NeltaChoutari November 2011 Issue
Critical Thinking and Nepalese ELT
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled”
Plutarch, a Greek historian, biographer, essayist
Critical thinking unveils the shade of black clouds that had blinded us for years, breaks the wall of Berlin which had concealed pearls for ages and leads us from the corridor to headways and highways. In a nutshell, critical thinking guides us from darkness unto light. A critical thinker is one who does not take for granted what her eyes observe, what her ears hear and what her mind perceives at a glance but coalesces her inner mind and heart both to examine things against observation and perception, asks questions and finally arrives at inferences or conclusions that leads to the elucidation of the problems in a reasonable and the best possible way.
The importance of critical thinking in human life can hardly be exaggerated. Unfortunately, most people are not critical thinkers. They do not ask questions. They do not try to understand why they are doing what they are doing. They just live life in the way it comes to them. Even if they think, their thinking is transient, momentary, only of immediate value. They think for themselves, for their own life, not for the whole lives. Both their thoughts and actions are self-centered. This is the crux of the problem. An aware life demands thinking-in fact critical thinking. A conscious citizen is one who thinks and acts for society, does not only try to fill up her own stomach but thinks and acts in such a way that others eat first and try to quench her hunger with the leftover. She thinks and acts both reasonably and responsibly.
Critical thinking is needed in all professions; however education requires comparatively more critical thinking. Particularly, teachers and students are required to think critically. Human life is heaped with piles of issues and it is on the part of conscious educated citizens to think about them critically and address them. Thus, education system of any country requires that its stakeholders –teachers, students, educationists, course designers, textbook writers, test writers, examiners etc. are critical thinkers, that is, they understand the purpose of the activities they are doing. They understand that if their thoughts and activities are not much worth and therefore, they think and seek other ways.
With deep concern, I have to say that in the paucity of critical thinking element, Nepalese education has remained more stagnant and less progressive. Most professional lectures/teachings have been one way provoking little participation and thinking on the part of students. Most examinations have merely promoted rote-learning. Most textbooks do not tend to stimulate thinking and interactions in the classrooms, let alone critical thinking. Consequently, educational issues have remained unaddressed, piled up. There is very little Nepalese education has contributed in improving life. There is very little Nepalese education has alleviated society.
Nepalese ELT is not different either. It is staggering with the issues discussed and many more. There are a few courses that aim to involve students into critical thinking: most of them encourage committing and reproducing. There are a few teachers who enjoy critical thinking approach in classroom: most of them prefer to recite the same old mantra they recited decades ago. There are a few students who want to take part actively in teaching learning: most students want the readymade capsules prepared by teachers that they can chew and spew it back in the exams. There are a few test papers that require students to argue and reflect: most of them only measure if students are good quality parrots or bad ones. Where is language and where is language teaching? Where is language learning and where is language testing?
Recently a few courses in ELT seem to have incorporated bits of critical thinking which is of course worthy of appreciation, but just a drop in the ocean. From course designing to teaching, from teaching to testing, we require to integrate the component of critical thinking. We require asking questions-a lot of questions. Should we keep doing what we are already doing or there are better alternatives? If yes, why not try them?
We have long been learning and forgetting and relearning Bloom’s taxonomy of three domains: cognitive, affective and psychomotor. Categories of cognitive domain knowledge and comprehension, we have still been stuck to, higher order thinking such as application, analysis, synthesis (create) and evaluation have virtually been missing from Nepalese education and ELT. It is high time we leaped towards higher order thinking and reshaped Nepalese ELT for better outputs. What do you think?
This issue of NELTA Choutari contains a very critical piece of writing by Professor Govinda Raj Bhattarai where he wishes his childhood days were back since the English language for which he deserted his age old family culture and tradition; for which he spoiled his own pious religion eating eggs, with which he has been involved for the last three decades, has merely thrown him at the state of great loss and void. In an interview by Professor Chandreshwor Mishra admits the fallacies in Nepalese English education and unveils his plans of action to adjust them in his tenure. In his article, Lal Bahadur Rana argues that critical thinking approach could prove immensely beneficial not only in developing communicative competence of the language learners but also in inculcating intellectual traits in them. Archana Shrestha and Sarah Chevalllie in their experience based write-up, share their successful practice of encouraging team activities in order to address the imbalance in classroom participation. Finally, it also consists of a Critical Thinking Lesson Plan for teaching a poem which adheres to four conditions of A (Audience), B(Behavior), C(Condition) and D(Degree).Please, do not go after my words, read them yourself to find what is worth and what is not and share your reflections straight away.