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Critical Thinking and Some Thoughts: Scenario Cadet Colleges in Bangladesh

“What is the relation between critical thinking in education and good governance”? The participants of the workshop, just like I, seemed to be a bit puzzled and confused hearing the question from the facilitator, Dr. Alan Klien. I was attending a workshop on Critical Thinking last year in BRAC CDM at Savar.

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Around 35/40 secondary school teachers from different parts of Bangladesh were attending the workshop. It was quite a lively one and at the same time very interesting. The question of Dr. Klien did put us in a kind of perplexity for some time being.

But at the end of the workshop, everybody could understand how important critical thinking is in respect to fulfilling the demand of the day. At the same time there was a bitter realization in me that we are not at all helping our cadets in this regard. Critical Thinking What is critical thinking? There are a variety of answers to that question, but most experts agree that it includes the ability for a person to use his/her intelligence, knowledge and skills to question and carefully explore situations to arrive at thoughtful conclusions based on evidence and reason.

A critical thinker is able to get past biases and view situations from different perspectives to ultimately improve his/her understanding of the world. Critical thinking is not necessarily “critical” and negative. In fact, it would be more appropriate to term it as evaluative thinking instead of good thinking. The result of evaluation can range from positive to negative, from acceptance to rejection or anything in-between.

In essence, critical thinking is a disciplined manner of thought that a person uses to assess the validity of something: a statement, news story, argument, research, etc Peter Facione, a Dean at Santa Clara University, has commented nicely about critical thinking and the ideal critical thinker: “We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. Since this includes almost all types of logical reasoning,] CT is essential as a tool of inquiry. As such, CT is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one’s personal and civic life. While not synonymous with good thinking, CT is a pervasive and self-rectifying human phenomenon.

The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit.

Thus, educating good critical thinkers means working toward this ideal. It combines developing CT skills with nurturing those dispositions which consistently yield useful insights and which are the basis of a rational and democratic society. ” Critical thinking is not a recent idea. In fact, it dates back to the days of Socrates, the great master. Around 2500 years ago, Socrates established the importance of asking deep questions that probe profoundly into thinking before we accept ideas as worthy of belief.

He established the importance of seeking evidence, closely examining reasoning and assumptions, analyzing basic concepts, and tracing out implications not only of what is said but of what is done as well. His method of questioning is now known as “Socratic Questioning” and is the best known critical thinking teaching strategy. Socrates’ practice was followed by the critical thinking of Plato, Aristotle, and many other Greek scholars. In the Renaissance (15th and 16th Centuries), a good number of scholars in Europe began to think critically about religion, art, society, human nature, law, and freedom.

Descartes’ Rules for the Direction of the Mind and Sir Thomas Moore’s Utopia, showed that every domain of the present world was subject to critique. In the Italian Renaissance, Machiavelli’s The Prince critically assessed the politics of the day, and laid the foundation for modern critical political thought. Thus critical thinking has always been given importance for intellectual development. Critical Thinking in education Critical thinking is considered important in the academic fields because it nables one to analyze, evaluate, explain, and restructure their thinking, thereby decreasing the risk of adopting, acting on, or thinking with, a false belief. John Dewey, one of the famous educational leaders, recognized that a curriculum aimed at building thinking skills would be a benefit not only to the individual learner, but to the community and to the entire democracy. Dewey emphasized the significance of critical thinking in learning. There are two meanings to the learning.

The first occurs when learners (for the first time) construct in their minds the basic ideas, principles, and theories that are inherent in content. The second occurs when learners effectively use those ideas, principles, and theories as they become relevant in learners’ lives. This is a process of application. Good teachers cultivate critical thinking (intellectually engaged thinking) at every stage of learning, including initial learning. The key is that the teacher who fosters critical thinking fosters reflectiveness in students by asking questions that stimulate thinking essential to the construction of knowledge.

Critical thinking skills give students the ability to not only understand what they have read or been shown but also to build upon that knowledge without incremental guidance. It is not simply rote memorization or the ability to absorb lessons unquestioningly. When rote memorization takes precedence over problem solving, logic, and reason, students suffer. There was a time when educators believed that content knowledge was enough for students to succeed. For the most part the information that students learned in school was the same information that their parents learned.

Today, however, all of that is changing. The increasing power of technology has created a world where information changes quickly, and new ideas can be distributed and adapted almost instantaneously. It has been seen in a survey that what a student learns in the first year of his graduation course, becomes outdated in the third year. That shows how important it is today that students learn critical thinking skills, so they can be both the inventors and the critics of the new information.

