One of the greatest challenges we face in the developing world is the dearth of critical thinkers.
The mantra ‘African solutions for African problems’ has lost its flavor for its failure to lift millions of Africans out of poverty, end all forms of oppression against women, redressing inequality, ending conflict and war and getting out of political doldrums.
I believe that a greater focus on developing the next generation of critical thinkers, therefore, becomes urgent.
While critical thinking skills do not fully develop in children until adolescence, the foundation for good thinking is set earlier in life. Do your children ask tough questions? Do your children accept whatever they are told as the gospel truth? Do they go along with what their friends suggest?
Critical thinking comprises a number of different skills that help us learn to make rational decisions. It is the ability to evaluate information to determine whether it is right or wrong. To think critically about an issue or a problem means to be open-minded and consider alternative ways of looking at the solutions.
As children grow into pre-adolescents and teenage phase, their critical thinking skills help them to make judgments independent of their parents.
A child who has been raised to think critically knows he or she cannot always entirely believe what people say, do and what he or she sees and hears on the television or any other sources. He or she thinks about others as well as herself or himself. That child is motivated to understand other people’s situations, and attempts to put himself or herself in their shoes.
To be good at thinking, children must believe that thinking is fun and want to be good at it. Parents can make thinking fun. Just like footballers practice the sport, good thinkers must practice thinking.
The Foundation for Critical Thinking developed a short series of five “intellectual standards” as ways of helping elementary-aged children learn to think better.
Invite them to be clear by asking for explanations and examples when they do not understand something. Let children know it is okay to be confused and ask questions. As one person said, “when you are confused, that is when you are starting to understand”.
Urge the children to be accurate; to check if something is true by researching the facts. They could ask others who know about what they want to know, or even read books.
Encourage children to be relevant by discussing other topics that are pertinent to the discussion or problem at hand. Help them stay on track by linking related and meaningful information to the question they are trying to answer or the topic they are learning.
Support your child’s ability to be logical. Help them see how things fit together. Question how he/she came to conclusions, and whether his or her assumptions are correct.
Set expectations that your child will be fair to others. Promote empathy in his or her thinking processes. Make sure he or she considers others when making conclusions.
Once parents and children speak a common language about the standards of critical thinking, employ them throughout the year, especially during the holidays. Along with having fun, your child’s mind will learn to think critically about the world, and just might be the next Mark Zuckerberg.