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Incorporating Critical Thinking in Higher Education: A Bangladesh Perspective

Shariful Islam

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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

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South Asia

Will CPEC be a Factual Game Changer?

Asad Ullah

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Pakistan’s economy is shrinking, and shrink economy always needs reforms, reforms either political, social or economic can be an upright source of wherewithal to fight preceding challenges. Since independence Pakistan is swathed with many serious issues, these are the issues which extremely hamper Pakistan’s economic growth. Nearly every political leader since independence didn’t pay courtesy to deal with problems, however, every political leader has tried to snatch public wealth through different means. For domestic development and trade balance Pakistan always went towards IMF toabailout. Recently in 2019 Pakistan again bailout of almost US$ 6 billion for 39 months.

Pakistan faces long-term economic challenges, including high budget and the debt deficit, low-income mobilization, low external vulnerability and less spending on education, social, health and many other sectors. This imitates the birthright of the jagged and cyclical economic policies of current years aimed at stimulating growth, but at the disbursement of growing weaknesses and persistent structural and institutional weaknesses, Pakistan failed to boost its economy. Thanks to Chinese One Belt One Road Initiatives, which will help Pakistan economy to grow self-reliant under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor CPEC.

The question of whether the so-called CPEC will certainly help Pakistan’s shrink economy or will abundantly abolish the nascent economic system where the Chinese investor will hold the power of the industrial sectors. Most of the leaders see CPEC is another obliteration for Pakistan economy. Furthermore, they believe that the CPEC will destroy the usual exquisiteness, for the construction of the roads, and Special Economic Zones (SEZs), they will cut down thousands of trees, many agriculture lands will convert to buildings, roads, and the pollution level will twofold compare to the present. They refused to ignore that CPEC is a game-changer for Pakistan but rather destruction for the country contemporary status quo.

Such questions got much attention in public, and researchers are worried about the specific outcome. As argued by many intellectuals the CPEC is win-win game, if CPEC allow China to the warm-water of the Arabian-Sea for smooth trade with less coast and safe route to save billions of dollars, so as for Pakistan the CPEC will bring a vast amount of employment opportunities, as well as trade prospects to the domestic people which will minimalize the level of unemployment, poverty, besides most importantly will link all those isolated people and their small business to the industrial hub as well as economic-cantered. 

The CPEC according to most of the observers parting optimistic impacts on Pakistan economy. It believes that the CPEC has generated more than 60,000 jobs for Pakistani in 2015 and expected to generate more than 800, 000 job opportunities in near future 2025. A report released by the Think-Tan of South Asia Investors, the CPEC will offer about two million direct as well as indirect jobs, which will boost the economy and will raise GDP growth to 7.5% compared to 5% present.

Additionally, the data revealed by the World Bank, that the GDP of Pakistan has increased remarkably for $244 billion in 2014 to $300 Billion in 2017. To be more specific the annual GDP of Pakistan improved from 5.2% in 2018to 5.527% in 2019, viewing continuous improving with time being. Consequently, from the above facts, we conclude that CPEC is a game-changer for Pakistan, which will not only build the infrastructure but importantly will boost the economy and will add millions of jobs, unswervingly contributing toward the GDP growth of Pakistan.

The story isn’t finished yet. The CPEC, on the other hand, emphasis on Special Economic Zones (SEZs), under the CPEC agreement, there are eight SEZs has been planned. The important aims of special economic zones SEZs are to sustain trade balance, increase employment, create jobs and increase investment. These are the zones where the trade and other business’s laws are different from the rest of the states though SEZs are located inside the border of a nation. As far as SEZs are concerned China experienced successful stories of the so-called SEZs.

Fortunately, most of the SEZs are also in those isolated areas like Baluchistan, Gilgit Baltistan and Mohmand Agency, these areas are almost disregarded by many preceding governments due to the deficiency of pecuniary resources. The infrastructure, education, and the health system of these areas are self-same diminutives. Hence, after the construction of SEZs in these areas, will not only pave the infrastructure but health and the standard of living will rise along with education and many other amenities. In conclusion, all these SEZs will create thousands of jobs across the country which will raise thousands of people from poverty, unemployment as well as improve the standard of living.

Considering the fact that CPEC has a positive impact on Pakistan’s economy, such impacts are strongly related to trade and investment. Since a longtime, China is a major and important investor in Pakistan. But the flow of goods and services, as well as the investment, has risen up particularly after 2000. Trade is thus important for economic development. The CPEC has tremendous positive impacts on the trade relation between China and Pakistan, as well as the neighbour’s states. The CPEC will improve the trade relationship between Pakistan and the neighbour countries in addition to a general trade opportunity directly or indirectly, which will improve the economic condition of Pakistan.

Finally, it’s concluded that economically the CPEC is the combination of SEZs, infrastructures, gas, and pipeline which will, of course, help Pakistan to overcome energy shortage, infrastructure problem, unemployment, eradicate poverty up to some extent and will raise the GDP.