Teaching students to think critically is incredibly rewarding for the teachers also because what he/she provides to students is the opportunity for them to understand and take charge of their learning and their lives. Helping students develop critical thinking skills will also have an impact on the classroom. Students will approach the material in a more thoughtful and effective manner, they will ask more and better questions and will participate in the learning process. Students will also develop the skills necessary to evaluate the resources that they consult for research purposes.

The benefits to students are innumerable. Developing critical thinking can change a student’s life. Students will develop higher order thinking abilities necessary for academic and job success. But more importantly, students will expand the perspectives from which they view the world. Critical thinking skills will help them navigate the important decisions in learning and in life. The Critical Thinking Community says, “Critical thinking is the art of taking charge of your own mind. Its value is simple: if we can take charge of our own minds, we can take charge of our lives. How to integrate Critical thinking in the process of education Once we acknowledge that critical thinking is an important skill, the question comes can we teach it? The answer is, undoubtedly “yes”. Thinking can be taught and furthermore that it must be taught in a directed manner providing students with practice evaluating ideas. As teachers, we can very well influence whether a student will learn critical thinking skills in our classes. Teaching critical thinking is nothing but helping students discover the answers by themselves.

Critical thinking can occur whenever one judges, decides, or solves a problem; in general, whenever one must figure out what to believe or what to do, and do so in a reasonable and reflective way. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening can all be done critically or uncritically. It is a way of taking up the problems of life. When anyone improves his/her critical thinking skills, it helps to increase problem solving-skills and deep-thinking elements. All of these skills relate to one part of the brain, and the more one use them the easier it will be to apply them.

The list of core critical thinking skills includes observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and meta-cognition. Irrespective of the context or discipline “a well-cultivated critical thinker”: •raises important questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely •gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively •comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards •thinks open-mindedly within alternative ystems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences •communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems, without being unduly influenced by others’ thinking on the topic. Critical thinking is an important element of all professional fields and academic disciplines. The concepts and principles of critical thinking can be applied to any context or case but only by reflecting upon the nature of that application.

Thus there may be critical thinking such as anthropological thinking, sociological thinking, historical thinking, political thinking, psychological thinking, philosophical thinking, mathematical thinking, chemical thinking, biological thinking, ecological thinking, legal thinking, ethical thinking, musical thinking, thinking like a painter, sculptor, engineer, business person, etc. In other words, though critical thinking principles are universal, their application to disciplines can be contextualized.

A teacher of any subject who insists on accuracy and a rational control of all processes and methods, and who holds everything open to unlimited verification and revision, is cultivating that method as a habit in the pupils. The art of Socratic questioning is intimately connected with critical thinking because the art of questioning is important to excellence of thought. What the word “Socratic” adds to the art of questioning is systematic way, depth, and an abiding interest in assessing the truth or plausibility of things.

Both critical thinking and Socratic questioning share a common end. Critical thinking provides the conceptual tools for understanding how the mind functions in its pursuit of meaning and truth; Socratic questioning employs those tools in framing questions essential to the pursuit of meaning and truth. The goal of critical thinking is to establish an additional level of thinking to our thinking, a powerful inner voice of reason, that monitors, assesses, and reconstitutes—in a more rational direction—our thinking, feeling, and action.

Integrating Socratic questions in the following manner in the classroom help develop active, independent learners. 1) Getting students to clarify their thinking e. g. , ‘Why do you say that? ’, ‘Could you explain further? 2) Challenging students about assumptions e. g. , ‘Is this always the case? ’, ‘Why do you think that this assumption holds here? ’3) Evidence as a basis for argument e. g. , ‘Why do you say that? ’, ‘Is there reason to doubt this evidence? ’4) Alternative viewpoints and perspectives e. . , ‘What is the counter argument for? ’, ‘Can/did anyone see this another way? ’5) Implications and consequences e. g. , ‘But if what happened, what else would result? ’, ‘How does….. affect…? ’ 6) Question the question e. g. , ‘Why do you think that I asked that question? ’, ‘Why was that question important? ’, ‘Which of your questions turned out to be the most useful? ’ A set of activities associated with improvement in higher order thinking skills can be emphasized during classroom teaching: analyzing the basic elements of an idea, experience, or theory, such as examining a particular case or situation • working on papers or projects that required integrating ideas or information from various sources • putting together ideas or concepts from different courses when completing assignments or during class discussion • synthesizing and organizing ideas, information, or experiences into new, more complex interpretations and relationships • making judgments about the value of information, arguments or methods, such as examining how others gathered and interpreted data, and assessing the soundness of their conclusions • examining the strengths and weaknesses of one’s own views on a topic or issue Critical Thinking and the education system in Bangladesh

Education should enable a human being to attain the greatest possible harmony, internal and external, spiritual and material, for the fullest possible development of human potentialities and capacities. It is generally felt that our educational system has not followed the desired aims as a result that it does not produce ideal citizens in the country. It has followed, rather a narrow aim of preparing individuals for livelihood. If we want our students to effectively deal with the tremendous challenges of the 21 century, we must begin teaching students to discipline their own thinking. Teachers must move beyond rote and merely active engagement, and work toward transforming how students reason through complex issues, to look beyond easy answers.

