The Importance Of Critical Thinking Skills

The importance of critical thinking skills
According to Edmonds et al. (2005), critical thinking has many definitions over the past years; however, it can be concluded as an active mental process that includes mental skills such as conceptualizing, analyzing, applying, synthesizing and evaluating information in order to emerge with an answer or conclusion.

Everyone needs to have an ability to solve problems throughout their lives. Therefore, many educational experts have stressed on the importance of instilling higher order thinking skills in one’s education as it helps students to analyse the situation, learn the tasks better before emerge with solution both in academic and non-academic circumstances (Chance, 1986; Tama, 1989; Ennis, 1992; Elder & Paul, 2001,). This is because thinking and learning are interrelated as one has to independently think and seek solutions to a problem or situation in order to gain knowledge. Research findings indicate that critical thinking skill can be taught and improved in everyone and this skill should be integrated in the curriculum at all levels (Grant, 1988; Paul et al., 1989; White, Burke, 1992; McKendree et al., 2002).

Sternberg (2003) stated that one of the goals of education is to produce lifelong learners who posses the qualities of intelligent, critical thinkers which is believed to be able to think independently, analytically and critically to experience a better career achievement in order to gain personal satisfaction and hopefully, contribute to national achievement to develop his nation. This is because learning is an ongoing process that may occur in academic and non-academic circumstances. Without critical thinking skills, Sternberg (2003) further elaborated that schools and universities will only produce highly gullible students and graduates who may be knowledgeable, but lack of the skills to think critically and analytically over a situation. This is because they are just passively receiving information exhibited by the political leaders as information can be easily transmitted by the media via various form in this era of rapid development of Information Technology (IT). Without ability to think critically, they also would later face some problems when they become employees as they need to communicate well-reasoned ideas and would not be able to actively contribute to educational discussions due to poor communication skills and lack of analytical reasoning to a situation at hand (Education Reform in Malaysia Report, 2012).

Critical thinking and employability
Paul (1995) claimed that critical thinking is a vital foundation to the adjustments needed for everyday social, personal and professional demands of the 21st Century. It is further supported by Elder (2000) who claims that it is important to teach higher order thinking skills to students in schools and universities as today’s society has become more complex due to rapid change in technology. The society need to be able to analyse the vast information that can be gathered effortlessly via online and only select essentials from it (Chartrand, 2009). Henwood (2007) claimed this situation also applied in day to day real life situations. Hence, he further stated that students who are ill-equipped with critical thinking skills will not be able to cope with the challenges and demands of current job market. This is because higher order thinking skill is believed as one of the most essential soft skills for future employability of the new generations.
Mariam Jean Dreher (2000) predicts that the future will call for a lifestyle; both in education and career field; of independent problem solvers that requires multiliteracies which involves higher order thinking skills.

In Malaysia, the research findings claim that critical thinking skill is highly valued in the workplace today (DETYA, 2000; Chartrand, 2009). Norshima (2011) reports that Malaysia produces 60, 000 graduates annually in which at least 30 percent of these graduates are unemployed every year as they are lacked of these potent skills. This is further supported by Gurvinder Kaur and Sharan Kaur (2009) who claimed that in Malaysia, six out of ten university graduates take as much as six months to be employed due to lack of critical thinking skills and poor communication skills. Fong (2004) and Vijan (2007) findings stated that the reasons that Malaysian graduates are unemployed because they are not able to impress their possible future employers during interview due to poor presentation and communication skills especially if it is done in English.

Besides, Malaysian education system is said to be too exam-oriented and thus, the graduates could not contribute as much once they start working as they are only theoretically competent but not equipped with sufficient practical exposure (Henwood, 2007). This is further supported by Rosnani (2009) and Education Reform in Malaysia Report (2012) findings which stated that employers in Malaysia, specifically in business sector, complain about the low quality of most graduates from Malaysia are deficient in terms of critical thinking skills which in return affect the quality of their work
Due to the uprising employees’ concern over the lacking of this potent soft skill amongst freshly graduates employers globally, curriculum of educational system has been gradually revamped over the years. This situation is especially true in most leading or developing countries like the United States, England and Singapore (Nagappan, 2001; Willingham, 2007). The need to inculcate critical thinking skills into Malaysian education system is hence undeniable in order to fulfil Vision 2020. This need is supported by Rosnani (2009) who proclaims that Malaysians, in general, have not been able to apply the content of knowledge gained throughout their school years into real life situations even after undergone at least 11 years of schooling and therefore, Malaysia educational system need to be analysed and some changes need to be made.

