Critical Thinking

Issue 6: 21/10/2022 Deputy Head of School (I. Clayton)

Last week, I wrote about the basic changes that education worldwide is undergoing and the reasons why. I also identified the key skills that the World Economic Forum presented as crucial for students to be equipped with on their educational journey. Similarly, the OECD has produced a paper outlining a conceptual learning framework, Skills for 2030. In it, they distinguish between three types of skills. There are cognitive skills like critical and creative thinking and metacognitive skills, such as learning to learn. The second are social and emotional skills which comprise empathy, responsibility and collaboration. The final set of skills is practical and physical skills which include information and communication devices.

If we examine critical thinking in schools and at home, we can boost this crucial skill. Critical and analytical thinking can be taught across all subjects. It is not the sole domain of maths, science or philosophy. It is approaching evidence with a questioning perspective and being able to marshal evidence to establish a clear position or argument. It involves making deductions and inferences. This skill is visible in a whole host of subjects at both primary and secondary school. As well as the ones mentioned above, this skill is required in the social sciences and the study of literature and language. All teachers should be helping to promote critical thinking. What can be done at home to help? The answer, thankfully, is that lots can be done.

Firstly, this style of thinking can be encouraged at a young age. Children are capable of asking and thinking about (in an age appropriate way) many things. When your child keeps asking 'why', don't shut them down. It can be irritating but shows a natural curiosity and helps you to fully understand, or not, why! Secondly, encourage children by asking them lots of open ended questions. 'Where would you like to eat on Sunday? Why?  Model answers in the way that you respond to open ended questions, give reasons, be thoughtful. Thirdly, and this is very important for younger children, read with them and to them. When you talk to them about a book ask them not just to understand the plot, but explore the motives and attitudes of the characters. For example, how and why is the little mouse so clever in the Gruffalo?  When you are reading a new book, ask them to infer what might happen on the next page. Ask them to explain an alternative ending, the key is the justifications from the children. Fourthly, persuade children to try new things, even more important right now with the creation of a risk-averse setting in Hong Kong. Encourage them that it's fine to fail at something. Failing at something does not make them fail. Finally, it is very important to teach children to be critical consumers online. Parents can help by searching websites etc with their children and talking to them about what is appropriate and not and why. We need to help them to identify reliable sources of information, such as showing them fact-checking sites. We need to also remind them that angry exchanges on social media is not analytical debate.

We are in an age where critical and analytical thinking seems to be declining in the public space worldwide. Clearly then, it has never been more important to teach this skill at school and at home.

Ian Clayton
Deputy Head of School / Head of International Stream