It’s time to employ critical thinking in teaching methods: to avoid the nuances of prisons in traditional classrooms, lecture halls

A course at African Leadership University, Mauritius

In a recent column titled, We can’t memorize our way out of poverty, Education Minister Dr. Yaw Adutwum noted that it is clear: “We have tamed the children; we just want them to write down what we tell them on exam day [but] this type of education system will not transform Ghana or give us critical thinking individuals.

Natural assets

In my book, Strategies for Effective Teaching and Learning, I noted that in childhood the world seemed so full of life, so full of possibilities. Even the courage to crawl, stand and take the first shaky steps was done independently, with determination and enthusiasm.

Each step carried a marvel of adventure. When the child rose and fell, he was always ready to get up again and again. Each step had its own magic and elicited a sense of wonder – a feeling that “Yes, I can”. Failure was never an option.

Affective perspectives—personal agency, excitement, conviction, perseverance, boldness, and curiosity—come naturally to children: they were never taught these things. It’s the wonder!

All the child needed to continue progressing were two key conditions: first, a safe protective environment; and two, the approving smiles of a doting parent or responsible adult.

Once the center of attention, the child presented both his trials and successes with joy.

Traditions, prisons

Fast forward to traditional classrooms and lecture halls: teachers are the center of attention, feeling good about themselves as fountains of all knowledge and experience, throwing questions back and forth, while learner looks sheepishly.

But this inherent need and ability to take center stage – which surrounds us in our childhood – darkens and the shades of prison begin to close in on the person as they grow into adulthood; hence, “the death of the natural life which was originally within us”.

We tend to overlook how young people can think and develop their own thinking. We tend to suppress their innate ability to make and organize requests about almost anything.

Finding the right questions involves vigorous reflection on the world around us, starting with the environment in which we live.

By investigating questions from different angles, and even converting taboo questions into open-minded ones, the process gets to the heart of any topic. Three results can be expected from such a method. First, students become more engaged. Second, they take more ownership of the learning process.

And the third result is that the more they learn through their own observations and assertions, the better the ideas and solutions they produce on their own.

Experiential Learning at ALU

Years ago, I visited the African Leadership University (ALU), Mauritius. One class I observed was led by a facilitator, Tolulope Agunbiade. Explaining the day’s session, she said, “For our course, which is ‘Entrepreneurial Leadership’, we get together and decide what the full year curriculum should look like in order to have a high-level overview and at the end we ask, What do we want to achieve?”

She explained, “For us, it’s how we can get people to think like entrepreneurs, identify problems and solve them in a very systemic way. And then we break our larger program into smaller modules so that we can focus for almost five weeks and ask ourselves: how do we spot an opportunity? »

She continued: “And in these five weeks we break up [the modules] in separate lessons and for each lesson we think about what our learning outcomes are. What are the best ways to achieve our learning outcomes in the most engaging way?

So we usually start with some kind of experiential discovery to familiarize you with it using either a game or real-life experiences, and from there we transition and ask, how do we bring it home to that what do we do then? »

It is then that they “begin to solicit examples from the people in the class. Tell us about a time when this happened to you, and from there, we take it into a larger context: How then can you see in your community or country a current problem that is happening? How could we have thought about it, for example, in a more systemic way?

Facilitators, not speakers

This was the vigor of this particular class. Tolu was a very young woman with a basic degree in accounting from the University of Abuja. She was neither a lecturer nor a professor.

She said: “We usually have the same plans where we just think, what’s the subject we’re trying to tackle? How long will this last? What are the goals we are trying to achieve and how do we plan the sessions? »

The lesson started with an activity: the instructions, the experiment, the debriefing — which is very important because that’s where she gets all the knowledge the students have learned so far and hears them say in their own words. She then continued with “What is the question that we are trying to present to them?”

For ALU facilitators, when students think more, they can be encouraged to do more with their own thinking, rather than following someone perched on a command post.

To teach young people that their lives are not governed by their own actions and perspectives, but by external, diabolical forces beyond their control is to teach young people about resignation and despair.

The author is a teacher trainer, leadership coach, motivational speaker, and advocate for quality education. E-mail: This email address is protected from spam. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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