Educators agree that there is an urgent need for our children to learn to think critically, which will enable them to succeed in life, more than any other capability.
A recent research paper (Critical thinking: are the ideals of OBE failing us or are we failing the ideals of OBE? by Kobus Lombard and Mary Grosser), while acknowledging the limitations of the study, concluded that critical thinking is not being adequately addressed in our schooling system. http://www.sajournalofeducation.co.za/index.php/saje/article/viewFile/207/128
One of the primary causes, identified by the researchers is that teachers themselves were not trained in critical thinking and were teaching new concepts using old methods. Potterton M. in “A curriculum that failed” states
“to a large extent teachers have adopted the new curriculum’s ideas through patterns of the past”.
Fortunately there are a number of initiatives in South Africa, which are addressing this shortcoming, and in the process, helping young people to deal sensibly with the real world, and in particular, to identify those that use the lack of critical thinking to peddle, inter alia, pseudo-science, pseudo medicine and crooked schemes.
An example is The Shuttleworth Foundation, which has a Critical Thinking Group, whose aim is to develop an approach for the teaching of critical thinking skills to educators, which will equip them with techniques that can in turn be imparted to learners. (http://www.shuttleworthfoundation.org/our-work/communication-and-analytical-skills/projects/critical-thinking-group )
So what is critical thinking.
Critical thinking is purposeful and reflective judgment about what to believe or what to do in response to observations, experience, verbal or written expressions, or arguments. (The Delphi Report” By Dr. Peter A. Facione). http://www.insightassessment.com/pdf_files/DEXadobe.PDF
Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_thinking
Critical thinking requires that people should develop a healthy skepticism towards everything they hear (or even see) before using it as a basis for any action be it investment, healthcare etc.
By skepticism, it is simply meant raising doubts against certain beliefs or types of beliefs because the evidence for the particular belief or type of belief is weak or lacking.
Unfortunately, most people start out with a major impediment to critical thinking in that many are taught, from an early age, to accept “perceived facts” without questioning the veracity of these “perceived facts”. In fact questioning is often seen as wrong and is discouraged by the threat of punishment or ostracism.
In my view, one of the biggest contributors to this is religion, which promotes (requires) faith as one of its central tenets. Clearly this would not apply in all circumstances, such as mine, where, while faith was an option, critical thinking and independent thinking were encouraged as well. In too many cases however, particularly with the rise in fundamentalism, this choice is not available in many homes.
Faith is defined as belief that is not based on proof, or alternatively believing without question, without thinking, without evidence.
It is therefore hardly surprising that given the tendency for people to believe without question, that the level of critical thinking skills in South Africa is so low. An unfortunate result is that unscrupulous people exploit this lack of critical thinking to deceive and trick people to parting with their money or into pursuing quackery in the hope of a cure that will never come.
So while teachers may not be teaching critical thinking skills as they should, due in some part to their own lack of critical thinking capacity or training, the teachers also face an additional hurdle in that their pupils may be more disposed towards a faith based approach rather than an approach that embodies critical thinking.
It would be far better for people to abandon this sometimes costly and tragic reliance on faith and instead turn to thinking.
There are many sites that can assist one on the path the critical thinking and, in particular, there are sites, books, articles and blogs that assist in debunking myths and falsehoods, which is one of the key aims of both scepticism and critical thinking.
The human mind should forever be sceptical and embrace critical thinking. This is the only path to useful knowledge.