Most of us have probably heard, and think we understand the concept and importance of “critical thinking”. But I daresay that few really comprehend its significance and impact on a student’s ability to perform beyond primary schools levels. In fact, it is clear from the changes in the English syllabus at Primary Five that the powers-that-be feel that it is imperative that Singaporeans be trained to think for themselves.
Critical thinking is essentially a logical assessment of a claim to establish our own belief in its truth. It is an exercise that we can go through to solve problems systematically by
- establishing theories or arguments
- categorising and connecting related ideas and concepts across multiple fields to support arguments
- ranking and evaluating ideas for relevance to arguments
- reflecting on how findings impact our own individual values and beliefs
In other words, we use critical thinking to determine the truth for ourselves – to establish the big picture and use rational assumptions to fill in missing data. The old adage of “reading between the lines” comes to mind.
Critical thinking is necessary for students to excel in their academic work. It requires students not just to know facts, but to apply them to very specific situations. It reflects the mental maturity of students, and separates those that truly understand the concepts from those that merely “remember” concepts.
Comprehension and oral tests are now used by educators to determine if students are not only able to understand the grammar and semantics of the passages, but are able to relate its ideas to other contexts. In Science, the critical thinking skills of observation, comparison, classification, hypothesis creation, evaluation and analysis are repeatedly drilled into students across the different scientific fields. In Math, the use of models to represent problem solving is another form of critical thinking.
So it is no wonder that we get so easily confused with what critical thinking really is. The fact is, critical thinking applies to all disciplines and is not restricted to academia. In school, the higher up we go, the more dependent are our grades on our ability to do critical thinking. At work, the higher up we go, the more dependent is our performance (and salary) on our ability to do critical thinking!
Even in our social lives, the ability to do critical thinking is very important. As adults and parents, many of us have rigid principles and beliefs that drive us and our personalities. They are a function of our life experiences, forged from the baptism of fire of the trials and tribulations we encountered in our lives’ journeys. We call this “wisdom“, and in most cases it serves us well. But we must continuously re-evaluate our own value system as environments change and ask ourselves: “Are we making decisions based on our own ingrained opinions, or on actual facts?” It is only when we can see beyond our prejudices that we can finally understand and accept the truth.
This will be a start of a series of articles by KiasuParents.com that will explore how parents can help their children to inculcate and practice critical thinking skills. Make no mistake, acquiring critical thinking skills is very difficult. It requires discipline, perseverance, and continous practice. A proper state of mind is also necessary: the dogged sense of needing to know the truth, and being prepared to tear apart our long-time assumptions to accomodate new facts that might fundamentally change our perspectives.