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Future-ready youngsters: building critical thinking skills

Youngsters are an integral part of our society today and into the future hence the 15th Century English proverb that says, ‘Children must be seen and not heard’ is hopelessly out of tune now if we are to secure the future of humanity. Children are the future, to secure the future, we must build future-ready youngsters and that calls for society to place an emphasis on developing reflective thinking on our children. Let us not indoctrinate our children, let us not teach them what to think but how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with us.

Essential changes in how students learn are required for Africa to be future ready. There is a need in most of the countries to reorient the education system so that there is a good balancing act between deposition of knowledge to learners and building critical appreciation of that knowledge. The highlight of education must be to prepare students to learn through discovery and this means largely doing away with memorising knowledge. Students need to be in position where they can think about situations presented to them, gather relevant knowledge to gain better understanding, review data and come to reasoned conclusion.

Defining Critical Thinking

The Oxford dictionary defines critical thinking as the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement. Skills You Need describes critical thinking as the ability to think clearly and rationally, understanding the logical connection between ideas. It “is about being an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information.” Lynette and Noack emphasise that critical thinkers do not just think clearly or rationally; they use skilful analysing, assessing, and reconstructing to make decisions every day.

Skills You Need website asserts that “Critical thinkers rigorously question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value… They will always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments and findings represent the entire picture and are open to finding that they do not.”

It [critical thinking] is a “way of thinking about particular things at a particular time; it is not the accumulation of facts and knowledge or something that you can learn once and then use in that form forever, such as the nine times table” (Skills You Need).

Injecting Critical Thinking into Young Minds

Our education system should ably prepare children of all capacities for jobs that do not exist yet, we may not predict what the job market would be in the future, but we can prepare our children to ably navigate that market. To achieve that, we need to teach better, promote critical thinking, financially invest in the provision of ample opportunities for students to practise being critical thinkers; learning must capture the interests of every child. We believe teaching/ learning must be a collaborative effort between students and educators to promote independent thinking.

A Selection of Quotes to Illustrate Critical Thinking

1. “You have a brain and mind of your own. Use it and reach your own decisions.”—Napoleon Hill

Independence of thought is priceless, when we choose to think independently, we exercise a right we have as individual humans, and a responsibility we have as global citizens. 

It is easy, though often costly in the long run, to believe or disagree without reason, independent thought on the other hand requires effort and work, but the reward is immeasurable. Critical thinking introduces different perspectives and viewpoints which can be educational in nature. We are empowered to act in our own interest through independent thought. 

2. “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”—Aristotle

We need our children to be able to engage with their experiences and thoughts emanating from that, differentiate myth from fact to make constructive life changing decisions.

3. “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”Albert Einstein

Our education systems must not hinder inherent curiosity – a defining trait of highly effective critical thinkers – but actively seek to promote it; children must be seen and heard. With curiosity comes the practice of questioning to explore, discover, and reveal. To develop critical skills, educators need in-depth questioning strategies. Ask open-ended questions to allow for answers with sound reasoning and seek to promote further thinking with follow-up questions such as:

4. “My father used to say, ‘Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.’ “Desmond Tutu

We want to build an informed and confident population, well-informed people prepared and able to engage in open discussion, use objective data to support their argument and able to critically review others’ logic and are open to new ideas as opposed to knowledge deficient individuals with self-esteem vulnerabilities whose inclination is intolerance, and would readily raise their voice to drown out anyone who dares challenge their worldview because they view any opposition as a personal attack than a question posed on their logic or argument.

5. “Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.”Francis Bacon

In this age of technology, we encounter vast amount of opinion and perspective through both online and offline sources which may increase vulnerabilities of individuals and communities if taken at face value. We need to foster reading analytical skills in our learners, so they do not just take every piece of information they encounter at face value but ask thoughtful questions as they read.


There are no shortcuts to development, if Africa is to develop how we engage our students, and our education systems must change. We need to cultivate independent critical thinking skills, so that we do not only have individuals armed with knowledge but continually challenge their views and can also engage in civil open discussions, understand and safely review the logic of others and expand their own knowledge.



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