Lottie Dowling, Professional Learning Manager, Asia Education Foundation
Critical thinking is an essential component of life in the information age. It enables students to differentiate between fact and fiction, respectfully challenge information in the media, and debate complex cultural topics with confidence.
A deep dive into the ancient old city of Delhi never fails to fascinate and educate participants on any Asia Education Foundation India study program. We usually start at the Jama Masjid, built in the 1600s as one of the largest mosques in India; we then move through bustling communities who live tightly packed into the narrow allies of the old city.
In January this year, an Indian participant asked me whether the Islamic mosque was safe to visit. The participant's impression, gained largely from recent media coverage, was that Islamic sites and events - and possibly even the people - could be dangerous. But there was no risk at all.
I've spent years working across Asia. Speaking with locals about current affairs often resulted in uniform responses coloured by the local media's hyped up bias. My experience at Old Delhi seemed to fit this pattern.
Understanding unconscious bias
Upon returning to Australia, I've come to realise that many Australians' perceptions about local and global issues are formed in exactly the same way. It has made me acutely aware of how important it is to be a global citizen, to be informed about events from many sources, while being aware of the possibility of bias.
This active level of critical thinking and analysis wasn't something I was taught at school. These were skills I honed through years of travel and exposure to many different countries and their people.
It is every educator's responsibility to equip students with the skills required to respectfully analyse and challenge the information presented to them. The world we live in grows increasingly complex. Even events in remote parts of the world are now fully accessible via mainstream media, as well as blogs, social media and independent commentators.
Students need to be able to navigate this moving sea of media coverage, accurately detecting bias and understanding the differences between fact and opinion.
Practice makes perfect
Like all capabilities, students need to be given the opportunity to practice what they've learned. The Australian Curriculum specifically addresses these essential skills through the Critical and Creative Thinking capability. This capability is organised into four interrelated elements, each detailing different aspects of thinking:
- inquiring - identifying, exploring and organising information and ideas
- generating ideas, possibilities and actions
- reflecting on thinking and processes
- analysing, synthesising and evaluating reasoning and procedures.
'Critical literacies' have also been gaining momentum in Australia. Many schools acknowledging it as a way to produce active, yet informed and reflective consumers of media, equipped with the insight to read or view a text with a 'critical perspective' and uncover underlying messages.
Equipped with these life skills, young Australians will be able to enter into discussions on a range of topics with a more open mind, and they'll able to challenge opinions and differentiate fact from opinion.
This 'open minded' approach provides fertile ground for students willing to investigate culture and cultural identity. It allows them to explore and compare cultural beliefs, while developing respect for cultural diversity. This is part of the Intercultural Understanding capability in the Australian Curriculum.
Producing active and informed local and global citizens, who are ready to help create Australia's culturally diverse future, is a national education goal for all young Australians. It's a priority to focus on how we achieve this goal in schools.
Intercultural understanding is a key priority of the Asia Education Foundation. To learn how to lead change in your school, register for our upcoming Intercultural Understanding Masterclass.
This article originally appeared on Splash ABC