There is a ‘critical thinking’ deficit in higher education. The chief aim of the higher education curriculum seems to be more about helping students absorb facts and less about helping them develop as critical thinkers. Information is passed on to students without setting aside time for examining the contextual nature and cultural base of knowledge.
Without the benefit of developing the habit of examining the contextual nature and cultural base of knowledge, students absorb information while still remaining blind to the impact of their worldviews on the way they perceive or conceive of the world.
Put another way, for all higher education is, and for all the good it does, it does a rather poor job of promoting the learning process as an opportunity for students to be aware of the context and cultural base of their knowledge.
Worse still, in addition to making it too comfortable for students to remain in the dark about the impact of their worldviews on their conception of the world, higher education fails to identify interpretation and comprehension as activities that are open to students’ personal input.
This unfortunately makes it harder to develop critical thinking skills – and in certain circumstances prevents students from developing critical thinking skills.
To address this critical thinking deficit and bypass the tendency to leave students' development as critical thinkers to chance, educators need purposely to create practical classroom exercises that encourage students to think about the context of their knowledge and that motivate them to play an active role in using this awareness for the purposes of critique and creativity.
Failure to help students become critically aware of the ideas that shape their worldviews, and to help them gain confidence in their ability to use this awareness, undermines their ability to develop as critical thinkers.
What will happen if this critical thinking deficit continues to grow in higher education and educators fail to underline how important it is for students to choose to exercise their critical thinking skills during social interactions?
As campuses become more international, what is likely to happen is that students will be incapable of recognising why they are unable to relate to others. They will be unable to understand why their expectations about what is appropriate or right or wrong are unmet in certain situations.
They will be unable to recognise that others have different ways of interpreting and conceiving of the world, which they bring to their social interactions, that these have been shaped by different histories, different expectations of what is right, wrong, appropriate and inappropriate.
What is likely to happen is that students will be ill-equipped to deal with such challenges. When this happens, students will do what comes most easily – interact only with people who share their worldviews.
In a world where connections are becoming as important as degrees, limiting oneself to small social circles closes the door on opportunities to form important relationships with classmates and teachers that could be useful for finding a job after graduation.
The reality is that universities are not simply places to get degrees, but also places to acquire valuable friendships and connections that may have far-reaching implications. Educators need to help students become critically aware of the ideas and processes that shape their expectations and the way they understand themselves.
In doing so, students effectively open the door to the possibility of seeing with new eyes the contextual and cultural base of knowledge. Above all else, through gaining critical thinking skills, students strengthen their confidence in their ability to expand their understanding of the world.
* Abu Kamara is a PhD candidate at Dalhousie University in Canada, with interests in internationalisation, international students, intercultural education and identity politics. firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Abu__Kamara.
It is up to the lecturers to teach students to examine their views and analyse what factors shaped them. I also make a point explicitly to tell my students where I'm coming from and how someone else might differ in their views (it often goes back to epistemological beliefs which need to be examined in all contexts).
Eva Bernat on the University World News Facebook page
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