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13.03.2012 Education

Education Matters: 'Critical thinking' in private and public schools

By Daily Graphic
Education Matters: 'Critical thinking' in private and public schools
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“Critical Thinking” was a key component in the Gifted And Talented Education (GATE) program I coordinated in a school in the U.S.

The precept of learning by doing, for example, helped the youth to work as teams – and to understand that, as in real life, everyone has a part to play and the commitment in maximizing the group effort in the end becomes greater than the sum of its individual parts.

The concept helped the youth to contribute to the publication of their own books, design book covers and year books, act in plays, organize talent shows, develop photography, do presentations, organize speeches and debates.

A teacher's role may then shift from merely teaching from prescriptions to developing the appropriate activities, coaching, mentoring, supervising, encouraging, and inspiring the best out of each one in a purposeful productive endeavour. Such positive strokes help build up a learner's confidence, and guarantee a reduction of the person's prior fears.

But most important of all, the youth need feel good about themselves for the sense of accomplishment in demonstrating their learning while, at the same time, identifying newly acquired passions and interests for lifelong learning and possible professional pursuits.

Successes or failures in traditional examinations may base one's worth in comparison or in competition with others; but excellence is a different animal: it gauges our values and talents by measuring each against their own potential and super performance.

In 1995, in Ghana, Mrs. Comfort Engmann (proprietor of North Ridge Lyceum – Accra) and I had a series of conversations about the relevance of the methodology and its introduction in raising the thinking processes of our teachers and the youth.

She then set in motion the setting and encouraged proprietors and head teachers in some private schools in Accra to attend a series of workshops I designed in an education psychology topic, “Cognitive Domain Hierarchy”.

The course, offered on her school grounds, presented the opportunity to meet an array of progressive proprietors including Mrs. Laast of St Martin De Porres, Mrs. Florence Adjepong of Alpha Beta Education Centre, Mrs. Agnes Kwakye of Jack and Jill, the late Mrs. Theresa Lomotey, and others.

At the time, many schools followed the Ghana Education Service (GES) syllabus solely, and the Critical thinking aspect of teaching methodology was not included in the curriculum.

But Mrs. Engmann saw the essence of it, and stressed its values to head teachers in selected private schools. The methodology focused on the basic “Critical Thinking” precepts, scaffolded as followed: 1. Knowledge, 2. Understanding / Comprehension, 3. Application, 4. Analysis, 5. Synthesis, and 6. Evaluation.

The idea was to move from the “lower level thinking”, that is, the respective question and answer method, recall, memorization etc that ended in the “chew, pour, pass, and forget” format and died off in functional illiteracy. Such passive learning are like shadows that pass on, connects with nothing, and disappear without casting light on possibilities.

The “higher level thinking” order, on the other hand, consisted of especially designed activities that engage learners to think for themselves, question other people's conclusions. In analysis for example, the validity – even of sacrosanct views – are tested for the times or occasion, no matter how conventional or accepted they seemed to be. Many theories fall in the face of uncomfortable facts and realities.

About 5 years later, in 2000 or so, the “Profile Dimensions”, another name for the “Cognitive” aspects of the teaching methodology appeared in the GES syllabus, and opened the way for the concepts to be taught to head teachers and trainers in the various workshops I conducted in the country, starting with schools in the Accra Sub-Metros.

The focus was not about how much one knows by heart, but what one can do with the basic knowledge which in turn develops responsibility and confidence by moving the youth from the sitting mode into the doing or action mode through applications.

The goal of all learning is not the mere acquisition of knowledge but action. John C. Maxwell puts it like this: “Learning an idea isn't enough to make a person grow; you must put ideas into practice to make most of your talent and become a talent-plus person”. For the “millenials”, that is, the youth of the digital age, a sea change in mindset – to use knowledge as soon as possible in the most productive ways - is the most suitable game in town.

The only thing that sets nations apart is the type of knowledge that are found in the people's heads and nowhere else. It gives nations a competitive edge through the quality of the people's thoughts and the things they produce.

Many people walk away from classes, lectures or events and do very little with what they have heard; figuratively speaking, they bury their knowledge in notes, exercise books and reports like caskets.

Having invested all that time, money, and effort for it, the knowledge rots away like it never happened. For a developing nation the quantum waste is a huge social and economic sunk cost to be avoided.


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