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The Importance Of Critical Thinking Skills Education Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 5475 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Moore viewed critical thinking skill is highlighted as an essential foundation to produce lifelong learners for Twentieth Century learning. This chapter will discuss on the importance of critical thinking skills, critical thinking and employability, implementation and challenges of teaching critical thinking in Malaysia as well as theory and strategies to teach critical thinking. This chapter will also elaborate further on the interconnection between technology, language and higher order thinking skills, argumentative knowledge acquisition and finally, describe the Toulmin’s Model.

The importance of critical thinking skills

According to Edmonds et al. (2005), critical thinking has many definitions over the past years; however, it can be concluded as an active mental process that includes mental skills such as conceptualizing, analyzing, applying, synthesizing and evaluating information in order to emerge with an answer or conclusion.

Everyone needs to have an ability to solve problems throughout their lives. Therefore, many educational experts have stressed on the importance of instilling higher order thinking skills in one’s education as it helps students to analyse the situation, learn the tasks better before emerge with solution both in academic and non-academic circumstances (Chance, 1986; Tama, 1989; Ennis, 1992; Elder & Paul, 2001,). This is because thinking and learning are interrelated as one has to independently think and seek solutions to a problem or situation in order to gain knowledge. Research findings indicate that critical thinking skill can be taught and improved in everyone and this skill should be integrated in the curriculum at all levels (Grant, 1988; Paul et al., 1989; White, Burke, 1992; McKendree et al., 2002).

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Sternberg (2003) stated that one of the goals of education is to produce lifelong learners who posses the qualities of intelligent, critical thinkers which is believed to be able to think independently, analytically and critically to experience a better career achievement in order to gain personal satisfaction and hopefully, contribute to national achievement to develop his nation. This is because learning is an ongoing process that may occur in academic and non-academic circumstances. Without critical thinking skills, Sternberg (2003) further elaborated that schools and universities will only produce highly gullible students and graduates who may be knowledgeable, but lack of the skills to think critically and analytically over a situation. This is because they are just passively receiving information exhibited by the political leaders as information can be easily transmitted by the media via various form in this era of rapid development of Information Technology (IT). Without ability to think critically, they also would later face some problems when they become employees as they need to communicate well-reasoned ideas and would not be able to actively contribute to educational discussions due to poor communication skills and lack of analytical reasoning to a situation at hand (Education Reform in Malaysia Report, 2012).

Critical thinking and employability

Paul (1995) claimed that critical thinking is a vital foundation to the adjustments needed for everyday social, personal and professional demands of the 21st Century. It is further supported by Elder (2000) who claims that it is important to teach higher order thinking skills to students in schools and universities as today’s society has become more complex due to rapid change in technology. The society need to be able to analyse the vast information that can be gathered effortlessly via online and only select essentials from it (Chartrand, 2009). Henwood (2007) claimed this situation also applied in day to day real life situations. Hence, he further stated that students who are ill-equipped with critical thinking skills will not be able to cope with the challenges and demands of current job market. This is because higher order thinking skill is believed as one of the most essential soft skills for future employability of the new generations.

“…workplace literacy in the next millennium will be synonymous with problem solving.”

(Mariam Jean Dreher, 2000)

Mariam Jean Dreher (2000) predicts that the future will call for a lifestyle; both in education and career field; of independent problem solvers that requires multiliteracies which involves higher order thinking skills.

In Malaysia, the research findings claim that critical thinking skill is highly valued in the workplace today (DETYA, 2000; Chartrand, 2009). Norshima (2011) reports that Malaysia produces 60, 000 graduates annually in which at least 30 percent of these graduates are unemployed every year as they are lacked of these potent skills. This is further supported by Gurvinder Kaur and Sharan Kaur (2009) who claimed that in Malaysia, six out of ten university graduates take as much as six months to be employed due to lack of critical thinking skills and poor communication skills. Fong (2004) and Vijan (2007) findings stated that the reasons that Malaysian graduates are unemployed because they are not able to impress their possible future employers during interview due to poor presentation and communication skills especially if it is done in English.