Ministry of Education (MOE) has realised the alarming needs of the aforementioned situation and thus, Integrated Curriculum for Secondary School (KBSM) was introduced in the late 1980s (Nagappan, 2011). The content of this new curriculum was revamped in which creative and critical thinking skills were integrated in most of the subjects taught in schools with a stress on discussion, discovery and inquiry; the higher rung of Bloom taxonomy (Curriculum Development Center, 1989).

As it is realised that the teachers need to be competent to teach critical thinking skills to the students, a few efforts were also been conducted as to prepare the teachers and teachers-to-be with the new task ahead of them. As educational findings have reported that most teachers in Malaysian schools are lacking in terms of knowledge and skills to teach critical thinking skills to their students (Education Reform in Malaysia Report, 2012), a few amendments have been made to encounter this problem from the teacher’s part. Nagappan (2001) reports that Teacher Education Division (TED) had revamped the curriculum for Teacher Training Programme such as in Post Degree Teaching Programme (KPLI) in early 1994 to incorporate a programme that teaches the strategies to teach thinking skills using the infusion approach which is based on Boston Model. As for the teachers in schools, Ministry of Education (MOE) had introduced the Programme for Instruction in Learning and Thinking Skills (PILTS) in 1992 (Rosnani, 2009). This programme was introduced to identify the core thinking skills to be taught and the strategies to infuse these skills into the content of the lesson being learnt.

Apart from that, Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) has also made an attempt to cultivate undergraduates’ critical thinking skills through the content and tasks assigned throughout each programme. According to Hairuzila, Hazadiah & Normah (2010), the curriculum for undergraduates has been infused with relevant soft skills such as communicative skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills, lifelong learning, team work force and leadership skills into its syllabus. They further elaborate that in order to align with Vision 2020 of producing holistic individuals for the country, the assessments or tasks given to the undergraduates are geared towards preparing them for their career life as most are based on real-life problems, with less stress on pen and paper tests like previously.
Challenges in teaching critical thinking skills in Malaysia
Due to the exam-oriented culture that has been practised for years in Malaysian education system, teachers are shouldered with the responsibility to finish the syllabus and give as much drilling exercises as they can to their students as to keep up with the society’s expectation and over-emphasis on academic results. This in return has caused the teachers paying the least attention to students’ character building and soft skills such as critical thinking skill (Education Reform in Malaysia Report, 2012). It can be seen here that Malaysian teachers are not only lacking in terms of skills to teach critical thinking skills (Rosnani, 2009), but also are less than competent to prepare and conduct a lesson that infuses critical thinking skills in a traditional classroom. This is due to the fact that teaching critical thinking skills needs a lot of time allocation during the pre-preparation class and undivided commitment both of part of the teacher and students to ensure an active progress during the learning process (Willingham, 2007).

Apart from that, big size classrooms in most Malaysian schools are also one of the reasons that contribute to the failure of integrating critical thinking skills in teaching a subject in traditional classroom. A survey done by Kamaruddin (2011) stated that classroom in Malaysian schools are generally consists of 35 to 50 students per classroom. This indirectly shows that most students will appear as passive learners and interactive activities that are believed to cultivate students’ critical thinking cannot be well conducted in such big size class. In contrast, many studies have shown that a small size class of 20 students and below are said to be efficient and often associated with increased students’ performance and thus, most likely allowing smooth nurturing process of their soft skills (Carson, Badarack, 1989; Berliner, 1990; Kamaruddin & Bhasah, 2004).

The pressure to achieve excellence in academic result in a less conducive environment in most of Malaysian schools left the teachers with no choice but to resort practising teacher centred approach in attending their responsibilities. Hence, students are not given ample opportunity to experience interactive, active learning that could actually help to cultivate their critical thinking skills (Kamaruddin, 2011). Teacher centred approach, in return, will undeniably cause one-way knowledge transmission to occur and therefore, less chances being given to the students to convey their opinions to actively construct their own knowledge (Willingham, 2007). Without opportunity to actively construct own knowledge, one is said to pay less attention to cultivate and nurture his own critical thinking (Toulmin, 1958). Due to this situation, most of Malaysian students who are later become employees are said to have poor communication skills and this visibly shows in their lack of ability to critically transferring an opinion or knowledge when communicating with others (Education Reform in Malaysia Report, 2012) 

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