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An academic, a researcher and writer.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Critical Thinking and Education in Pakistan

It is a general observation that the existing system of education in Pakistan in contrast to the education systems of the more developed countries does not fulfill the real aim of education: the creation of a critical frame of mind capable of independent, rational thinking and objective intelligent decision making. This is a system which focuses on filling the students’ minds with factual (mostly dogmatic and unscientific) knowledge. It has been observed that this system fails to inculcate the required faculties of rational, independent and critical thinking. One Pakistani educationist has this to say about this system, “Our education system produces the best breed of parrots in the world. These amazing creatures are able to reproduce staggering amounts of information from their memory banks. In an international competition the Hafiz-e-Science produced by Pakistani schools would surely walk away with all the prizes.” This then is the real issue: a predominantly aimless education (if we could call it education in the first place) which is in dire need to be revamped and invigorated. Let us consider the following two quotes:

“Education should begin in research and end in research….An education which does
not begin by evoking initiative and end by encouraging it must be wrong. For its
whole aim is the production of active wisdom.” Alfred North Whitehead.

And, “Critical thinking is the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking and being able to think clearly and rationally” Joe Lau
The above two definitions suggest the close interrelationship of education and critical thinking. The definition of education by Whitehead obviously gives one an idea about the extreme importance of research in the process of education. But what is research and how does critical thinking help in the process of research? The definition of critical thinking by Joe Lau points out some implications in this regard. A closer examination and comparison of the definitions of critical thinking and education divulge a very close relationship of the two concepts. As a matter of fact there is not just interrelationship but an actual interdependence. Education should begin and end in research. But research (the systematic process of scientific exploration and discovery) is quite unfeasible without first of all developing the faculty of critical thinking: the ability to think independently, to question, to enquire and to think out–of-the-box. Critical thinking then is extremely important for a student as it is "… the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action" Scriven, M. & Paul, R.
Critical thinking helps in improving language skills (something almost entirely missing in the case of Pakistani students who are a product of our public sector schools, demonstrated by the fact a M.A English writes the same application for attaining casual leave from his/her employer which he/she had memorized since his/her school days as a an obligation to be reproduced in the final exam to pass it and be promoted to the next class!) and in clarifying and streamlining thoughts and concepts. Besides, it is of immense importance in the process of self evaluation and the development of an objective, rational and impartial outlook. Critical thinking involves the proper functioning of the mind and is thus extremely useful in the process of education as it guards against the tendencies of blind follow and indoctrination on the part of the student which unfortunately is the norm in the case of a predominant majority of our students, who find it almost impossible to think for themselves and to take initiative.
According to W.B.Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” The definition implies the fact that the real process of education should involve questioning, researching, forming opinions, verifying ideas and thoughts and then reaching a sound conclusion.
Keeping in view the above elucidation, the educational scenario in Pakistan is not very heartening. One of the perennial problems that the Pakistani education system, right from the primary level to highest levels suffers from is that this system is for the most part meaningless and directionless. This is so because in the Pakistani context ‘Education’ could be taken to mean as the systematic process of enabling students to acquire facts, figures and information. Students are regarded as empty vessels and sent to schools, colleges and universities for the purpose of filling their minds with information of all kinds. Unfortunately when such students ultimately graduate and enter the real world (the world where they are required to put to practice what they have ‘learnt’ at schools, colleges and universities), they find that what they have ‘learnt’ serve them little or no purpose. Their degrees and certificates do not mean much and are of little practical use. There is thus stagnation. Minds as a result of this education instead of expanding and opening to new ideas and thoughts get clogged and segregated. Education thus becomes for the most part of it, an exercise in futility and ultimately leads to disillusionment, and frustration.

It is, therefore, needless to say that such an education system is of little practical value and is in dire need of some constructive change. This system needs to be replaced by an education system which aims at making our young people productive by making them rational, thinking and creative individuals.

This argument points to the extremely alarming situation of the Pakistani education system. And the need for an in-depth study of the various factors that lead to this situation. It is extremely important to figure out the various loopholes and flaws (something that I shall discuss in some future article in detail) in the Pakistani education system which causes this stagnation of minds, suppression of intellects and the ultimate indoctrination, and belief in half truths.

Inculcation and development of critical thinking skills then should be the most obvious aim of any productive system of education. Education should aim at bringing intrinsic behavioural changes. It remains aimless if it does not lead to the formation of a mind capable of independent thinking and the establishment and creation of new knowledge. This can be done through an education system which aims at developing a critical frame of mind and free thinking. It is this very element which one thinks is the most important component of education: development of minds capable of critical thinking in the schools. And it is this component which unfortunately one finds is missing in the case of the Pakistani education system (especially at the lower and more fundamental level i.e. at the school level). This essential lapse makes the whole process of education in Pakistan largely a futile exercise. This leads to a phenomenon where graduates (empty degree holders to be precise) and postgraduates are unable to show a rational bent of mind and are easy prey to dogmatism and narrow mindedness and of course to academic dishonesty, cheating and plagiarism.

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