Today, critical thinking is considered one of the most important skills for career success and an essential component of life in the information age. Academia, business and policymakers all agree on its importance.
The US-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills, known as P21, and the American Management Association list it as a key 21st century skill “expected to become even more important in the future".
In the context of the UAE’s national agenda, it gains even more importance because ensuring students are equipped with critical thinking skills is fundamental to achieving a competitive knowledge-based economy.
Critical thinking has been identified as a key skill to foster innovation. Research shows that critical thinking and creativity are correlated. Critical thinking training is becoming common practice in the workplace to help develop employees’ innovation skills.
It is a required building block for a Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) education. Subjects in the Stem curriculum teach students how to think critically and how to solve problems – skills that can be used throughout life to help them get through tough times and take advantage of opportunities whenever they appear.
On both accounts, critical thinking is key to the fulfilment of the UAE’s aspiration outlined in Vision 2021 that “science, technology and innovation become the real drivers for sustainable socio-economic development” and tangible goals outlined in the recently launched science, technology and innovation policy. In fact, it permeates many of the strategic sectors and focus areas outlined in the policy.
In this context, critical thinking becomes more than a skill; it’s a mindset, often requiring a culture shift. Educators recognise that it is easier to create a culture rather than shift it. Therefore, we believe that nurturing critical thinking from a young age at school is essential for it to become a constructive, lifelong habit.
One educational system that has adopted critical thinking as an essential part of its curriculum and teaching method is progressive education.
It is a system that relies on active learning methods for children, starting from a very young age. It provides a framework for the learning and teaching methods that can encourage critical and independent thinking in children and facilitates the process of learning in students.
Leading educators agree that a curriculum aimed at building thinking skills would benefit not only the individual learner but also the community, and society at large.
Against this new paradigm, the roles of education, teachers and students inevitably must change. The role of the teacher in a progressive environment is very much different to that in a traditional classroom.
Teachers need to move from primarily being the information keeper and information dispenser to being an enabler of learning where knowledge is co-constructed with the student.
Teachers will become facilitators, guides, mentors, sources and resources who support children in acquiring independent thinking and “learning for life”, stemming from the unique blend of traditional and experiential learning that progressive education offers.
Empowered with the right education and values, children who grow up in the UAE have an opportunity to become truly global citizens and role models to children all over the world.
As educators, it is our responsibility to ignite in them a natural curiosity for the world around them and the confidence to develop their independence of thinking, and harness their joy for learning. It’s a gift they will carry with them throughout their lives and one that will serve them well as they grow into the leaders, innovators, scientists and shapers of tomorrow.
Dr Kandace Williams is the principal of Clarion School