Let me start with a story. In August 2014, I was hired by the Political Science Department at the City University, Mogadishu, Somalia. In their honours curricula, a course titled UNI102: Critical Thinking drew my attention which is taught to their 1st semester students. I was wondering that if Critical Thinking course is taught in many Universities in the Global South including Somalia, then why not in Bangladesh? Is it less important?
In this regard, Martin Davies and Ronald Barnett in their edited book titled The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Thinking in Higher Education shows “the nature of critical thinking within, its application and relevance to higher education” (2015:2) across disciplines of philosophy, sociology, psychology, education, pedagogy, management studies etc. While the whole world is embracing critical thinking, it is still absent at tertiary level education in Bangladesh which makes critical thinking an important area of study. Against this backdrop, this write-up investigates: What is critical thinking? And why Bangladesh needs to incorporate critical thinking at tertiary level education?
What is Critical Thinking?
Though the word ‘critical’ sounds negative to many, it is not. Critical thinking is basically an “art of reasoning”. It means discerning judgment based on standards. In this regard, Lewis Vaughn defines critical thinking as “the systematic evaluation or formulation of beliefs, or statements, by rational standards” (Vaughn 2008:36). In fact, it is an important skill-set that plays a crucial role in everyday life reasoning. It influences one’s thinking and decision-making. More specifically, it means “a set of conceptual tools with associated intellectual skills and strategies useful for making reasonable decisions about what to do or believe” (Rudinow and Barry 2008:11).
Why Incorporating Critical Thinking at Tertiary Level?
It is undeniable fact that in this age of knowledge-based economy, there is no alternative to incorporate critical thinking course in our honours curricula at tertiary level. Last year, I was a scholar in the Study of the U.S. Institute for Scholars programme and had the opportunity to visit many American Universities. Consequently, I had the privilege to talk with the students and professors and found that critical thinking is a necessary component in the course curricula of American Universities. In this regard, it is pertinent to mention that in her 2017 comment address Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust contends: “For centuries, universities have been the environments in which knowledge have been discovered, collected, studied, debated, expanded, changed, and advanced through the power of rational argument, and exchange”. Here comes the rationale of critical thinking. In fact, it plays crucial role in the higher education context since it helps students to develop critical analysis of contemporary social problems. It is also argued that “critical thinking is a necessary part of the formation of critical citizens” (Davies and Barnett 2015: 1). Sadly, in this time of ‘marketization of higher education’, education is regarded as ‘commodity’ and thus ‘big businesses. But we need to keep in mind that humans are not machines and our minds need to be nurtured where comes the rationale of critical thinking. On the question of why we need to incorporate critical thinking, one can consider the following reasons:
First, we need to incorporate critical thinking at out tertiary level because, in this 21st century, critical thinking skill is regarded as the most demanded skill in the workplace by the employees even surpassing “innovation” and “application of information technology.” According to World Economic Forum, in 2020, critical thinking and creativity will dominate among the top skills. It is therefore, Davies and Barnett (2015:3) points out that “All educators across all the disciplines are interested-or should be interested-in critical thinking”.
Second, to empower people, critical thinking becomes important. In this regard, Joel Rudinow and Vincent E. Barry contend that “Critical Thinking is empowering and can improve a person’s chances of success… throughout the variety of social roles each of us may be destined to play. As important as Critical Thinking is to individual well-being, it is equally important to us collectively as a society” (Rudinow and Barry 2008:6-7). Sadly, there is no presence of critical thinking whether at our personal or societal or political level. This is not also taught or studied in higher secondary or tertiary level education in Bangladesh which merits serious attention.
Third, if one looks at the teaching and learning method of Socrates, one need to acknowledge about the role of critical thinking. Because Socrates basically inspired his followers to raise questions first. But today we hardly inspire our students to raise questions, to come out from their comfort zones and thinking from “outside of the box”. Instead, we follow conventional teaching method which motivates our students to memorize some information and facts to get good grades and nothing else. Therefore, it is high time to rethink about our traditional teaching method chalk-and-talk method which is in operation throughout decades. In fact, how we teach, and what we teach needs to be problematized. It’s high time to come out from “memorization based teaching and examination system” while incorporating critical thinking component in our teaching method. In that case, we need to engage our students using the approach called “learning by doing”. Presentations, debates, problem-solving by the students on the assigned topics can be an important way.
Fourth, it is worthy to note that approximately 52 percent of our population is below the age 25 which brings lots of potentials for Bangladesh. One can also claim that our students are being involved in different unproductive activities including extremist activities since they are devoid of reason. Thus, it is pertinent to make our students reasonable and analytical through critical thinking skills.
Fifth, does writing matter in critical thinking? Yes, it does. It helps us to explore our critical thinking, broadens our outlook, our depth of knowledge. There is no alternative to inspire our students to think better and write better. In traditional teaching and learning method, students are used to write only on the exam script. Astonishingly, the habit of not writing is also observed among many teachers though there are exceptions. During my graduation, I found that my friends and others hardly care about writings. Our current education system is also responsible for such students’ apathy towards writings. So, we need to problematize the current memorizing system and needs to incorporate creative writing and thinking skills. In each and every University in abroad, there is “Centre for Academic Writing” or something like that but in Bangladesh, such centres are hardly found though they are crying need for the country. Needless to mention, arguments, reasons, analyses among students become pertinent to become active citizens in our society. In that case, writing plays key role.
Finally, to make our students lifelong learners, critical thinking becomes important. In this regard, Deepa Idani notes that “It [CT] has a core ethical value, which has to be nurtured and harnessed among students of higher education to reach the potential to transform into lifelong learners”(Idani 2017:404-405). Critical thinking can be used as a means to make our students lifelong learners through exploring their “inner potentials”. It is expected that critical thinking skill will also facilitate human resource development in the country through exploring and harnessing the untapped potentials.
In the Hollywood movie, titled “Dead Poet Society”, one of the teachers called Mr. Keating contends to his students that, “we must constantly look at things differently. So, don’t just consider what the authors say. Try to consider what you think. Try to raise your own voice, no matter if it is wrong”. This raises question that how many teachers in today’s Bangladesh, are engaged in such teaching? How many of those are able to explore the hidden as well as “surface potentials” of the students? In fact, each and every student in Bangladesh is talented, but due to absence of proper training and mentoring, their potentials remain underexplored.
Finally, it can be claimed that knowledge transfers from generation to generation through teaching in the classroom. Therefore, how we teach and what we teach, that matters as “[w]hat we teach our children-and how we teach them-will impact almost every aspect of society, from the quality of healthcare to industrial output; from technological advances to financial services” (Agarwal 2014). And hence, it is high time to problematize our conventional teaching and learning method incorporating critical thinking. We also need to focus on critical teaching, reading, writing as well as listening in our classroom because at the end of the day, it is critical thinking which affects everything. Therefore, to explore and harness the untapped potentials of our students, we, the academics need to incorporate critical thinking in our teaching irrespective of discipline or place. And if implemented, it is expected that this will be imperative to build a better world in general and a better Bangladesh in particular.
The writer is an Assistant Professor in International Relations, University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh.