By Leo Igwe
The e-learning Africa conference presents an opportunity to rethink and reposition the learning system in the region. A repositioning is critical to improving the quality of education and by extension the growth and development of Africa and Africans. Incidentally, in many parts of Africa, the educational system is broken. Schools have failed to live up to expectations. African schools graduate students who become unemployed or unemployable. African schools have been unable to foster relevant knowledge and skills, hence many African youths are either unskilled or underskilled. They do not possess the competencies that are required to participate and contribute meaningfully to the global economy. This tragic situation must be addressed. This presentation explores how the teaching of critical thinking would improve the quality and effectiveness of basic education in Nigeria. The main focus is on primary education because it is at the primary level that the foundation of subsequent educational programs is laid.
Critical thinking has been noted as among the top ten job skills in this 21st century. In addition to analytical thinking, innovation, and problem-solving, critical thinking competencies are among the most sought-after skills by employers of labour. In fact to be able to analyze, invent and innovate, to be able to solve problems, one must have critical thinking capacities.
More so, given that the global economy has witnessed a double disruption due to automation and the global pandemic, it has become necessary for African youths to re-skill and upskills to effectively participate in the economies of the future. So critical thinking skills must be fostered at the basic education level.
Incidentally, the importance of critical thinking is noted in Nigeria’s National Policy on Education. This document outlines the inculcation of critical thinking as one of the objectives of primary education. Unfortunately, there is no subject to that respect. Nigerian primary schools offer only verbal and quantitative reasoning. There are no texts or learning aid materials on critical thinking for primary schools. To this end, the Critical Thinking Social Empowerment Foundation (CTSEF) is working and campaigning to fill this gap and fulfil this important need. CTSEF exists to foster critical thinking skills among Nigerian pupils, who speak English as a second language.
However, the main challenge is: how does one define critical thinking in a way that the subject could be taught to children at basic primary levels? Let us examine a few definitions. One definition states that critical thinking is the “ability to identify, analyze and evaluate situations, ideas, and information to formulate responses to problems”. Another defines critical thinking as: “clear reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or not to believe, what to do or not to do”. While these definitions explain the meaning of critical thinking, it does not contain expressions that could easily be operationalized at the basic educational stage. To teach critical thinking, this subject must be delivered in a way that can be measured and assessed at the primary school level.
Here is another definition that seems to fulfil this purpose. It states: “critical thinking means asking probing questions like, How do you know? Or is this true in every case or just in this instance? It means being sceptical and challenging assumptions, rather than memorising facts and blindly accepting what you hear and read”.
Most important in this definition is the phrase “asking probing questions”. Thus critical reasoning stands for the ability to interrogate or pose questions in all areas of human endeavour. Critical thinking is about expressing their curiosity and inquisitiveness for children in primary schools. The emphasis is on asking questions about whatever they can see, hear, smell, touch, taste, or feel. Central to teaching critical thinking is question storming which is the ability to generate questions for questions’ sake. Students are made to interrogate ideas, issues, or experiences in all aspects of human endeavour.
Now, what is new about teaching critical thinking in primary schools? Or better how does it infuse a new purpose into basic education? Unlike other subjects, in critical thinking modules, there are no answers. A critical thinking exercise is a form of question-storm. Questions are answers and answers are questions. Again, the prevailing culture of learning in primary schools is teacher-centred.
Teachers pose questions and students supply answers to demonstrate knowledge. But in critical thinking classes, it is a different case. Teachers are stimulators of inquiry and interrogation. Students generate questions to demonstrate knowledge and intelligence. For instance, at the basic educational level students are taught to generate questions about whatever they observe or experience through the basic senses using the interrogative pronouns. Students are trained to pose questions in the past, present or future. Students are taught to question the subject and predicate, the noun, verb, article, pronoun, preposition, adverb, etc
In conclusion, teaching critical thinking is set to change the culture of learning in Nigerian, nay African classrooms. Critical thinking is here to infuse a new purpose and value into the African school system. Inculcating critical thinking skills will help end the pervasive trend of memorizing and regurgitating information which has been the main driver of education in African schools. With critical thinking, students would no longer be passive recipients of knowledge but active interrogators of what they learn, and what is taught and told. The African child will be equipped to meaningfully participate and contribute to the global economy.