Connect with us

South Asia

Incorporating Critical Thinking in Higher Education: A Bangladesh Perspective

Shariful Islam

Published

on

Let me start with a story. In August 2014, I was hired by the Political Science Department at the City University, Mogadishu, Somalia. In their honours curricula, a course titled UNI102: Critical Thinking drew my attention which is taught to their 1st semester students.  I was wondering that if Critical Thinking course is taught in many Universities in the Global South including Somalia, then why not in Bangladesh? Is it less important?

In this regard, Martin Davies and Ronald Barnett in their edited book titled The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Thinking in Higher Education shows “the nature of critical thinking within, its application and relevance to higher education” (2015:2) across disciplines of philosophy, sociology, psychology, education, pedagogy, management studies etc. While the whole world is embracing critical thinking, it is still absent at tertiary level education in Bangladesh which makes critical thinking an important area of study. Against this backdrop, this write-up investigates: What is critical thinking? And why Bangladesh needs to incorporate critical thinking at tertiary level education?

What is Critical Thinking?

Though the word ‘critical’ sounds negative to many, it is not. Critical thinking is basically an “art of reasoning”. It means discerning judgment based on standards. In this regard, Lewis Vaughn defines critical thinking as “the systematic evaluation or formulation of beliefs, or statements, by rational standards” (Vaughn 2008:36). In fact, it is an important skill-set that plays a crucial role in everyday life reasoning. It influences one’s thinking and decision-making. More specifically, it means “a set of conceptual tools with associated intellectual skills and strategies useful for making reasonable decisions about what to do or believe” (Rudinow and Barry 2008:11).

Why Incorporating Critical Thinking at Tertiary Level?

It is undeniable fact that in this age of knowledge-based economy, there is no alternative to incorporate critical thinking course in our honours curricula at tertiary level. Last year, I was a scholar in the Study of the U.S. Institute for Scholars programme and had the opportunity to visit many American Universities. Consequently, I had the privilege to talk with the students and professors and found that critical thinking is a necessary component in the course curricula of American Universities. In this regard, it is pertinent to  mention that in her 2017 comment address Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust contends: “For centuries, universities have been the environments in which knowledge have been discovered, collected,  studied, debated, expanded, changed, and advanced through the power of rational argument, and exchange”. Here comes the rationale of critical thinking. In fact, it plays crucial role in the higher education context since it helps students to develop critical analysis of contemporary social problems. It is also argued that “critical thinking is a necessary part of the formation of critical citizens” (Davies and Barnett 2015: 1). Sadly, in this time of ‘marketization of higher education’, education is regarded as ‘commodity’ and thus ‘big businesses. But we need to keep in mind that humans are not machines and our minds need to be nurtured where comes the rationale of critical thinking. On the question of why we need to incorporate critical thinking, one can consider the following reasons:

First, we need to incorporate critical thinking at out tertiary level because, in this 21st century, critical thinking skill is regarded as the most demanded skill in the workplace by the employees even surpassing “innovation” and “application of information technology.” According to World Economic Forum, in 2020, critical thinking and creativity will dominate among the top skills. It is therefore, Davies and Barnett (2015:3) points out that “All educators across all the disciplines are interested-or should be interested-in critical thinking”.

Second, to empower people, critical thinking becomes important. In this regard, Joel Rudinow and Vincent E. Barry contend that “Critical Thinking is empowering and can improve a person’s chances of success… throughout the variety of social roles each of us may be destined to play. As important as Critical Thinking is to individual well-being, it is equally important to us collectively as a society” (Rudinow and Barry 2008:6-7). Sadly, there is no presence of critical thinking whether at our personal or societal or political level. This is not also taught or studied in higher secondary or tertiary level education in Bangladesh which merits serious attention.

Third, if one looks at the teaching and learning method of Socrates, one need to acknowledge about the role of critical thinking. Because Socrates basically inspired his followers to raise questions first. But today we hardly inspire our students to raise questions, to come out from their comfort zones and thinking from “outside of the box”. Instead, we follow conventional teaching method which motivates our students to memorize some information and facts to get good grades and nothing else. Therefore, it is high time to rethink about our traditional teaching method chalk-and-talk method which is in operation throughout decades. In fact, how we teach, and what we teach needs to be problematized. It’s high time to come out from “memorization based teaching and examination system” while incorporating critical thinking component in our teaching method. In that case, we need to engage our students using the approach called “learning by doing”. Presentations, debates, problem-solving by the students on the assigned topics can be an important way.

