Critical thinking and university students
Critical thinking is critical for professional development in the 21stcentury.

To adequately understand the nature and depth of critical thinking, it is imperative that one develops a comprehensive overview of the topic itself. Therefore, potent questions are necessary in unravelling and exploring its validity. Questions such as: What is critical thinking? Why critical thinking? Is critical thinking relevant in this era?

For the past decade various theorists and researchers have sought to accurately define the concept critical thinking. These theorists and writers from various professions have maintained analogous viewpoints on the definition of critical thinking. For some, critical thinking is the process of determining the authenticity, accuracy, and worth of information or knowledge claims. For others, it is thinking that perceives reality as a process and transformation; it is critically examining the human condition, and questioning the why and how of that reality. These writers conjecture that the notion usually refers to higher-order thinking and learning.

From my vantage point critical thinking is actually being engaged in exploration, looking at, meticulously searching for, and ultimately providing rational solutions. It is a matter of gaining insight via pertinent questioning. It is taking time to think, rethink, and develop an understanding of one's general idea.

Contemporary society is becoming more multifaceted as globalisation intensifies. The World Wide Web has made ineffaceable marks, in that information is readily and easily accessible. According to the popular saying, “Information is now at our fingertips.” This means, therefore, that university students have the responsibility of expanding their horizons by acquiring this wealth of knowledge necessary for them to function in a dynamic changing world and, by extension, adding their own authentic voices.

Critical thinking is essential; it is a skill worth acquiring based on its myriad benefits. It is the fundamental and most basic of the thinking skills. The fact of the matter is, there is a direct correlation between critical thinking and almost everything in existence.

It provides people with the tools necessary to solve real-world problems. One of such is reflection. According to the Collins Dictionary and Thesaurus reflection is, “conscious thoughts or mediation”. That is, reflection is being engaged in exploration, looking back, looking at the present, looking at future possibilities, and searching for answers. It fosters self-evaluation with the aim of answering questions such as: What was right? What went wrong? What were the weaknesses? What were the strengths? What were the limitations? This means that a tremendous amount of internalising takes place, which allows people to develop confidence. In addition, they gain self-knowledge by learning from their own mistakes. Therefore, it is quite safe to say that not taking and making the time to think can be compared to not taking and making time to look in the mirror in the mornings to ensure that one is properly attired.

Critical thinking takes peoples from one dimension to the other. That is, it moves the learner from being a dependent learner to becoming an independent, self-regulated learner. Critical thinking allows people to be engaged in in-depth research, sift meticulously through the information collected, and formulate their own judgements.

Having this skill will develop in university students the ability to make informed decisions, ultimately allowing them to take charge of their own learning and chart their own destinies. Critical thinking helps the university student to connect the dots and excel in their academics, as well as their chosen field of work. This will aid them in gaining and maintaining that competitive advantage in school, the world of work and, by extension, the world as a global village.

Critical thinking also helps university students to generalise and apply what they have learnt from one situation to another. The multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary approaches are relevant integrated approaches that allow one to see connections, connectedness, relationships between disciplines and real world situations.

To further cement the point, critical thinking gives rise to curiosity. It seeks to answer questions. It seeks to make sense of situations. It warrants individuals looking beyond what can be seen with the naked eyes. As a result, individuals are required to reflect, rethink, revisit, re-examine, reconsider, reconstruct, restrategise and reorganise their dispositions.

A rapidly changing world like ours demands critical thinkers, people who are willing and capable of thinking through any design in order to make rational decisions.

Yes, critical thinking is universal. It extends beyond the boundaries of the classroom. It does not matter where on the globe one resides, critical thinking is pertinent.

Therefore, another potent reason being proffered is that critical thinking skills are required in the world of work. Recently I had an interesting conversation with a group of university students. The intention was to solicit from them the skills needed for 21st-century workers/employees. All responded that critical thinking was the key component. I further probed to ascertain the reason for the responses. They explicitly articulated that critical thinking allows them to be innovative and be on top of their game.

Today's workforce requires workers who are capable and able to work on their own initiative. This requires creativity and innovative ideas at the highest possible level. One student emphasised that critical thinking in the world of work allows them to think outside the box. That is, to come up with quick-witted ideas and solutions to challenges faced. Such is needed in every facet of life. Whatever career path one chooses, the ability to find solutions is necessary for success. The critical thinker in the workplace will be able to flip the coin and meticulously examine both sides objectively.

Engaging university students to become critical thinkers will definitely enhance the intellectual process. Unequivocally, it gives rise to and provides the scope for uncovering thinking, that is, making thinking visible. This is necessary for effective functioning in the 21st century and beyond.

Students in tertiary institutions of today will no doubt become the leaders of tomorrow and will compete in the global market. As systems open up with global competition they will experience intractable problems, which will undoubtedly require them to draw back on previous knowledge. Therefore, it is imperative that university students are guided to develop and practise critical thinking skills in order to maintain that competitive advantage.

Gillian Campbell is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at The Mico University College. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or gillian.campbell0107@gmail.com.

BY GILLIAN CAMPBELL

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