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Nurture critical thinking from a young age

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With such a wide variety of materials and opportunities available to stimulate critical, analytical thinking, shouldn’t such important mental skills be nurtured from the young, asks Khong Kah Yeong.

Not too long ago, while attending an event, the education minister reportedly lamented that the level of critical and analytical thinking among undergraduates was a concern.

He told his audience of his own experience of the type of restrictive thinking found at a local university. He went on to call on local universities to encourage more critical and analytical thinking among their undergraduates.

While such a call sounds as if local universities are to graft critical thinking skills onto undergraduates so late in their formal education, it is still “half a loaf is better than none”, and the call should be applauded.

Critical thinking should and could have been encouraged and nurtured from a young age by various means and methods.

At the pre-school stage, children can begin to acquire such skills through certain games and mental activities appropriate to their age and ability. Activities that require reasoning and matching of objects are good for developing not only their thinking skills but also their manipulative skills using their hands and fingers.

When these children reach school-going age, they can then be exposed to simple “what if …” or “why is …” types of situations and problems that are of the levels appropriate to their age. This will encourage them to think of possible consequences and results.

Board or computer games may used for this purpose. These games should not be sniffed at just because they are games, nor should they be lumped with other games that are solely meant for amusement.

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Learning should not be confined to only the “what is …” or “where is . . .” types of knowledge if critical and analytical thinking skills are to be developed.

Although one cannot expect answers of the rocket science level, group projects with themes like “how would you improve a situation or a machine?’ or “how would you make a business venture more efficient or more profitable” should be encouraged as part of the students’ school activities. Such activities would also promote team work and eventually national unity

Regular discussions and analyses of selected advertisements and news items, with guidance from teachers, will encourage expressions of different views. This will help students to think critically and not accept at face value what are put out as advertisements or news reports.

In schools or higher-level institutions, examination papers questions should be framed if not as a whole, at least in part, to encourage candidates to think critically and present logically the knowledge learned from reputable and reliable sources.

Teachers and educators, for their part, should not be so blinkered as to mark a candidate’s answer wrong just because the facts presented did not match those in the marking scheme or in prescribed text books. They should also play their part by doing their own research and encouraging their charges to carry out their own research and critically sieve the material they are presented with.

The home environment and good parental care do play an important role in the nurturing of critical thinking. Exposure to debates or friendly arguments, with each party giving their different views and opinions, will encourage children to draw their own conclusions or make their own analysis from the views presented. This will surely help improve their thinking skills.

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With such a wide variety of materials, means and opportunities available – many of which are free of charge – to stimulate critical and analytical thinking among all age groups, shouldn’t such important mental skills be nurtured from young and not just grafted on at the tertiary level?

Khong Kah Yeong is an Aliran newsletter subscriber who has some acquaintance with Malaysian schools.

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