Fourth, it is worthy to note that approximately 52 percent of our population is below the age 25 which brings lots of potentials for Bangladesh. One can also claim that our students are being involved in different unproductive activities including extremist activities since they are devoid of reason. Thus, it is pertinent to make our students reasonable and analytical through critical thinking skills.

Fifth, does writing matter in critical thinking? Yes, it does. It helps us to explore our critical thinking, broadens our outlook, our depth of knowledge. There is no alternative to inspire our students to think better and write better. In traditional teaching and learning method, students are used to write only on the exam script. Astonishingly, the habit of not writing is also observed among many teachers though there are exceptions. During my graduation, I found that my friends and others hardly care about writings. Our current education system is also responsible for such students’ apathy towards writings. So, we need to problematize the current memorizing system and needs to incorporate creative writing and thinking skills. In each and every University in abroad, there is “Centre for Academic Writing” or something like that but in Bangladesh, such centres are hardly found though they are crying need for the country. Needless to mention, arguments, reasons, analyses among students become pertinent to become active citizens in our society. In that case, writing plays key role.

Finally, to make our students lifelong learners, critical thinking becomes important. In this regard, Deepa Idani notes that “It [CT] has a core ethical value, which has to be nurtured and harnessed among students of higher education to reach the potential to transform into lifelong learners”(Idani 2017:404-405). Critical thinking can be used as a means to make our students lifelong learners through exploring their “inner potentials”. It is expected that critical thinking skill will also facilitate human resource development in the country through exploring and harnessing the untapped potentials.

Conclusion

In the Hollywood movie, titled “Dead Poet Society”, one of the teachers called Mr. Keating contends to his students that, “we must constantly look at things differently. So, don’t just consider what the authors say. Try to consider what you think. Try to raise your own voice, no matter if it is wrong”. This raises question that how many teachers in today’s Bangladesh, are engaged in such teaching? How many of those are able to explore the hidden as well as “surface potentials” of the students? In fact, each and every student in Bangladesh is talented, but due to absence of proper training and mentoring, their potentials remain underexplored.

Finally, it can be claimed that knowledge transfers from generation to generation through teaching in the classroom. Therefore, how we teach and what we teach, that matters as “[w]hat we teach our children-and how we teach them-will impact almost every aspect of society, from the quality of healthcare to industrial output; from technological advances to financial services” (Agarwal 2014). And hence, it is high time to problematize our conventional teaching and learning method incorporating critical thinking. We also need to focus on critical teaching, reading, writing as well as listening in our classroom because at the end of the day, it is critical thinking which affects everything. Therefore, to explore and harness the untapped potentials of our students, we, the academics need to incorporate critical thinking in our teaching irrespective of discipline or place. And if implemented, it is expected that this will be imperative to build a better world in general and a better Bangladesh in particular.

Md. Shariful Islam is an assistant professor in International Relations at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh. Currently, he is on study leave and pursuing Ph.D. in International Relations at South Asian University, New Delhi. Email: shariful_ruir[at]ru.ac.bd

Continue Reading
Comments

South Asia

13th G-20 Summit: India’s Diplomacy Finest Hour

Published

on

The week leading up to the 13th G-20 Summit 2018 was one filled with chaos for the world’s mightiest economic and military superpowers. Great Britain was at loggerheads with the rest of EU and with its own Parliament over the Brexit deal. France was on the boil with protests over rising fuel and commodity prices. The United States of America and China had locked horns on who would cede ground in the ongoing trade war. Russia was again caught in conflict with Ukraine. Germany was in a fix on whether or not to impose sanctions on Russia over the Kerch Strait incident. Finally, Saudi Arabia was entering the summit knowing it would face diplomatic isolation over the ongoing yet to settle incident brutal murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi.