Besides, Malaysian education system is said to be too exam-oriented and thus, the graduates could not contribute as much once they start working as they are only theoretically competent but not equipped with sufficient practical exposure (Henwood, 2007). This is further supported by Rosnani (2009) and Education Reform in Malaysia Report (2012) findings which stated that employers in Malaysia, specifically in business sector, complain about the low quality of most graduates from Malaysia are deficient in terms of critical thinking skills which in return affect the quality of their work.

Implementation of critical thinking in Malaysia

Due to the uprising employees’ concern over the lacking of this potent soft skill amongst freshly graduates employers globally, curriculum of educational system has been gradually revamped over the years. This situation is especially true in most leading or developing countries like the United States, England and Singapore (Nagappan, 2001; Willingham, 2007). The need to inculcate critical thinking skills into Malaysian education system is hence undeniable in order to fulfil Vision 2020. This need is supported by Rosnani (2009) who proclaims that Malaysians, in general, have not been able to apply the content of knowledge gained throughout their school years into real life situations even after undergone at least 11 years of schooling and therefore, Malaysia educational system need to be analysed and some changes need to be made.

Ministry of Education (MOE) has realised the alarming needs of the aforementioned situation and thus, Integrated Curriculum for Secondary School (KBSM) was introduced in the late 1980s (Nagappan, 2011). The content of this new curriculum was revamped in which creative and critical thinking skills were integrated in most of the subjects taught in schools with a stress on discussion, discovery and inquiry; the higher rung of Bloom taxonomy (Curriculum Development Center, 1989).

As it is realised that the teachers need to be competent to teach critical thinking skills to the students, a few efforts were also been conducted as to prepare the teachers and teachers-to-be with the new task ahead of them. As educational findings have reported that most teachers in Malaysian schools are lacking in terms of knowledge and skills to teach critical thinking skills to their students (Education Reform in Malaysia Report, 2012), a few amendments have been made to encounter this problem from the teacher’s part. Nagappan (2001) reports that Teacher Education Division (TED) had revamped the curriculum for Teacher Training Programme such as in Post Degree Teaching Programme (KPLI) in early 1994 to incorporate a programme that teaches the strategies to teach thinking skills using the infusion approach which is based on Boston Model. As for the teachers in schools, Ministry of Education (MOE) had introduced the Programme for Instruction in Learning and Thinking Skills (PILTS) in 1992 (Rosnani, 2009). This programme was introduced to identify the core thinking skills to be taught and the strategies to infuse these skills into the content of the lesson being learnt.

Apart from that, Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) has also made an attempt to cultivate undergraduates’ critical thinking skills through the content and tasks assigned throughout each programme. According to Hairuzila, Hazadiah & Normah (2010), the curriculum for undergraduates has been infused with relevant soft skills such as communicative skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills, lifelong learning, team work force and leadership skills into its syllabus. They further elaborate that in order to align with Vision 2020 of producing holistic individuals for the country, the assessments or tasks given to the undergraduates are geared towards preparing them for their career life as most are based on real-life problems, with less stress on pen and paper tests like previously.

Challenges in teaching critical thinking skills in Malaysia

Due to the exam-oriented culture that has been practised for years in Malaysian education system, teachers are shouldered with the responsibility to finish the syllabus and give as much drilling exercises as they can to their students as to keep up with the society’s expectation and over-emphasis on academic results. This in return has caused the teachers paying the least attention to students’ character building and soft skills such as critical thinking skill (Education Reform in Malaysia Report, 2012). It can be seen here that Malaysian teachers are not only lacking in terms of skills to teach critical thinking skills (Rosnani, 2009), but also are less than competent to prepare and conduct a lesson that infuses critical thinking skills in a traditional classroom. This is due to the fact that teaching critical thinking skills needs a lot of time allocation during the pre-preparation class and undivided commitment both of part of the teacher and students to ensure an active progress during the learning process (Willingham, 2007).

