Monday, 16 May 2022

Critical thinking: A skill more critical than most parents imagine

Problem solving tasks encourage a child to think of novel solutions, decide on a plan and even assert themselves in a group with the help of logic and reasoning. They are able to find new and creative ways to express themselves.

By Dr Antonius Raghubansie

Childhood shapes the future and is a blueprint for adulthood. It is therefore necessary that our children are equipped with the skills and knowledge that will help them achieve lifelong success. A few years ago, the principal of a Singapore-based school wrote a letter to the parents (of the entire school) just before the exams, reiterating that most children would end up in careers where marks for some of the subjects taught at school would become irrelevant to long-term success.

While the purpose of that letter was to dissuade parents from putting undue pressure on their wards, it did highlight another important aspect – the evolution of career choices, and the workplace. As eligibility criteria become tougher, cut-offs for colleges and entrance exams soar and more youngsters emerge from the education system competing for the limited positions, standing out and demonstrating value add will become critical for everyone. As per a study by The Associated Chambers of Commerce of India (ASSOCHAM) in 2017, 80 per cent of Indian MBA graduates – one of the most sought after streams of higher education – did not get a job.

So if we need to groom our children for future readiness and success, what are the skills we need to nurture?

While the formal education system does an exemplary job of enhancing subject knowledge and technical skills, quite often 21st Century skills such as critical thinking and creativity are given little importance. Critical thinking or the ability to analyse information objectively and make informed decisions is evidently an imperative. But equally important is the idea of creativity – in order to be able to think of things no one has thought of before – in a future where everything seems unpredictable. Recently, LinkedIn identified creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and time management as the life skills which were the most sought after by employers.

Both critical thinking and creativity demand the ability to listen, to be open-minded, a willingness to accept divergent views, and eventually the ability to communicate cogently – both orally and written.

We will be doing injustice to the children of the future if we, in our wisdom, do not invest in nurturing these skills and so prevent them from a life of incapability. With an average of 50 students in a classroom in regular schools today, it is unrealistic to expect holistic development of children in the limited time spent at school and alongside the regular subjects taught.

Therefore, there is a need for children to be taught contextually through activities and examples, and the most effective learning occurs when children are engaged with other children in a creative task. Working with peers can help children develop collaboration, cooperation, negotiation and team working skills. Problem solving tasks encourage a child to think of novel solutions, decide on a plan and even assert themselves in a group with the help of logic and reasoning. They are able to find new and creative ways to express themselves thus developing their leadership, creativity and critical thinking.

Some educationists and institutions have already recognised this and have incorporated these practices in their curriculum, blending these beautifully into the current education system. Workshops are being organised for teachers to help them understand the best way to nurture critical thinking among students.

But few is not enough. Every one of today’s children will be an adult in an unknown future. Needless to say, the sooner children are exposed to these skills, the brighter their future. Even outside of school, they need challenging but safe, enjoyable environments for such development. With summer holidays around the corner, parents can opt for workshops where these skills are taught and developed.

The best learning happens when children are given exciting projects and tasks to match their developmental age, and they learn to communicate confidently, be imaginative and use their creativity.

So this summer holiday, take that beach vacation, but remember these skills are more critical than most of us comprehend.

(The writer is Head India, Teaching and Cultural Centres, British Council India.)

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