PEP and teaching critical thinking



Wednesday, September 26, 2018

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Over the past few months a lot has been said about the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) instituted by the Ministry of Education. The profile was designed to increase the students' academic and critical thinking capabilities, and creativity by the end of primary school. It therefore should be our goal as educators to ensure our students leave our classrooms as independent thinkers, with the ability to solve problems, analyse and reason at a higher level. The examination will require students to apply knowledge and demonstrate their critical reasoning skills to answer questions. The PEP requires teachers use different pedagogical approaches, moving away from rote (memorization and regurgitation) and lecture to training students to think how to construct knowledge, make linkages, analyse facts not just accept information because it is printed in black and white or said by the teacher. This is the challenge educators in Jamaica face with the new examination as it means relearning how to, changing strategies and becoming coaches rather than masters of information. In other words creating quality thinkers no matter their social, political, school location or economic background is now the focus of our education system. It was Maria Montessori, a well-known educator who contended that the greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, “The children are now working as if I did not exist”.

Mark J Snyder in a research review entitled “Critical Thinking: Teaching Methods and Strategies” identifies three main challenges to teaching Critical Thinking, namely a crowded curriculum, short class periods and too many students. These three factors pose a problem as having too much content to cover hinders the development of critical thinking which takes time; the type of activities required to facilitate the mastery of this skill also require more time and involvement of all student is key which require time. With our new curriculum a student at grade 4-6 has approximately fifteen subjects to cover on a weekly basis with each subject area being taught in 45 minutes to an hour with an average of 50 to 60 students in each class with one teacher. There needs to be a drastic change in the way we do education for real critical thinking to be developed in each child. I believe the development of this skill is necessary and important for the children's future and that of our nation. It is incumbent upon the stakeholders to review the volume of the content in the curriculum to ensure the development of thinking skills.

While these challenges described above are the realities of Jamaica's education system teachers have to employ new strategies, ask higher order questions, and make students more responsible for learning to guarantee their success at PEP. The classroom environment has to be one that is open to inquiry, challenges students to think, facilitate collaboration with a model (the teacher) of critical thinking (Matthews, 2003). In essence, the classroom has to be place where the skill is modelled, tasks are designed to culture the habit and time used to allow for students collaboration. There is also the need for new and varied strategies to be sought by teachers to equip students with the skills sets necessary to succeed in the 21st century. Some strategies our educators and parents could explore incorporating used in other societies as cited by author of the book, Developing Thinking; Developing Learning, Debra McGregor include: Cognitive Acceleration Approach which focuses on developing reasoning patterns where content is connect to real world and comparisons made. The ARTs Programme by Yates and Gouge which allows students to become critics of the Arts to develop their imagination as they use an objective perspective to explain reason for judgement made. Another interesting approach is the Activation Children Thinking (ACTs) which helps children develop a skeptical stance from investigating the authenticity, accuracy of something building logical thinking. There are numerous approaches tested and proven to be effective in the development of not just critical thinking but creative thinking which goes hand in hand.

It is clear that in this technological age our children need to master a wider range of skills than previous generations which will enable them to devise options, analyse information and situations, generate new ideas to respond appropriately, enabling functionality and secure achievement in this ever changing age. To do that well, they need to be playing with a full deck of learning strategies and sensitivities (Claxton 1999, p 331). The truth is Jamaica teachers have designed numerous strategies which now should be adjusted as necessary and to develop our own repertoire of approaches which is shared for the benefit of other practitioners both locally and internationally. Based on my knowledge of the training our teachers receive as a lecturer at the Sam Sharpe Teachers' College and our own creativity as a people, our teachers will rise to the occasion and ensure students' success at PEP.

Andrea Richards is a senior lecturer at Sam Sharpe Teachers' College. Send comments to the Observer

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