Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Critical thinking?

A cliche topic when it comes to a fundamental weakness in Malaysian (& others) education.
But I think it's something that has been addressed countless times and solutions have of course been proposed - in theory, at least. Actually practising it is another story.

I think many have noticed this: students coming out of the Malaysian education system generally face an issue where we fail to think 'out of the box', fail to discuss issues without fearing being in the wrong, fail to think critically of a topic instead of spitting out facts and details.

It's not a new issue, but when you go through it yourself, it will actually hit you. Lately I've noticed that I've been failing to do well in discussion-based classes, or to do well in exams that require me to write essays that compare/contrast/discuss issues rather than narrating/spitting out details (particularly history).

Ever since I arrived in the U.S. and had to attend discussion-based classes, I've realized how fearful it is to talk in class. I've realized how inferior I felt to everyone. I was really scared that whatever I was going to say would be deemed ridiculous or stupid.

And of course I blame myself for this, but why do Westerners generally fare well in these type of classes compared to us? And God I know that you have probably come across this discussion topic countless times, and I know the answer is always the same: our education system just does not raise us to be outspoken, to talk about our opinions/ideas but instead gives us the answers and prefers us to be good, quiet kids in class who listens to the teacher.

I know efforts have been made to gradually change this, especially for history which is good. And I am aware a drastic change might be too much. Not only that, I personally think the teachers are also not sufficiently equipped yet to handle such education systems. But I do believe that more needs to be done about it.

It's not only the education system, but our deeply rooted culture of being very respectful to those above us also restricts our willingness to question ideas, shaping us to be very dependent on our teachers and parents. And I think the 'jangan banyak tanya' culture is also a very big contributing factor to how we turned out.

What I think we ourselves can do to change this bit by bit is to start at home - don't restrict questions, but encourage them. Don't only feed them with facts, but discuss them. I actually found it hard to think about my own opinions or to question things because I was so used to having the answers handed to me. I didn't find the need to think before (and it was actually very tiring for me at first to have to think about things). Training kids to think when they're growing up actually will raise them to be more critical of issues presented to them.

A lot of people argue though that raising our kids to be like this would be at the expense of losing our respect-the-elders culture (which I highly appreciate). But I think we could still raise them to question ideas & formulate their own opinions and still have them be respectful.

The point of having people grow up to be more critical thinkers is not to have them becoming people who argues all the time, but rather becoming people who can discuss things to reach a better conclusion. To give a specific example: deciding on should/should not we enact a policy, or even something silly like what food should we produce more (to make the general population happy) - having people critically discuss this would probably conclude to an answer that would be inclusive of a lot of aspects/sides of arguments. Imagine having just one person giving out opinions on this - one person can not possibly see all aspects.

But, TL;DR, I think raising critical thinkers is of importance - for a better nation. Easier said than done of course - but I think if we all try to change it within us first, we could probably get somewhere.
(Longer post than I actually planned I think)