Alternative to critical thinking education

Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta | Sat, 04/24/2010 8:50 AM | Opinion A | A | A |


Education today is facing a great challenge to empower young generation against rampant social ailments in the country.

Political figures, academicians and government officials, who are supposedly to be an ideal model to be emulated by the public, are now on the recurrent media spotlights, facing allegations of various cases such as corruption, money laundering, bribery, case brokerage, sexual molestation, plagiarism and physical violence.

With the public’s easy access to both electronic and print media, media coverage of these legal cases has significant deleterious impacts, particularly on our younger generations. It is not impossible that they see depraved conducts committed by public figures as accepted norms in day-to-day life.  

Education, without doubt, plays a vital role in shaping the thinking (either in a positive or negative way) of our young generations through what they witness everyday in media reports.

The question, however, remains as to what kind of education model is well-suited to our society. Critical thinking education (CTE) has always been continuously promoted here as the best model that can empower school students to be independent, critical beings.

School teachers have desperately tried to apply this model by designing activities aiming to inculcate students with traits such as inquisitiveness, broad-mindedness and ethno-relativism, all of which are perceived as the main characteristics of critical thinkers.

While there is nothing harmful with the endeavor to promote CTE here, such an educational model will have little to no, effect on the students.

Apart from potential cultural barriers, the application of CTE is incongruous to our local education. There are several reasons for this.

 CTE, by its very nature, leads only to rational thinking rather than to social change. It encourages students to master reasoning strategies such as analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating, and refuting.

As such, it is mentalistic in its approach to see a phenomenon. Furthermore, it assumes that rational thinking is universal or transcendental, and thus can be applied equally well everywhere regardless of one’s cultural backgrounds.

Also, CTE sees things in an objective way without considering the potential biases of the students. Finally, it is detached from the consideration of social values to which the students are bound.

An alternative to CTE is critical practice education (CPE), which emanates from the work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s Critical Pedagogy.

Different from CTE, CPE views thinking as a process of student’s practical struggle for social change or social transformation. It is therefore socially shaped by the students’ daily experience.

It also assumes that students’ everyday interaction with the society can help generate critical insights. CPE thus views that the property of being critical is inherent in humans, and as such there is no need to teach critical thinking.

Its socially-grounded nature makes CPE validate the ethical considerations like justice, fairness, egalitarianism and inclusiveness.

As the social change becomes the ultimate goal, CEP, to borrow Sri Lankan sociolinguist Suresh Canagarajah’s phrase, “resists the glorification of detached rational thinking”.

Without disparaging the values of CTE, CPE seems more congenial in our context, at least at the present time.

To raise students’ awareness of the harmful consequences of the social “diseases” (e.g., chronic corrupt mentality of our people) they witness almost every day takes more efforts on the part of the teacher than simply exhorts them to think rationally about the issue via reasoning strategies.

While CTE views that a problem in social life can be solved by linear lines of reasoning, CPE demands that students engage in the conflict and contradiction they are encountering in social reality. Through this engagement, they can reflect on and interrogate thinking from their own perspectives.

They can also show their oppositional stances against what they experience in life, but should be poised to conduct self-criticism. It is through all of these critical insights can be generated and nurtured.

The shift of the perspective from CTE and CPE benefits both students and teachers in that they will eventually be cognizant that critical thinking is not an exclusive property of a certain community or a group of people.

Instead, it is constantly constructed as knowledge is interrogated and contested by an individual person, and it is also socially shaped by his or her social positioning.    

Apart from potential cultural barriers, the application of CTE is incongruous to our local education.

The writer is associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta. He is chief editor of
Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.

How to treat our gifted kids

Warief Djajanto Basorie, Jakarta | Sat, 04/24/2010 9:11 AM | Opinion A | A | A |


Oki Novendra, a student at SMA 1 high school in Bogor, West Java, won a gold medal in the mathematics category for his paper “A Mathematical Explanation on the Death of Michael Jackson”.

He was one in an Indonesian team that came out as overall champion in capturing seven gold, one silver and three bronze medals as well as two Best Performance awards at the 17th International Conference of Young Scientists in Sanur, Bali, April 12-17.