At the summit, there was no success between the abovementioned countries to break the palpable tensions amongst them. The only diplomatic breakthrough and yet not a success was drawn between China and the United States wherein they decided to halt the tariff war for now. However, there no details are out on this halt and the devil is the details which is yet to be revealed. On the bilateral front, POTUS Trump did not meet Crown Prince MBS of Saudi Arabia or with Vladimir Putin.

While the above two paragraphs seem to portray a gloomy summit, one country made diplomatic strides in balancing and holding all the powers present at Buenos Aires together and achieved in bringing forth a very progressive Buenos Aires G-20 Leaders’ Declaration. I’m referring to the Republic of India. In a matter of 48 hours at the summit, under the stewardship of Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, India left a significant foot print. India was able to hold bilateral and trilateral meetings with very contrasting and contradicting groups without either of the groups gaining more prominence over the other.

India held the first ever Japan-America-India (JAI) trilateral meeting. The meeting of the three democracies discussed their converging interests to ensure security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Despite being a part of this group, India has made it clear that it sees Indo-Pacific as a geographic and not a strategic construct. While James Mattis proclaimed recently that the Indo-Pacific for the United States is from Hollywood to Bollywood, Mr. Modi long before this meeting had stated that for India, it stretches all the way from the East African Coast to the Western Coast of America. India stands by this firm position in order to maintain a friendly relationship with China which it has rebuilt since the Doklam stand off last year. India has now held 4 bilateral meetings between Xi Jinping and Modi. Even the Chinese side has acknowledged that there has been perceptible improvement in the Indo-China relations post the informal Wuhan summit between the two leaders. The JAI meeting can be termed as a victory for India as it did not receive any negative press from the prominent Chinese press.

Also, there was no signs of the QUAD group holding any meeting despite Australia’s presence at the meeting because China has always viewed this group suspiciously and believes that this groups interest is to contain them. India showed respect to China by not bringing this group together at Buenos Aires.

Next, India participated in the RIC meeting with Russia and China. This was the 2nd time that this group met in 12 years. This showed the seamless balance India has achieved in interacting with America in JAI and the Eurasian giants in the RIC meeting. Modi comfortably raised the issues of rising volatility in fuel prices in this meeting without any derailing voices it usually faces from Pakistan in the SCO meetings where theses three countries usually meet on such issues. The RIC meeting was necessary because unlike at JAI, over here Modi was able to highlight the necessity to reform multilateral institutions which have been unable to meet the expectations of the international community.

There was a BRICS meeting held on the sidelines of the summit too which was attended by heads of the four governments. They exchanged views on continued terrorist attacks and urged all nations to take a comprehensive approach on tackling terrorism including all the elements identified in the Johannesburg Declaration.

The G-20 declaration echoed a lot of pressing issues that were reiterated by Mr. Modi throughout the two days at various fora. His points on tackling international economic offenders; countering terrorism; tackling climate change; reformation of multilateral institutions; benefits of digitization; need for technological innovation in finance; sustainable food future; gender empowerment found its way in some form or the other into the declaration.

The Indian Diplomacy was at one of its finest hours and also its high points that it has never exhibited so far. In a matter of those 2 days, India showed that it has gained global salience. Whether it is the world’s most advanced democracies; world’s most progressive economies or world’s most powerful militaries—everyone today wants great relations with India. Modi was able to show that NAM is a relic in the Indian diplomatic archives and that we are able to work in contradicting and contrasting groups and yet maintain seamless balance in achieving our strategic interests and promote peaceful relations with all nations alike.

India is now gearing up for the G-20 summit in 2022 which it will host in the 75th year of its independence. India owes its gratitude to Italy which has forfeited its opportunity to host in 2022. Mr. Modi has sounded the bugle that we will be a New India in 2022. Although India may not have the indigenous military prowess or economic dominance like China or the United States, it has always used the good will it has achieved through its soft power to bring the world together. Mr. Modi and his diplomatic entourage deserve a salute for keeping this G-20 summit together.