Apart from that, big size classrooms in most Malaysian schools are also one of the reasons that contribute to the failure of integrating critical thinking skills in teaching a subject in traditional classroom. A survey done by Kamaruddin (2011) stated that classroom in Malaysian schools are generally consists of 35 to 50 students per classroom. This indirectly shows that most students will appear as passive learners and interactive activities that are believed to cultivate students’ critical thinking cannot be well conducted in such big size class. In contrast, many studies have shown that a small size class of 20 students and below are said to be efficient and often associated with increased students’ performance and thus, most likely allowing smooth nurturing process of their soft skills (Carson, Badarack, 1989; Berliner, 1990; Kamaruddin & Bhasah, 2004).

The pressure to achieve excellence in academic result in a less conducive environment in most of Malaysian schools left the teachers with no choice but to resort practising teacher centred approach in attending their responsibilities. Hence, students are not given ample opportunity to experience interactive, active learning that could actually help to cultivate their critical thinking skills (Kamaruddin, 2011). Teacher centred approach, in return, will undeniably cause one-way knowledge transmission to occur and therefore, less chances being given to the students to convey their opinions to actively construct their own knowledge (Willingham, 2007). Without opportunity to actively construct own knowledge, one is said to pay less attention to cultivate and nurture his own critical thinking (Toulmin, 1958). Due to this situation, most of Malaysian students who are later become employees are said to have poor communication skills and this visibly shows in their lack of ability to critically transferring an opinion or knowledge when communicating with others (Education Reform in Malaysia Report, 2012).

Educational Learning Theory and Strategies

Due to that, teachers’ way of teaching should geared towards integrating higher order thinking skills and practising positive communication skills in order to produce holistic individuals align with Vision 2020. Woolfolk (1993) suggests that theoretical foundation of learning and strategies used in a learning process will help to mould the type of students that a teacher wants to nurture. Lai (2011) suggests the teaching of higher order thinking skills should be based on the followings:

Constructivism Theory

Bruner (1996) stated that the basic idea of constructivism is that learners actively construct own understanding by accepting certain experiences and selecting essentials from various sources of knowledge. Naismith et. al (2006) also claimed that constructivism approach is about building new knowledge upon what have been gathered in previous learning. Woolfolk (1993) stated that constructivist learning theory indirectly teaching the students to “learn to learn” as it involves thinking processes in which students need to be able to go beyond the information given, apply their own knowledge, evaluate judgements before generate new ideas out of it. Students are required to actively involve in the learning process to develop their thinking skills through their experiences in schools (Prawat, 1991). Lai (2001) stated that constructivism can be used as a foundation to nurture one’s higher order thinking skills via self-questioning, analysing written document for comprehension and also having collaborative discussions with peers.

Social Constructivist Theory

Social Constructivist Theory, on the other hand, is a theory that states each individual cognitive development is at its best when one constructs the meaning of new knowledge by actively participating in constructing and sharing the knowledge through communication with others (Burningham & Cooper, 1999). These theories believes that peer to peer discussion will help one to actively construct new knowledge and learn by sharing and discussing the materials gathered in a positive social environment (Schwandt, 2003).

Problem Based Learning (PBL)

Teaching critical thinking skills is usually being paired with Problem Based Learning approach as it triggers and provokes learners’ thinking as to reach to a solution to a problem with relation to day-to-day situations (Woolfolk, 1993). Problem Based Learning (PBL) approach teaches students to think critically as it takes real world circumstances which usually involves experiential, inductive learning that requires questioning and thinking that is goal-directed and purposive (Lai, 2011). More often than not, it involves a project that encourages the learners to “learn to learn” which is an important component in constructivist approach (Kuhn, 1999). This inevitably will encourage active learning process including through talking, brainstorming and in-depth investigation of knowledge via numerous collaborative learning experiences.

Collaborative learning

A number of critical thinking researchers recommended that social experiences in a learning process can significantly contribute to one’s cognitive development process which evidently occurred in a collaborative learning approach (Heyman, 2008; Thayer-Bacon, 2008 &Nelson, 1994). This is further supported by Woolfolk (1993) who claimed that collaborative learning is basically based from Piagetian and Vygotsky theory which mutually agree that social interactions highly contribute to one’s cognitive development process.

