Teaching for critical thinking
KEDAR BHAKTA MATHEMA
The aim of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.
– Robert Maynard Hutchins
Despite the advances made by Nepal towards the goal of achieving universal primary education by 2015, our school system is still plagued by excessive dropout and repeater rates. According to a study carried out by the Ministry of Education, only 56 percent of the total Grade 1 enrollees manage to pass the primary cycle of five years. Out of this, only 85 percent enter Grade 6 and out of this 88 percent complete lower secondary. Of those who finish lower secondary schooling, only 79 percent enter Grade 9. Of the total Grade 9 enrollees, only about 12 percent manage to pass the School Leaving Certificate examination.Those who dropout of the system are usually girls and the children of socially- and economically-disadvantaged communities. The wastage of resources apart, the continuing loss of students in the education system has great bearing on the policy of the government to bring the members of ethnic and underprivileged communities into the national mainstream.
One serious problem with our school teaching is the very little attempts that are made to relate learning to children’s own experience.While researchers have pointed out various reasons for the continuing high rate of students’ failures in the system, some of the prominent reasons cited are the traditional teacher-dominated methods of teaching, obsolete and heavily content-driven curriculum, limited opportunity to learn for girls and children of ethnic and linguistic minorities, the inability of students to understand the language of instruction, absence of support to struggling students, lack of harmony between school curricula and the need and reality of the rural society.One serious problem with our school teaching is the very little attempts that are made to relate learning to children’s own experience. Classroom teachings are mostly dominated by teachers. Children are hardly ever encouraged to ask questions or give their own opinions.Several factors explain this phenomenon prevalent in our schools. First, most teachers are not trained. Even those who are, they are not trained in the methods of teaching which challenge students to think, question, examine, interpret and debate the course materials, not just accept them as they are presented. They are mostly trained to talk and talk a lot and be in charge. Second, even those few who are well aware of the benefits of the interactive methods of teaching prefer not to waste time in engaging students in discussion or critical thinking activities for fear of not being able to finish the course. Third, since examinations invariably test students’ ability to memorize and reproduce facts taught in the classroom, higher cognitive skills such as analysis, opinion giving, critical thinking, problem solving, which make learning an enjoyable experience for children, are not encouraged. Even in many so-called high quality private schools, the emphasis is on “teaching to tests”, preparing children for examination rather than arousing their intellectual curiosity. Fourth, teachers generally have low expectations from students, particularly girls and those belonging to non-Nepali speaking communities, as a result of which teachers do not consider them as individuals whose voices are worth listening to or whose minds can carry the weight of intellectual work. Fifth, curricula are usually content–heavy and rigid and give no allowance for local variations. They ignore students’ themes, conditions and diverse cultures. They also severely limit the work of imaginative teachers.It is natural that such teaching conditions, which prevails in most schools (and university colleges) in Nepal, arouses among students a variety of negative emotions: Self-doubt, boredom, resentment, indignation, disrespect, frustration and the desire to escape. Although research has yet to confirm it, the practice of teaching that exits in Nepali schools could be a major culprit for the high rate of school dropouts, particularly among girls and the children of disadvantaged communities.Improvement in school curricula and the examination system along with professional development of teachers to allow students’ active participation in the learning process is perhaps one of the most important reforms needed in the education system in Nepal today. Not only should we do away with the present content-heavy curricula, which deposit loads of information uncritically in students, we should also improve our examination system so we can test students’ ability to think critically rather than their ability to memorize facts. Our aim should be to teach students to examine critically whatever knowledge we present to them. Active involvement of students in the learning process not only helps them to develop critical thinking skills, it also makes schooling a lot more pleasant experience than what it is today. Additionally, active learning also empowers individual students and prepares them to be “critical citizens” in their later life, something a newly-emerged democratic nation like Nepal cannot ignore.
Published on 2009-07-19 07:28:00