In previous ten years, the country experienced political instability which blowout many domestic social, economic as well as a political problem, resulting in the high inflation rate, corruption, poverty, social isolation because of poverty and unemployment. These kinds of problems which up to a great extent affect the country’s economic and social system are predictable to change under the CPEC contract. This contract will not only boost the economy but will also change the social and cultural ways of life. People to people communication, adopting a new culture, the rise of the living standard are all related to the CPEC.

The CPEC will also bring socio-cultural changes such as educational exchange, training and skill exchange, media exchange and business exchange. Thus, the CPEC is a real game-changer for Pakistan, which will increase regional cooperation, peace and stability in the region, diverse investment opportunities, socio-economic development (education, water and gas supply, medical treatment, poverty alleviation), educational exchange, professional drill, and will improve safety and constancy in the areas.

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South Asia

Post-UNGA: Kashmir is somewhere between abyss and fear

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Hailed as a hero for calling out New Delhi’s draconian measures in occupied Kashmir, Imran Khan warned the world of a “bloodbath” once India lifts its lockdown of Jammu and Kashmir. He persuaded global leaders to denounce the brutalities and human rights violations unleashed on Kashmiris ever since the disruption of the decades old status quo, which had been granted by the symbolic autonomy of Articles 370 and 35(A) within the Indian constitution. The constitutional coup d état ensures the alienation of Kashmiris in IOK beyond the point of redemption with massive spillover effects across the LOC. Pakistan is home to 4,045,366 self-governed and independent Kashmiris as per the 2017 census, who are desired of more than a political and diplomatic support for their brothers in IOK. India and Pakistan have already fought three wars on the Kashmir issue.

Focusing on the brazen denial of core human values, Imran Khan prognosticated a more radicalized world as the scourge of radicalism finds more fodder in a discriminated society. If climate change is ignored, the clichés of religious affiliation continues and the inherent right of self-determination remains disregarded, violent reaction is inevitable. He said, “we all know that marginalisation leads to radicalization”… “No one did research that before 9-11, the majority of suicide bombers in the world were Tamil Tigers. They were Hindus”, but Hindus rightly escaped the blame since belief and religion has nothing to do with desperation.

Imran Khan talked more like Gandhi than the nation of Gandhi itself. He reminded the world of the reincarnation of the progrom and racial ridden medieval periods when religion and state were inseparable .It has reshaped and now resides more in inter-state relations while negatively stirring regional cooperation and globalization. Already enwrapped in a world of deprivation, the fifth largest population of South Asia is fearfully seen at the brink of a nuclear war with there being very few options left for a seven times smaller nuclear state of Pakistan, which has been already driven to the wall. The speech was well received and touched a chord with many Kashmiris reeling under the unprecedented communications blackout and travel restrictions in place since August 5.

“It felt like there is someone to watch our back. It felt that someone is talking for us, that we are not alone”, was the feeling commonly displayed. Hundreds of affected Kashmiri stakeholders came out of their homes, shouting slogans in support of Imran Khan and calling for the independence of Kashmir despite the movement restrictions and deployment of additional force by India in Srinagar.A fresh charge sheet has also been filed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) of India against the chief of Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front, (JKLF) Yasin Malik, and other leaders including Asiya Andrabi, and Masarat Alam on October 4, 2019.

Conjuring up his dystopian vision, Prime Minister Modi made no mention of the disputed region of Kashmir in his read-out speech at the UN along the lines of diplomatically bureaucratic explanation. He only ticked the fanciful boxes of development, progress, and world peace, annihilation of terrorism and protection of environment. This speech however, was soon followed by a threat from his own government’s defence minister calling for the liberation of Pakistani Administered Kashmir as the next step in India’s quest for regional dominance.

Moreover, Imran Khan has also expressed his fears in his erstwhile meetings with Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson on the sidelines of the General Assembly session. Trump has offered mediation, but only if both Pakistan and India agree. A senior US diplomat for South Asia called for a lowering of rhetoric between India and Pakistan, while saying that Washington hoped to see rapid action by India to lift restrictions it has imposed in Kashmir and the release of detainees there. Similarly, State Councilor and Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, in his address to the General Assembly on 27 September stated that,;”The Kashmir issue, a dispute left from the past, should be peacefully and properly addressed in accordance with the UN Charter, Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements.”

Nonetheless, an arrogant denial by India to the support of Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir by Turkey and Malaysia is more of an inept understanding of diplomacy and international commitment. India needs to step out of the skeptical comprehension of the role of the UN that was pronounced by Ms. Vidisha Maitra India’s Permanent Mission to the UN. The sway of diplomatic terms espoused with preconceived historical interpretations could be misguiding for political leaders. Modi needs to keep his ears close to the ground to save his political future. It is an extensional battle for Kashmiris. No concertina wire can blur the contradiction in his approach to the issue, “when they are in India they say it is an internal issue and when they are on the international forums, they consider it a bilateral issue,” said one of the residents of Srinagar. Confusion exacerbates the fear, which consequently becomes a forerunner to terrorism. Same goes for the US whose mediator’s role gets paradoxical by Trump’s close alliance with Modi in his perusal of Asia-Pacific policy. Though, Imran Khan is perpetually using his political and diplomatic influence proactively, to mobilize both the international community and his own people, the anti-India feeling, the pro-militancy sensitivity and the general sense of despair — is stronger than before in Kashmir.