Continue Reading

South Asia

India and Pakistan bid for NSG Membership

Adeela Ahmed

Published

on

48 years journey of India and Pakistan resulted in them getting the de-facto Nuclear Weapons Status. Since the last 20 years, both rivals have developed their arsenals in accordance with Credible Minimum Deterrence to meet the demands of nuclear strategy and security environment.

Henceforth, with the modification of global dynamics, India and Pakistan bid for the membership of Nuclear Suppliers Group. They aspire to enter into a legitimate Nuclear Regime to gain global recognition, power, prestige, and security.

India’s bid for NSG membership is backed with powerful states in disguise as Nuclear Weapon States, playing their Great Game to control the power politics of the Asia Pacific Region. India’s real motive is to have access to Nuclear technology from International markets, admission in the international arena of nuclear commerce, get more Uranium for Nuclear Reactors and fulfil their demand for thermonuclear weapons, Import Nuclear weapons (Russia-France), and easy to produce missile capabilities. The aggressive aims are undermining the guidelines of NSG and are a grave threat to regional stability.

In addition to that, India’s Strategic ambitions are eminent to its recent Strategic collaborations with France and Russia. It shows that their future plans are not just confined to the peaceful use of Nuclear Technology. Moreover, India is acquiring Igla-S system, Vshorad missiles, S-400 Triumf, Eurofighter Typhoon, LCA-Tejas MK 1A, Mig-21s, Su-30 MKI, Rafale, AK-103 assault rifles, Nuclear Submarines from different defence deals. The existence of India’s secret nuclear city Challakere highlights India’s ambitions to become a regional power. Their stance to match the nuclear arsenal of China and Pakistan is a big bluff.

India is using all its resources to avail the NSG membership. They are lobbying with close friendly states to work with other members to get India acknowledged in the NSG. India is also addressing concerns of some member countries over India’s non-NPT status. India is stressing that admission must be ‘merit-based’, and not ‘criteria-based’, as advocated by China, and that being a member of groupings like the Australia Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, and Wassenaar Arrangement, boosts its credentials.

Moreover, President Obama explicitly committed himself to facilitate India’s entry into the four components of the international export control regime, namely the MTCR, the Australia Group, the Wassenaar, and the NSG. India has recently been granted the STA-1 status and can avail new strategic opportunities under a 2+2 Framework which can open the doors of international nuclear commerce for India. It is an open threat to regional stability and violation of NPT Regime.

Alice Wells, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia and Central Asia said that we moved ahead with an STA-1 authorization and we certainly believe that India meets all of the qualifications of the Nuclear Suppliers group and will endure to actively advocate on behalf of India’s membership.

Beijing backed a two-step approach which demanded that the NSG members first need to arrive at a set of principles for the admission of non-NPT states into the NSG and then move forward with the negotiations. Talks between the Indian and Chinese officials on the subject were “forward-looking”. Apart from China, there are others factor that are a hurdle for India to achieve NSG status, including India’s refusal to sign the CTBT and the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.

NSG member nations are typically nuclear nations that come together as a global control regime for trade in nuclear materials, equipment, and technology. India’s bid for membership violates the rules and regulations of NSG.

If India does get the membership, it will not support Pakistan’s membership and it will sabotage Pakistan’s sovereignty. Pakistan wants global recognition, as the country’s defence policies will be in danger due to the US’ and India’s aggressive aims. The US exempts India from rules and regulations for civilian nuclear trade and facilitates it with a legal right for the sake of playing their own Great Game in the Asia Pacific Region. The Indian government has accelerated its diplomatic efforts to participate on the NSG’s high tables as a full-fledged member.

Out of the 48, 43 members are with India while China, Ireland, New Zealand, Austria have objections to exceptionalism and insistence on development of a uniform criteria for the entry of all non-NPT nuclear states. Hence, it is vital to strengthen the criteria and norm-based approach and revisit multilateral approaches to strengthen the Proliferation Regime. Moreover, criteria Based Approach will benefit Pakistan’s security concerns.

On contrary, Pakistan has defensive Nuclear Posture which had maintained Full Spectrum deterrence to counter Indian Cold Start Doctrine and Pakistan Nuclear policy is not aggressive/ offensive to obtain more fissile material for nuclear weapons. The reality of Nuclear South Asia is that whatsoever, the Nuclear Treaty, Group or Agreement have to be signed, India and Pakistan evaluate their Strategic calculations with each other to keep their National Security foremost.

