By Leo Igwe
The realization of a more critical thinking African society must start in the schools and with the schools because schools are spaces where values, skills, and competencies are nurtured. Schools are places where the minds of children and youths are shaped and nourished. There have been propositions for young people to think critically, and to question ideas and beliefs. But propositions are mere words and empty rhetoric if they are not backed by actions and effective programs. Many have urged against blind faith and belief in received knowledge. They have stressed the importance of openness to new ideas and opposing viewpoints. But such urges have yet to translate into critical mindedness. People have argued against a dogmatic approach to issues, to social and cultural norms. But those arguments usually end up as mere talks, and some armchair speculations.
The habit of questioning ideas has been widely acknowledged as important and necessary in navigating and making sense of the deluge of information that people encounter in their everyday life. Being critical has been lauded as a needed virtue in distinguishing truth from falsehood, fake from genuine news, credible information from misinformation and disinformation. Having a critical mind has been identified as an asset, or a potent weapon against deception, gullibility, and manipulation by con-artists and snake oil salesmen. Critical mindedness has been noted as the antidote to fanaticism and bigotry. Unfortunately, there are no programs devoted to teaching and inculcating critical thinking skills, especially in the primary and secondary schools. Critical thinking features too little too late in the course of education. And there is little appetite to reform the educational system to reflect these values and sentiments. Critical thinking is taught only at the tertiary level. At this stage, the minds of students have been made up. Many students are less open and seldom disposed to question and interrogate ideas in all areas of human endeavor. Simply put, at the tertiary level, students resist or are inclined to resist critical evaluations.
Such resistance happens because religious indoctrination constitutes the first mode of instruction that children receive before they are sent to get a formal education in quasi-religious primary, secondary and university schools. So child upbringing leaves little room for critical inquiry. There are no programs to encourage children and young people to question ideas. That is why it is necessary to introduce critical thinking as a subject in primary and secondary schools. Teaching critical thinking in primary schools will enable children to learn very early to exercise their curiosity and inquisitiveness. Children need to understand that learning is not only through memorization but also via interrogation of ideas. Teachers need to learn that teaching is not only about delivering content to students, who must regurgitate them during examinations but also providing opportunities for students to question contents that are delivered in the class. So schools need to have a subject that is strictly devoted to getting students to generate questions for questions’ sake. Incidentally, what goes on in the classrooms and schools at the moment is generating questions for answers’ sake. Critical thinking is set to contribute to the improvement of teaching and learning in African schools. It will help deemphasize the traditional role of teachers as question-posers and generators. It will help change the impression that students as answer-suppliers and providers.
In a critical thinking class, students are the generators of questions, and interrogators of ideas and answers. The role of teachers is to stimulate the curiosity of students, and to provoke and nudge them to pose questions, not to provide answers. Any purported answer or solution is a material for questioning and interrogation. The subject of critical thinking is set to improve the quality of education in Africa. African countries must take necessary measures to introduce this subject starting from the primary school level.
Leo Igwe is a Public Affairs Analyst.