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South Asia

Kashmir Issue at the UNGA and the Nuclear Discourse

Haris Bilal Malik

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The Kashmir issue has more significance in view of the nuclearization of South Asia as many security experts around the world consider Kashmir a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan. The revocation of the special constitutional status of Kashmir by the BJP government on August 5, 2019, also referred to as Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019 and the subsequent lockdown in Kashmir has since considerably increased political and diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan. India’s recent moves and actions in Kashmir have once again internationalized the Kashmir dispute. This was evident during the UN General Assembly’s 74th Session, where the Kashmir issue remained a crucial agenda item for several countries.

During this year’s session prominent leaders of the world condemned Indian brutalities in Kashmir. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the international community for failing to pay attention to the Kashmir conflict and called for dialogue to end this dispute. Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that Kashmir “has been invaded and occupied” by India despite the UN resolution on the issue. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also discussed the issue and called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute based on the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions. Based on the grave importance of Kashmir as a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing the UNGA warned the world community about the dangers of a nuclear war that according to him might break out over Kashmir due to Indian atrocities. The current situation appears to be the most critical time for both the countries and the region as both countries are nuclear-armed.

However, unfortunately, the Indian leaders and media perceived Prime Minister Imran Khan’s warning as a nuclear threat and termed it as ‘brinkmanship’. Contrary to this perspective, it is worth mentioning here that the Indian leadership itself is involved in negative nuclear signaling and war hysteria against Pakistan in recent months. For instance, the 2019 Indian General Election campaign of Prime Minister Modi was largely based on negative nuclear signaling comprising of several threats referring to the possible use of nuclear weapons against Pakistan. Furthermore, as an apparent shift from India’s ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy, on August 16, 2019Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, while on a visit to the Pokhran nuclear test site paid tribute to the late former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and asserted that India might review its NFU policy. He stated that a change in future circumstances would likely define the status of India’s NFU policy. Since then there is no official denial of this assertion from India which indicates that India might abandon its NFU policy.

Moreover, India’s offensive missile development programs and its growing nuclear arsenal which include; hypersonic missiles, ballistic missile defence systems, enhanced space capabilities for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance and the induction of nuclear-powered ballistic-missile-capable submarines clearly indicate that India’s nuclear weapons modernization is aimed at continuously enhancing its deterrence framework including its second-strike capabilities vis-à-vis Pakistan. This is also evident from India’s military preparations under its more recent doctrines such as the 2017 Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) and the 2018 Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD)which are also based upon more proactive offensive strategies and indirect threats of pre-emptive strikes against Pakistan.

As evident from the above-mentioned developments, it seems likely that India aspires to increasingly project itself as a regional hegemon and a potential superpower. The BJP government under Prime Minister Modi inspired by the Hindutva ideology is taking offensive measures under the notions of ‘a more Muscular or Modern India’ based on strong military preparedness. In such circumstances, Pakistan’s threat perception would likely remain increasingly inclined towards its eastern border. Pakistan due to its economic constraints would also likely face considerable difficulties in competing with India toe to toe with respect to its military modernization plans. Pakistan is already punching well above its weight, and nuclear deterrence would be the only way through which Pakistan can maintain a precise balance of power to preserve its security. This could only be carried out by deterring India with the employment of both minimum credible deterrence and full-spectrum deterrence capabilities. This posture clearly asserts that since Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes in principle, they are aimed at deterring India from any and all kinds of aggression.

Hence, at the present India’s forceful annexation of occupied Kashmir and the resultant nuclear discourse at the UNGA has further intensified Pakistan-India tensions. Under present circumstances, the situation could easily trigger another politico-military escalation between India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi has bet his political reputation on his move to annex the region and his political career is on the line. The same way Pakistan’s politico-military establishment is equally unlikely back down from its stance on Kashmir. It would be difficult for both countries to come down from the escalation ladder because politico-military reputations would be at stake at both ends. Consequently, Pakistan might be forced to take action before India’s modernization plans get ahead and might respond even sooner.

The nuclear discourse in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech against the backdrop of the Kashmir crisis at such a high forum like UNGA would likely keep the issue internationalized. The situation demands the UN fulfill its responsibility of ensuring peace and to prevent billions of people from the dangers of a nuclear war. However, Indian blame game, aggressive behavior and offensive nuclear signaling against Pakistan all present a clear warning of nuclear war. It would greatly limit the prospects for international mediation especially by the United Nations whose resolutions on Kashmir clearly provide a right of self-determination to decide Kashmir’s future.  

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