Pakistan must strengthen its diplomatic lobbying skills to collaborate with others states to defend Pakistan so that it can get the MTCR, Wasanaar, Australia Group and NSG membership. Tasnim Aslam, head of the UN desk at the Foreign Office stated that “Pakistan has the expertise, manpower, infrastructure and the ability to supply NSG controlled items, goods, and services for a full range of nuclear applications for peaceful uses”.

Presently, there is a need for dialogue to discuss the issue. The role of the US and Russia in this regard cannot be negated and they should motivate regional states towards peace.  India’s policy of isolating Pakistan and its hostile attitude towards Pakistan is hazardous for South Asian Strategic Stability.

Continue Reading

South Asia

A pioneer Dalit campaigner

MD Staff

Published

on

Sannani Pariyar, photo: World Bank

Sannani Pariyar – Member, District Coordination Committee, Dhading, Nepal

Fifty-five year-old Sannani Pariyar initially became interested in politics during her school days. While her family was very poor, her parents knew the value of education and enrolled her in school. She was able to complete grade seven, the highest level her school offered. As her parents couldn’t afford to send her to school at the district headquarters her education temporarily stopped. She was able to commence Grade Eight only after three years when her village school was upgraded to higher levels.

However, when she was in grade nine, her family started to force her to get married. “I did not want to get married but I had no choice because I didn’t have an excuse for not getting married,” Sannani says, “All my friends had already gotten married and it was very difficult to get a good marriage proposal.” She finally succumbed to family pressure and got married and within a year, gave birth to her son. “I was preparing for my School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exam. But I had to give birth to my son just before, which forced me to quit the examination,” Sannani reveals.

She dedicated her time and energy into raising her son and later a daughter, but as her and her husband’s financial situation wasn’t good, she began to help her husband in his tailoring shop. Sannani reflects, “sometimes, I feel that these struggles teach you more and make you more determined as a person.”

That determination and courage led her to become involved actively in politics after her children were old enough to go to school. Sannani joined the All Nepal Women’s Association, a sister organization of Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) as a member. Reigniting her thirst for education, Sannani decided to continue her studies, 18 years after her schooling stopped. She went to the school along with her daughter and both of them passed SLC with good marks.

After completing SLC, Sannini became involved in various organizations including People to People group, a local level group which works to end various kinds of caste-based discrimination and violence against women. She explains, “Being involved in these groups helped me connect with the community and to work with them very closely, which helped me eventually build trust and leadership.” She however believes that women and minority groups such as Dalits are given positions in political parties only to fulfil the quotas and aren’t provided with meaningful opportunities to participate. She said that there still a long way to go to changing the attitudes and mindsets of people, adding, “There is still a vast difference in what people at the decision-making level do and say. Breaking that barrier and putting an end to the discrimination will be my ultimate win.”

She submitted a nomination for chairperson in her ward in the 2017 local elections, but her party initially tried to discourage her from filing the candidacy for the position. She recalled, “They told me it would be very expensive to win the election. But I told them that it was not their problem, and that I would manage somehow.” She contested for the election after she got a loan from a cooperative, and ultimately won.

Promoting Gender and Social Inclusion in her municipality

Sannani has also become a member of the District Coordination Committee (DCC) in her district of Dhading. As an advocate for women’s rights and preventing violence against women, she has used her role as member in the DDC to support the drafting and approval of a Gender and Social Inclusion (GESI) policy for her municipality of Jwalamukhi. This policy is the first of its kind in the municipality and will be used by all the wards within Jwalamukhi. Sannani hopes that it inspires other municipalities to draft their own GESI policy. She has also been regularly advocating for the provision of a separate gender-responsive and GESI-related budget, and has been successful in lobbying for allocating a separate budget of NRs. 500,000 (US dollar 1= Nrs. 113) for the GESI programs in her municipality.

World Bank

Continue Reading

Latest

Trending

Copyright © 2018 Modern Diplomacy