Critical thinking skills cannot guarantee your survival…but they will help
Employers around the world continue to find it difficult to recruit staff with the right skill set. In a survey of over 41,000 hiring managers in 42 countries, 38 percent confirmed that they find it difficult to fill roles, with 17 percent concluding that this is due to graduates lacking workplace competencies. Over the last decade we have seen a huge increase in the demand for employees to have interpersonal and analytical skills, but education has done very little to respond to their needs and incorporate the development of these skills into learning.
Disruption through technology advances, combined with the global challenges we face in the 21st century, mean that students cannot rely on academic ability alone to succeed; they need to be able to adapt to new environments and solve problems, where the one constant is change. Too often there appears to be a tension of opposites between critical thinking and outcome; empowerment exists when the two come together.
However, critical thinking is neither magical nor foolproof. Beyond the general critical thinking skills, knowledge of the specific topic at hand plays an important role in the quality of thoughts you produce.
The modern world is characterised by disruption, and there comes a time when a child must be given the space to lead themselves, so the question is, what is holding schools back?
Education systems around the world are often accountable to a conservative constituency of parents, educators and government ministers who can be resistant to change, and under pressure from academic outcomes. This forces schools and teachers to avoid empowerment where the risk is high, and default to traditional, or ‘safe’, teaching methods, causing them to be bound to a curriculum that has not significantly changed for many decades.
In many schools, it’s not so much the case that the education system is not teaching skills; it’s more that the current system doesn’t build the space and opportunities for learners to be able to develop the skills. As long as teaching remains the focus, rather than the learning experience, the model is inapt. In fact, we see examples of empowerment, however, this happens when the risk is low such as non-curricular activities.
Critical thinking, self-direction, and creativity (a skill that is often feared as ‘maverick’ and without rules, but actually develops evaluation and critical thinking skills) are at odds with our culture of standardised testing. The exams culture today still focuses heavily on sitting in rows and recalling answers, rather than on students learning to ask questions.
This impersonal process alienates students from their own talents; we all remember how certain teachers made a topic come to life, when we were able to learn about something that captured our attention and inspired us. The current focus of the curriculum and teaching practice on outcome – rather than the process of learning through which self-directed learners with creative and critical thinking skills are developed – is monotonous. Human culture is diverse and rich, and we perform better when we are immersed in things that excite and inspire us.
As an alternative, a blended model sees the student’s position change from passive to active, creating a space for the development of critical thinking, and allowing them to take responsibility for managing their learning.
In this approach the teacher makes space for the student, and this space can be animated by the self-directed learner, moving them from school learner, to university student and workspace life-long learner.
It is not my intention to turn this into another conversation about adding more technology into the classroom; this is a pedagogical priority first, but of course utilising technology can be part of the solution to creating the right learning environment.
The blended learning model creates an environment where students are empowered to learn – becoming consciously unconscious of their continuous learning, with opportunities to ask themselves questions to develop critical thinking skills, rather than simply being taught – giving them the skills to not only achieve a desired outcome, but to own their future too.