We must teach students that the only way to learn a subject or discipline is to learn to think within the logic of it, to focus on its purposes, questions, information, to think within its concepts and assumptions. We need to make them understand how can we hope to thoughtfully address the economic issues, conflicts, world poverty, and many other pressing concerns that trouble our planet, if we don’t think seriously? We can’t. To effectively deal with these issues, we must cultivate the spirit of critical thinking throughout human societies. The quality of our life and all of the decisions we make depend on the quality of thought and undoubtedly it can improve the condition of the country, too. For students to learn content, intellectual engagement is crucial.

All students must do their own thinking, their own construction of knowledge. Good teachers recognize this and therefore focus on the questions, readings, activities that stimulate the mind to take ownership of key concepts and principles underlying the subject. Teaching critical thinking, especially, in the perspective of our country, can be challenging. Here students have so far, got very little chance to do things by themselves. As a result they have grown a tendency to depend on the teacher and rarely give any time for thinking. They become used to rote memorization. Finally when the students go for higher education or later in job and start facing challenges, they feel helpless.

Considering the prevailing examination system, it appears to be very difficult to make students practice on critical thinking, but not impossible at all. We have to grow a habit as well as interest in the students for critical thinking. Otherwise how do educators instill in students a desire to think? For logically if there is no desire to think, it becomes much more challenging to improve the critical thinking in students. Recently creative type question method has been introduced in the country. Trainings are taking place. What I have heard so far is that there is almost no directive in those training sessions to prepare the students for this new system. It seems to be ridiculous.

When a new system is introduced, the students must be given clear ideas because they are the guinea pigs in any new system in Bangladesh. They must know how to write these new set of questions properly. But without making the students involved in the thinking process and only training teachers to set up creative type question paper is not enough. We have to prepare our students in such a manner so that they can utilize their thinking power in all levels. Again, already there have been lot many guide books on creative type questions that have been published and not only the students but also the teachers are taking help from them. So what is the result?

Though it is creative system, the students are memorizing answers and following the same traditional method. In many developed countries, Critical Thinking is taught as a different course. As it is not possible in our country right now, we can slowly change our teaching style, or better to say, add some components of critical thinking in our teaching. The teachers can infuse some questions with the regular teaching that may help cadets to think critically. Once they become used to it, they will start evaluative thinking and can get deeper into context. Besides, this habit will help him to judge situations and take the right decision without depending on others or acting impulsively.

Now the question is, how much important it is in the perspective of cadet colleges and how can it be implemented. In cadet colleges we say that we are creating leaders, that we are producing all rounder. But I think it is high time we need to think about what we actually are doing. It is true that many cadets are showing good performances after passing out from Cadet College. But what is the percentage? Is it satisfactory compared to the past? Challenges have increased in the 21 century. Are we really making our cadets competent enough to face challenges for the 21 century? It is important that we need to prepare our cadets to use logic and thus become good citizens.

We need to make the cadets aware of the true aim of education, think independently and get prepared to face the challenges ahead. The true aim of education is not only to pass the exam, rather to make people capable of facing challenges, to cultivate creative intelligence required for adaptation to changes in the social environment i. e. ‘adaptability’. In many countries the teachers are talking about encouraging students for critical thinking. But in our country we are still dependent on lecture method. There is almost no participation of students. I personally believe that there is a strong relation between critical thinking and student centered teaching. Unless you give your students the scope to talk, to xpress their mind and you remain active all the time keeping your students passive, you can never teach them how to think for themselves, let alone think critically. The students will totally depend on the rote memorization and suffer in the long run, blaming the teachers or the education system later that they were not given any chance to cope up with or face challenging situations. It is true that our education system is also to be blamed for this. But in cadet colleges where we claim to be the makers of leaders, we must bring a change in our approach of teaching that can bring a different dimension and differentiate the cadet colleges from other institutions. If we don’t do this, cadet colleges will remain as simple as educational institutions with some extra and co curricular activities.