the necessity to equip our students with necessary critical thinking skills and mindset.
Adopting the willingness to incorporate critical thinking also requires a shift in our leadership values. Decisive and bold actions conform with the stereotypes of what is expected from a strong leader. In complex and rapidly shifting situations where the risk is high and the information is limited, the rigid style is inferior compared to the one that is based on making thoughtful decisions with humility and an awareness of the unknown. Students will benefit immensely from instructional material that can help them develop inquisitiveness and equip them with the ability to collect and make sense of available information. Even though technology has made it possible to have all the information at your fingertips, it is meaningless unless you have the ability to ask the right questions, recognise conflicting information, evaluate the accuracy and credibility of the information, and determine the actions that need to be taken in response.
For instance, in January, the director of the National Health Commission in China noted that asymptomatic coronavirus patients can still infect others. This makes it more challenging to control. However, the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) maintained that it did not have clear evidence of patients being infectious before the onset of symptoms, but was investigating the possibility. Now, faced with the prospect of a staggering death toll, would you act on the research that says asymptomatic patients can infect others? Or would you rely on the finding that says there is no clear evidence? Would you rather be right or do right? If it is the former, you will rely on information that plays to your bias. If it is the latter, then your analysis will go towards the consideration of conflicting information and evaluating the costs of getting things wrong. At a time like this, when critical thinking is a matter of life and death, there is no option but to put in every effort to inculcate critical thinking as a habit and we need to integrate it across all levels of education. It is the only way forward.
The writer is Assistant Director, Centre for Communication and Critical Thinking, JK Lakshmipat University Jaipur