Albert Einstein, arguably the most famous scientist of the 20th century, frequently quoted on the subject of education and science, believed that “Education is not the learning of facts but the training of the mind to think.” This unfortunately is not the case of Primary and Secondary School education in Guyana. As a tertiary educator, I have the misfortune of witnessing our youth enter university without learning ‘how to learn’, how to analyse information and most importantly, how to think critically.
The actual definition of critical thinking varies from source to source and depending on the discipline, critical thinking requirements can include a number of variables. However, at the heart of the concept, a critical thinker should be able to deduce consequences from what he/she knows, how to make use of information to solve problems, and to seek relevant sources of information to inform themselves.
The majority of students entering University, especially those entering straight out of CSEC, lack the necessary skills to do just this.
My colleagues and I often discuss this subject and how to overcome these challenges, as many of us agree the hardest part of our jobs in tertiary education is transforming our students’ mentality from being fed spoon by spoon what is required for ‘the exam’ to being shown how to use the spoon, the location of the necessary resources and giving students the choice whether they want to consume and how much they want to consume.
Part of the problem arises from the pressure placed on our primary and secondary schools to ensure their students do well at national and regional assessments. In the quest to garner double digit grade ones at CSEC, to get the top student in the country or the Caribbean, our teachers prepare students to pass and do well at exams rather than learning to think, analyse and ask questions.
If we look at many 5th form classes in Guyana, class time is spent working questions from past papers and looking at the necessary approaches for gaining the highest marks on recurring question types. This has inevitably led to many students lacking the critical thinking and analysis skills that are necessary for success in higher education and the workplace, as independent discussions, question and answer sessions and problem solving exercises are infrequently done.
Furthermore, our students have been trained from a young age not to ask questions, but to sit quietly and listen. While we may utilize this as a method of instilling discipline in our young, we should recognize that this suppresses our inherent nature to question and to fully conceptualize an idea by ensuring our understanding of said idea is correct.
The Silver Lining
I still have many colleagues who are dedicated to educating our youth, instead of just certifying them. During our non-teaching time, we sit and brainstorm ways in which we can help our students to be better prepared for the working world, not only technically but on a more holistic level, so that they can tackle any challenge posed to them.
The few students who are able to adapt to the required method of learning at University, which requires independent research, reading on their own time and being able to apply the knowledge gained to solve issues and problems, are the ones to succeed in higher academia, in the workplace and in life generally, as the right mind set is developed for life’s many challenges.
In fact, one of the best students currently in our Faculty was not a star CSEC student. He did well enough at the sitting, but his true academic success has come at University where he has been able to adjust to a higher thinking style and can be relied upon to steer discussions in the most thought-provoking directions. He is well on his way to being one of the best graduating students at the University in a year’s time and should be the epitome of the kind of individuals Guyana needs to produce from our education system.
Call for Change
I want to issue a call for an overhaul in our education system in Guyana, where our teachers should be encouraged to focus on educating our young, instead of preparing them for an exam. While this is an ambitious task which will require considerable resources, the following simple modifications may be employed in the meanwhile:
We need our future generation to solve some of the problems created by past and current generations, in the most resourceful and innovative ways. We must encourage free-thinking, creativity and most of all critical thinking if we intend for humanity to survive another thousand years on this Earth.
Heal Guyana is a registered, not-for-profit organisation which functions as a civil society platform that focuses on empowering Guyanese and influencing citizens toward positive behavior change.
The views expressed herein are those of the Author; they do not necessarily reflect the views of Heal Guyana or its Executives.