On July 1, 2021, I made a case for critical thinking in primary schools before teachers from state schools in Ibadan South-west local government in Nigeria. It was the first teacher training session on critical thinking for primary schools in the state. The organizers expected thirty to forty teachers, but at the end of the day, over fifty teachers attended the event. Critical reasoning skills cannot be delivered in schools without the support and cooperation of teachers. The workshop was devoted to making teachers understand the importance of critical thinking and the need to begin early to nurture children and get pupils to think reflectively.
The workshop impressed on teachers that critically thinking was among the top 10 skills that employers look for. So teaching critical reasoning skills is a way to prepare today's pupils for tomorrow's jobs. Critical thinking should form a part of the basic primary education program. The organizers used the workshop to draw the attention of school teachers to a provision in the national policy on education that stresses the inculcation of critical thinking. In fact, it is stated on page ten of the national policy on education that one of the aims of primary education is to lay a sound foundation for scientific, reflective, and critical thinking. So fostering critical thinking is already embedded in the educational policy of the country. Unfortunately, there are no textbooks or materials to lay this solid foundation and fulfill this important need. The ongoing critical thinking project aims to fill in this gap and provide materials to foster critical reasoning skills in schools.
It should be acknowledged that there are efforts to promote reasoning skills in primary schools. But these initiatives are insufficient. They mainly focus on quantitative and verbal reasoning skills. While quantitative reasoning emphasizes the application of basic mathematical skills and solving quantitative problems, verbal reasoning seeks to nurture the ability to solve problems expressed in words. Missing in the primary school program is a subject that encourages the exercise of students' critical and evaluative abilities. There is no ample provision for pupils to ask probing questions and interrogate ideas including whatever they see, hear, touch, taste, smell, or feel. There is so much emphasis on rote learning. Students are taught to memorize information and to reproduce whatever they are taught during examinations. Questions are posed to test the understanding of whatever is taught. Questions are posed for answers' sake. Students are not taught to question ideas for questions' sake. The habit of questioning ideas is not encouraged. The culture in classrooms is that teachers pose questions and students supply answers. At the end of the day, students become passive receivers of information, not active processors of whatever is taught in classroom. So children graduate from schools afraid to question ideas or authority, reluctant to interrogate established knowledge or critically examine whatever they are taught or told. Many people graduate from schools with the habit of feeling offended or feeling personally attacked whenever their ideas, beliefs, or propositions are questioned.
The training session made a case for a change in this mode of teaching and learning in primary schools. It drew attention to the need for a review of the role of teachers and students in the leaning process. In critical thinking classes, teachers provoke and stimulate questions. Students actively generate questions as the main exercise. Students ask questions for questions' sake!
Thus the current critical reasoning program requires pupils to generate a certain number of questions following a certain model or example. There is a provision for an additional exercise. In this case, the pupils are expected to apply the model to their immediate environment or to carry out the exercise using familiar objects, images, and things. There is also a provision for an exercise in other languages. In this case, the pupils are expected to perform the same exercise in languages other than English or in languages other than the language of instruction, as the case may be. Critical reasoning is an invitation to students to freely exercise and apply their curiosity and inquisitiveness in all areas of human endeavor.
At a time that there is so much rot and decay in the educational system and going to school has become an exercise in acquisition of certificates and degrees, not a cultivation of requisite knowledge and skills. At a time that the school system is turning out youths who end up unemployed and unemployable due to a lack of functional and effective education, critical thinking is set to transform the culture of teaching and learning in schools.
By Leo Igwe