In a collaborative learning, it is believed that Piaget theory is applied in terms of its instructional aspect in which learner’s cognitive development can be triggered via interactions with another person of a higher developmental stage which is normally the teacher or a more knowledgeable peer (Woolfolk, 1993) whilst Vygotsky belief is identified in terms of one’s zone of proximal development that distinguishes between what an individual can achieved by himself and what can be accomplished via interactions with a more competent peer or adult (Nelson, 1994). Thayer-Bacon (2008) further viewed that social interactions with others in collaborative learning is an important aspect to instil critical thinking skills onto students as they need to constructively contribute and share opinions and at the same time learn to respect other contributions during group discussions.

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Collaborative Problem Based Learning (CPBL)

Gokhale (1995) findings stated that students who are actively engaged in a collaborative task demonstrate better Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) as compared to the ones who work individually. This finding is further supported by Vygotsky (1978) who claimed that collaborative learning helps to foster the development of critical thinking skills via discussion, justification of ideas and analysing other’s views. A few research findings have shown that combining collaborative approach on problem solving teaching strategy has actually increase students’ meta-cognitive on solving the problems and thus, improve their higher order thinking skills (Johnson & Chung, 1999; Mergendoller et al., 2000). They further elaborate that the interaction between peers about the problem at hand, brainstorming for solutions and evaluating each other’s views during the process has encouraged more frequent generation of ideas and solution and thus, allow students to think critically and analytically.

Collaborative learning, as defined by Correndo and Alani (2007), is an instructional strategy that consists of students from various proficiency levels work together in a group while helping each other towards achieving one common objective or learning outcome. On the other hand, Problem Based Learning is an instructional pedagogy that uses problem as a learning context to challenge the students to “learn to learn” in order to find solutions to the problem (Duch, Groh & Allen, 2001). Hence, Collaborative Problem Based Learning (CPBL) is a combination of Collaborative Learning and Problem Based Learning which can be concluded as an instructional strategy that provides opportunities for the students to work within small groups and actively participate in various activities including discussions a situation, analysing others’ views and finally collaboratively evaluating possible solution to the problem at hand (An, 2006).

The advantages of CPBL

CPBL encourages students to work together in constructing new knowledge to seek a solution of the problem at hand. Hence, students are given vast opportunities to become critical thinkers by sharing ideas and actively engaging oneself in discussions and be responsible of their own learning as well as others’ (Totten, Sills, Digby, & Russ, 1991). This position is further supported by Johnson and Johnson (1986) who stated that the collaboration on problem solving promotes higher level of thinking as the participants need to analyse others’ opinion before clarifying own opinion. They further claimed that this helps to promote longer knowledge retention as compared to the ones who worked individually to seek knowledge.

Besides, An (2006) also stated that CPBL provides authentic learning experiences as well as nurturing their communication skills while exchanging ideas during the discussions. Hence, CPBL helps to foster self-directed learning skills that could be useful to help students become lifelong learners and critical thinkers (Norman and Schmidt, 1992). Albanese and Mitchell (1993) also proposed that students who undergone CPBL approach performed better than the ones who received traditional approach in learning as they have first hand experience that rewards them with in-depth understanding about the task at hand. This is believed because the students actively constructing their own knowledge via interaction with their peers (Smith & MacGregor, 2001). Vygotsky (1978) also views that teacher is not the only knowledge transmitter that the students can learn from; peer teaching is also one of the ways to encourage active learning.

The limitations of CPBL

Despite of these benefits, CPBL approach also has its fair share of flaws when it is being applied in a traditional classroom. In any group activities, especially in a traditional classroom as it is quite difficult for the teacher to accurately evaluate every student’s contributions to the group, there is always freeloading problems. The freeloading members usually take credits of the work of others and this may cause conflict amongst students (Bower & Richards, 2006).

