By: Heng Pheakdey
Thinking skill is often taken for granted because many of us tend to believe that we all can all think. But the question is how well can we think? Fuzzy or flawed thinking can lead to ineffective decisions and result in undesirable consequences.
Critical thinking is defined as a disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence. Critical thinkers are able to differentiate between fact and fiction, evaluate the information presented to them, rather than jumping to conclusions or accepting things at face value.
They ask relevant questions to gather information, draw conclusions from data and make sound decisions based on facts and logical reasons. They don’t let their emotion interfere with their judgment or control their reaction.
Many educators and other professionals would agree that critical thinking is an important skill that people need to succeed in life. In fact, it is a survival skill for today’s fast-paced, information-driven world.
Sadly, during my 10-year career as an educator, trainer and researcher, I have found out that critical thinking is a hard-to-find skill among young people. Among the thousands of students whom I have taught, only a small percentage has demonstrated the ability to think clearly and rationally.
The problem is that students tend to believe what they see or read too easily and react too quickly without assessing whether the information is right or wrong. They don’t question the sources and they let their emotion influence their judgment. The sharing of spam posts in Facebook, the spreading of fake information and unreasonable reaction to rumors are just some examples of the activities students commonly do without proper thinking.
The lack of critical thinking prevents people to live their lives to the fullest. Scriven and Michael Richard Paul of the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking Instruction wrote “Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life.” The inability to think critically increases the risk of acting on a false belief and making a wrong decision. The absence of critical thinking skill also negatively affects student’s academic performance and reduces their employability as companies always look for staff who are able to think and solve problem by themselves.
The good news is with proper techniques and strong commitment, critical thinking is a skill that can be developed and polished over time. The key to improve critical thinking skill is to make a conscious effort to assess all the information prior to making a decision. Before jumping to conclusion, it is important that we seek sufficient relevant information. Take time to assess the facts by checking the sources and look for confirmation from other sources. If you don’t have the facts straight, your decisions are likely to be skewed.
Believe only half of what you hear or see. Don’t take things at face value. Learn to question the assumptions. Keep in mind that there may be hidden truth behind every story; so dig deeper, beyond the surface.
Be a curious learner. Dare to ask questions when in doubt. Read books to absorb knowledge on different issues. Explore new ideas and learn to think outside the box. Cultivate intellectual curiosity in an effective way to sharpen your thinking skill.
Try not to let your emotion cloud your reason. A critical thinker has the self-awareness to know the difference between a rational thought based on careful consideration and an emotional response based on personal bias.
The education system and family environment can also contribute to developing critical thinking skill among young people. At school, instead of asking students to memorize facts and numbers, promote discussion and debate on the causes and effects or implications of an event or an action. In class ask students for their opinion on the current events or situations relevant to their lives. Open-ended questions such as “what do you think about…?” or “why do you feel that way?” will urge them to provide reasoning for their thinking. At home parents should encourage their children to compare and contrast objects or ideas to make them think. When watching TV, listening to the radio, or reading books, ask them for their ideas on the programs, characters and plots. Listen to their opinion and provide them with different perspectives to broaden their thinking.
The quality of life of the children will largely depend on the quality of their thoughts. When thinking skills are lacking, poor decision making and planning result. As the teachers and parents, we must do our upmost to equip children with critical thinking skill so they can be prepared to deal with the problems they will face in their professional, personal, and civic roles.
Heng Pheakdey is the Founder of Enrich Institute.
Note: This article originally appeared in the KhmerTimes on July 11, 2014.
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