Statistics on critical thinking in schools

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In what seems like an eternity ago, false information was occasionally shared via viral email. The success of these misinformation campaigns was dependent on each recipient forwarding the email to a new group of readers — in other words, failing to demonstrate critical thinking. At that time, a viral email containing fake news was problematic, […]. Terri Williams graduated with a B.

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Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U. At that time, a viral email containing fake news was problematic, but it only reached a limited audience.

An old refrain

However, social media has created a highly efficient way for false stories to reach millions in a hurry. Some fake news ends up trending on Twitter and Facebook. And millennials may play a critical role in this process, as both victims and unwitting accomplices. According to a recent study by MindEdge, a Waltham, MA-based learning company founded in by Harvard and MIT educators, many millennials lack critical thinking skills.

When young adults between the ages of 19 and 30 both current college students and recent grads were given a test designed to test their ability to detect fake news:. As repetitive tasks are eroded by technology and outsourcing, the ability to solve novel problems has become increasingly vital. The origin of the word computer is an indication of the shift. The first computers were not machines but groups of people, each working on part of a complex calculation. As computers have grown more powerful, humans are no longer needed to crunch the numbers.

Instead the role of people is to work out which mathematical model approximates best to a real life situation — whether that is the fastest way to deliver Christmas shopping, or organising relief in a disaster zone. The challenge for schools is to combine the teaching of knowledge with the ability to marshal those facts in unfamiliar situations.

How well are they doing it? And can they do better? The first of those questions was answered in April this year, when the OECD published an assessment of the problem-solving skills of teenagers around the world.

What Are the Odds?

The tests expected them to devise strategies for tackling unfamiliar problems. In one, they were shown a map of routes linking the suburbs of a fictional city and asked to suggest a place where three people could meet but no one would have to travel for more than 15 minutes. You need to work out how to use it. And they had to cope with surprises. In another problem, students were told to buy a number of tickets at a concession fare from a ticket machine, only to discover that the concession was not available.

Students from the main western European countries — England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium — all performed above the average, as did pupils from the Czech Republic and Estonia. In the rest of the rich world, the US, Canada and Australia also performed above average.

That result poses a challenge to schools in the west. Critics of east Asian education systems attribute their success at maths and science to rote learning. Across the world, the OECD study found a strong and positive correlation between performance in problem solving and performance in maths, reading and science.

The importance of critical thinking skills

In general, the high-performing students were also the ones best able to cope with unfamiliar situations. But there were interesting exceptions to the rule. When Japanese students were compared with children in other countries of similar performance in maths, science and reading, the Japanese teenagers showed better problem-solving abilities.

While there is agreement about the goal, there is a divide over how best to teach children the skill of critical thinking.


Daisy Christodoulou, an educationalist and the author of Seven Myths about Education , argues that such skills are domain specific — they cannot be transferred to an area where our knowledge is limited. In our lives this does ring true. We all know people who are good at thinking critically about a historical problem, and not very good at thinking critically about a mathematical problem.

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Critical thinking is a skill that is impossible to teach directly but must be intertwined with content, Christodoulou argues. Shakespeare, lauded for breaking rules, was the product of a rigidly traditional education.

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  7. Some argue that placing too strong an emphasis on children acquiring knowledge alone leaves them struggling when faced with more complex problems. There are some generic tools that transfer across disciplines, Taylor argues. The style of teaching that he coaches, called Mantle of the Expert, encourages children to pose as experts faced with an imaginary scenario; aiming to engage their imaginations and help them figure out how they would get access to the information they need.