Bower and Richards (2006) further stated that this may decrease some self-confidence of some students as psychologically, every student need to be acknowledged where credit is due in order for them to further construct their own knowledge in an active manner. They also claimed that it is almost impossible for the teacher to fairly distribute the mark based on every student’s contribution to the group. Hence, this may either cause some students to either frustrated for being credited unfairly and later de-motivated to contribute in the future or worse, become freeloaders and just enjoying the free lunch (Bonwell, 2006).

Other than that, since CPBL activities need the students to collaboratively work towards achieving a goal or solution to a real-life problem, the preparation of these activities are normally take great effort and commitment both from the teacher and students. This is hard to achieve if it were to be done in a traditional classroom due to time and space constraint (Bonwell, 2002). Apart from teaching, Malaysian teachers especially, are burdened with other extra curriculum or out of-school activities that take a lot of their personal time (Rosnani, 2009). Without proper preparation, CPBL that is hoped to encourage students to actively construct their own knowledge and at the same time nurturing their higher order and communication skills may not be turn into an achievable end (Hmelo-Silver, 2004). This is further supported by Smith and MacGregor (2001) who claimed that collaborative learning is a wonderful approach to encourage critical thinking, however, it is also may create dilemmas between student’s process of learning and the coverage of the lesson’s content.

Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL)

Due to the rapid development of Information Technology (IT) in this modern age, these 21st Century students’ way of learning has also changed (An, 2006). Today, one of the ways to support active learning can be materialised in a more fun way through the use of technology tools. Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) is an instructional strategy infused with constructivist approach to teaching and learning using technology to support collaboration in order to create a more conducive and engaging learning ambience (Johnson & Johnson, 1996). They further stated that a technology-rich learning environment is able to increase students’ social interaction, cooperation and collaboration and thus, encourage their knowledge construction. Harasim, Hiltz, Teles, and Turoff (1995) also claimed that CSCL promotes online collaborative learning that may positively encourage students’ towards active learning. This is because students can get information almost effortlessly via online and then discuss with their peers before emerge with a solution to a problem.

CPBL in an online environment

In this era of rapid development of Information Technology (IT), there have been efforts to combine CPBL into CSCL environment (An, 2006). Many research findings have indicated that CPBL in an online environment has been showing positive effects towards students’ knowledge construction as well as social interaction skills.

One of the perks by applying CPBL into an online environment, apart from discussion with the instructor and their peers via online with no restriction to time and place, is that it encourages self-directed learning amongst students as it provides students with vast selections of information needed almost effortlessly (Bonk & King, 1998). This is because it allows the students to learn via Web 2.0 tools as learning aids such as e-mails, online group discussion in the chat rooms, collaborative writing via Wiki, social bookmarking and so forth to happen anytime and anywhere. This unlimited and easy access on information will open ways for the students to adapt to self-directed learning and thus, encourage active knowledge construction to occur.

Besides, this online learning environment allows the role of the teacher as the sole provider of knowledge to transform into the role of facilitator, which aligns perfectly with student-centred approach in PBL (Vrasidas & McIsaac, 2000). Here, students are encouraged to construct their own knowledge with little guidance from the teacher and become an active contributor towards their own learning instead of passively receiving knowledge from anyone else. This approach opens way to cultivate one’s higher order thinking skills (Harasim et al., 1997) as it also promotes positive interaction between the teacher and the students (Relan & Gillani, 1997).

Most importantly, Althaus, (1996) viewed that CPBL in an online environment allows computer mediated communication that gives an ample time for the students to analyse, reflect the content of the discussion, find extra information needed via online and evaluate others’ opinions before providing a thoughtful response. The discussion via online also allows the students to do self reflection at their own convenient time as they can print out the discussion due to its permanence discourse, as opposed to face to face discussion (Bonk & King, 1998).

Bower and Richards (2006) stated that one of the limitations of using PBL in a traditional classroom is that the collaborative discussion in a traditional classroom often results in off-task behaviour amongst students. In contrast, many research findings have proven that students emit less off-task behaviour in an online discussion and they tend to focus and intently solving the problem at hand (Angeli et al., 2003; Bonk et al., 1998; Bonk & King, 1998; Bonk et al., 2004).

