The Importance of Critical Thinking in Higher Education
Critical thinking is not an end, but a key link between the development of media and information literacy and the process of making informed and educated decisions, which are necessary for individuals and families, and for the educational process, the state, society, and democratic discourse.
What is critical thinking?
In a society that has undergone digital transformation, as a necessary learning design for the digital age, critical thinking is used to describe forms of learning, thinking, and analysis that transcend memory and recall of information and facts. Critical thinking is a cover term that can be applied to many different forms of knowledge acquisition or a wide range of thought processes. In its most basic terms, critical thinking occurs when students analyze, evaluate, interpret, or synthesize information and apply creative thought to create an argument, solve a problem, or draw a conclusion.
Critical thinking is at the heart of any education system that seeks to form independent individuals capable of questioning, understanding, and insight; to phase out the gap between reality and knowledge about it, to have their own opinion and to offer solutions to problems.
Critical thinking is an organic part of the educational process in every cultural and educational field, in every subject. It is an integral part of the literary educational discourse and not necessarily a special addition to it, nor does it depend on the subjective will of the teacher and the students. However, the extent to which critical thinking can be practised depends on the subject.
Critical thinking is the intersection of the subjects, where a problematic issue is raised, various sources of information are studied, a personal position is expressed, arguments are presented in its defence, and a solution is proffered to the problem. When looking for an answer to a problematic question posed in connection with a literary fact or process, students follow the same path of thought that they follow when solving a problematic question from another educational or life sphere. Therefore, the more problematic issues a student solves, the more reason it can be assumed that in another problematic situation he will have a better chance of success than a peer who has not undergone such mental training.
It could be said to be an analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Its framework usually includes broad and difficult-to-define features, such as openness and attentiveness, relevance, impartiality, lack of prejudice, taking a reasoned position, considering the subjectivity of one’s own point of view, applying old knowledge in new situations, or more general understanding that real-world problems are complex and lacking simple solution.
Teaching critical thinking in the classroom
It has been found that students who have been trained in thinking techniques show higher educational results than their peers. Therefore, studies are being conducted to find ways to increase mental activity through teaching. This leads to the definition of two interrelated problems.
The first has a practical orientation and is expressed in determining the aspects of thinking to be studied, including by which students, under what conditions, in what sequence and by what methods. The second is theoretical and has no straightforward answer. It focuses on two counterpoints: which states that critical thinking is the same in all subjects, or that each subject requires specific thinking techniques.
In the first concept, thinking skills cannot be generalized, as the process of thinking is always objective. Two main approaches to the application of critical thinking in subject teaching have been adopted: infusion and immersion. The first is expressed in the study of thinking techniques for a particular subject area with a focus on principles of critical thinking, specific to the subject area. The second approach refers only to thinking in the relevant subject area.
The second concept derives common elements of thinking in different subject areas. It considers critical thinking as the combined use of attitudes and abilities, along with specific experience and knowledge within a particular environment. Based on this concept, the teaching of the general principles of critical thinking is justified.
Special attention is paid to the transfer of critical thinking skills from one context to another. And it is expressed in the ability to transfer and use knowledge and skills from the student both between different disciplines and from one discipline to the outside world. Critical thinking must be studied independently and depends crucially on the level of students’ intelligence, as not everyone can summarize and work with abstract ideas.
The atmosphere in the classroom is considered vital in the teaching of critical thinking. It is well known, for instance, that discussion contributes significantly to the development of higher cognitive skills. Organizing discussions fosters openness and respect for different opinions and points of view. Therefore, it is recommended that classroom activities should not be limited to theoretical exercises but should also form an attitude towards real-world problems. The latter is achieved by working with current articles from papers and magazines, television programs and more.
Why is critical thinking important in the classroom?
It has been proven that asking appropriate questions by the teacher significantly increases student achievement of this skill. A popular method used by teachers in the classroom to teach critical thinking and the understanding and mastery of it by students depends on their age. The youngest students are unable to master the causal relationships of propositional logic simply because they do not have the necessary systematic knowledge. This begs the consideration of teaching with the level of development of students.
Knowledge and thinking skills are interdependent, which makes it clear that prior knowledge of the subject is crucial for the development of critical thinking. According to some observations, if students do not readily reflect on the learning content they study, then the acquired knowledge is not very useful. However, teaching critical thinking increases the rate of acquisition of new knowledge.
Unlike traditional education, which focuses on the acquisition and memorization of knowledge, new educational practices call for a balance between teaching new learning content and developing critical thinking. And closely related to prior knowledge and the study of critical thinking are the individual qualities of students which are largely determined by various factors such as intellectual abilities, gender, socio-economic and cultural environment.
Furthermore, it has been proven that critical thinking can be studied and benefit all students, regardless of their level of intellectual ability. Some programs are designed specifically for students with disabilities, others for those with average abilities, and still others for gifted children. And studies have shown that learning to think critically increases their educational outcomes.
In the results of cognitive tests, the differences between the sexes appear consistently. For instance, in assessing quantitative and visual abilities, men perform better than women, while in the field of verbal skills it is the opposite. However, gender differences are not observed if the assessed persons have studied critical thinking. Hence, the clarification that the possible impact of critical thinking on gender stereotypes needs more research.
It was found that socio-economic and cultural differences are reflected in the knowledge of students. And requirements for teachers’ effective teaching of critical thinking requires teachers to undergo appropriate training. Studies show that the acquisition of thinking techniques by students is directly dependent on the teacher, who must provoke their interest and work with them according to their current level.
Teachers should know the factors that encourage critical thinking, some of which are directly related to the current teaching activity, such as the construction of the classroom, the conditions and organization of the discussions, the distribution of time in class, effective approaches to teaching at different levels of school education.
For this purpose, special tests are developed, but in the general case, it is limited to checking the ability to read, ask and answer questions, form a reasoned opinion, plan, and act. Basic preparation for the formation of critical thinking requires students to be able to inform themselves, to use reliable sources and refer to them, to identify a thesis or question, to look out for the causes of certain facts or phenomena, not to be prejudiced, to take a position and possibly change it depending on the evidence.
Only then is it necessary for them to formulate questions, analyze arguments, make summaries, demand clarifications to the questions asked, assess the reliability of the sources, draw, and evaluate conclusions, interpret allegations, investigate, seek evidence and possible explanations, formulate reasonable hypotheses, offer conclusions based on evidence, make forecasts after analysis of the available facts and to consider alternatives.