The young scientist joins other Indonesian youths whose photos are on display in the spacious, ground-floor lobby of the National Education Ministry. They are no ordinary children. The kids are winners of international competitions in science and mathematics. They are extraordinary, highly intelligent boys and girls in elementary and secondary schools. All received mounted appreciation in this Gallery of the Gifted.

According to the Association for the Education of Gifted Children (Asosiasi CI+BI), 2.2 percent of Indonesia’s school-age children qualify for exceptional aptitude. This means that with 52.9 million school-age children in the nation in 2006, based on Central Statistics Agency (BPS) figures, Indonesia has a little more than 1 million potentially gifted children. This huge human capital is woefully undertapped.

Only 4,510 of these children or 0.43 percent of the total have benefited from an accelerated school program in 2006/7, according to the Ministry’s Directorate for Extraordinary Schools Development (PSLB). The acceleration program, conducted in a selected number of schools nationwide, allows these children to complete their regular school period of 12 years more quickly.

What is the value of gifted children for Indonesia? What could be done to allow more, if not all, gifted children to gain access to schooling that enhances their intellectual potential?

With abundant natural and human resources, Indonesia has no reason not to become a great nation. It can be a more prosperous nation if it can produce 30,000 PhDs in science and technology by 2030, declared Yohanes Surya, a physics professor who has consistently coached many bright Indonesian children since 1993 to win 49 gold medals in international Olympiads in physics and other sciences.

Surya envisages Indonesia’s new PhDs should become experts in four fields that hold much promise in the future global map of schemes. The four areas are nanotechnology, biotechnology, information and communication technology and neuroscience.

“If Indonesia wants to climb out of poverty, we must have at least 30,000 doctoral graduates in science and technology,” Surya stated in an article and repeated in a July 2009 seminar in Jakarta on developing gifted children. Surya, now rector of the new Multimedia Nusantara University in Tangerang, west of Jakarta, calls on funding from local governments, the state budget, private enterprise, international donors and parents to educate the 30,000 PhDs in the world’s top universities.

Yohanes Surya is not alone in expounding ideas of how best Indonesia can rear its underutilized human resources, particularly its gifted children.

Property magnate Ciputra instills young Indonesians with entrepreneurship through the Citra Kasih School he built in Kalideres, West Jakarta, and the Ciputra University in Surabaya. He believes a nation needs at least 2 percent of its population to be entrepreneurs to become an advanced nation. Singapore has 7.2 percent, the US 2.14 percent, but Indonesia only has 0.1 percent of the population who are entrepreneurs, Ciputra laments.

Numerous private and public corporations actively fund education programs for promising school kids. But long term, committed support for gifted children is lacking. Surya’s initiative to establish a super-class of children with an intelligence quotient of more than 140 for three years schooling with a college-level curriculum still seeks adequate funding.

The lack of funding is further reflected in the miniscule number of gifted children who do receive serious attention. According to 2009 figures, the Association for the Education of Gifted Children compiled Indonesia has just 318 schools from elementary to high school level that conduct an acceleration program. They involve only 9,551 pupils.  

Beyond an acceleration program, college-level education that embraces character building tenets should be afforded to pupils of proven, superior intelligence. Further, scholarships to doctoral level should be made available as well as a guarantee for job security in Indonesia for top students upon completion. Otherwise, many talented Indonesian doctoral grads will be recruited by high-paying organizations abroad, as is the case at present.  

In the 2003 National Education System Law, Article 12 , Paragraph 1 (b), states categorically every participant in education has the right fto an education “in line with their talent, intent, and ability”. That includes gifted children.

Indonesia’s 2010 state budget totals Rp 1,048 trillion (US$116 billion), Rp 51.8 trillion goes to the National Education Ministry. A generous portion of that amount should be allocated to the Extraordinary Schools Development Directorate to enhance education for the nation’s gifted children and Indonesia’s future.

The writer teaches journalism and has conducted workshops on development reporting at the Dr. Soetomo Press Institute in Jakarta.