In fact, many psychological studies have indicated that collaborative discussion via online shows more participation from the students than the face to face discussions (Bonk & King, 1998; Chong, 1998; Cooney, 1998). This situation is especially true for the students who have shy personality or lack of self confidence to talk publicly. Leasure et al. (2000) proposed that this could be due to the comfortable and “safe” social learning environment that the online ambience provides for these students. Here, it can be said that CPBL in an online environment is a potential learning approach to promote positive changes in cultivating critical thinking as well as to encourage one’s social interaction with others.

2.8 Language learning issues in Malaysia

In moving towards fulfilling Vision 2020, education system in Malaysia is undergoing a few changes as to produce holistic individuals who are competent physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually (Education Reform in Malaysia Report, 2012). Along with the changes introduced, Ministry of Education (MOE) has decided to integrate the teaching of critical thinking skills within the syllabuses of the subjects taught in schools including English subject. The changes is hoped to produce lifelong learners who are able to think critically and analytically over a given situation. Sadly, however, the outcome of our education system has proven a contrasting result in which most of Malaysian students and university undergraduates are said to be deficient in terms critical thinking skills and display poor communication abilities especially when it is done in English (Normazidah, Koo & Hazita, 2012).

A study by Koo (2008) revealed that this is due to the fact that Malaysians schools in general, placed a high value of importance on national examination. This has indirectly caused the English teachers to concentrate on the teaching of grammar, reading a passage and writing skills rather than focusing on the communicative aspect of the language itself, let alone to mould students’ critical thinking ability while learning the language (Normazidah, Koo & Hazita, 2012). This is further supported by Amigapathy (2002) findings on his analysis of KBSM syllabus which indicated that the content of current syllabus requires the students to learn too many grammatical components which later are to be tested in examinations. Here, it can be seen that the teaching of English is mainly focused on the mechanical aspect of the language without making any connection with how it should be used in real life communicative events. He further documented that in order to fulfil the demands of the society to produce students with good grades in examinations, English teachers in Malaysia often resorted to teacher-centred approach in teaching the language by providing chalk-and-talk drilling method of past year papers, hand outs and countless paper exercises. This eventually will inevitably produce learners who know about the language but do not know how to use it in real life situations (Amigapathy, 2002), display limited critical ability in analysing and responding to an academic passage (Ahmad Mazli Muhammad, 2007) as students are only exposed to surface approach to reading (Noorizah Mohd Noor, 2006). Here, it can be concluded that there is a mismatch between the policy made with the actual practise of teaching and learning of English in Malaysia which make it quite difficult to produce learners as critical thinkers with acceptable level of English proficiency.

This situation is reported leads to a greater problem when the students make the transition from secondary school to university as the students will face problems to move away from school spoon-feeding learning culture (Normazidah, Koo & Hazita, 2012). Research studies have indicated that most Malaysian students are not prepared to meet the academic demand that requires them to have both language literacy as well as critical literacy ability in order to fulfil the academic reading and academic writing tasks imposed on them at university (Rosniah Mustaffa, 2006; Krishnakumari, Paul-Evanson, & Selvanayagam, 2010).

Hence, it is safe to say that the time has come for Malaysian teachers to treat the students as the focal point of language learning by making a slight changes in teaching the language and at the same time, whenever possible, providing a conducive environment of learning. As CPBL is geared towards cultivating one’s critical thinking ability (An, 2006; Totten, Sills, Digby, & Russ, 1991) and critical thinking skills is viewed as crucial part in the acquisition of language skills (Elder & Paul, 2006; Shaharom Abdullah, 2004; Moore, 1995), it only seems appropriate to adapt CPBL approach in the teaching and learning of English in Malaysian classrooms. Besides, language learning can also be mediated via technology tools because as mentioned earlier, CPBL in an online environment brings tremendous advantages and benefits to the students in terms of critical thinking and language learning as it involves numerous opportunities for social interactions amongst the students and educator.

Technology, language learning and critical thinking

Technology has also been proven useful in the teaching of language and development of one’s critical thinking at time and space convenient to both the teacher and students (Cheong & Cheung, 2008). For instance, the discussions in the discussion board


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