The teaching of critical thinking skills
Opinion and Editorial – August 14, 2007 The Jakarta Post
Hanung Triyoko, Melbourne
Indonesian students need to make some essential adaptations in order to succeed academically in Australian universities. These adaptations are not just about English proficiency but differences in academic culture.
There are more issues to address about our study in Australia universities beside our continuous effort to upgrade our English to a stage where we may be said to be competent users of English for academic purposes.
Australian universities, as part of the Anglo-Saxon university system, demand students, among other things, be able to exercise critical thinking, which is believed to be the most distinctive feature of the differences between the non-Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Saxon universities.
Universities in Australia have made critical thinking a focus in various bridging programs especially provided for international students. While it is expected that the explicit teaching of critical thinking and the acknowledging of our previous learning experiences may optimally upgrade Indonesian students’ study skills, it may also make some of us feel inferior.
Many of us may feel reluctant to actively get involved in discussions and debates not because we are afraid of using English but because we are not accustomed to the culture of discussion and debate in Australian universities. The fact that we are more familiar with memorizing tasks than the analyzing ones in our past studies can hinder inquiry and advocacy tasks in good discussions and debates.
We value group orientation more than the individual orientation and thus group harmony is more valuable than individual progress. Hence, it seems hard to us to adopt the different learning styles where individual knowledge development, not the group’s accumulation of knowledge, is emphasized.
For example, in Indonesia we are encouraged to receive as much information as we can from our teachers and store that in our mind as evidence of truth because we know that our teacher would not mislead us in seeking knowledge. Meanwhile, in Australia, students are expected to develop critical thinking by questioning and analyzing all the information they get from all sources including those from teachers.
Recently there is an increasing demand in universities in Australia to explicitly require students to work out their critical thinking in the assignment by putting it as an element of the grading. Critical thinking has been a compulsory subject in most universities’ bridging programs.
Australian universities provide bridging problems to ensure that we are aware of the different academic expectations and that we in certain degree have been exposed to these different practices before we really engage in our study.
A bridging program like the Introductory Academic Program (IAP), organized by many international universities in Australia, is also designed to facilitate us to develop various study skills necessary for our adaptations, including critical thinking skills.
It has been general knowledge for academics in Australia that due to the different practices of education in Indonesia, Indonesian students are treated as students who lack critical thinking skills and therefore need special training in it.
There are too many things to cover about critical thinking in the relatively short period of the IAP. To be able to apply critical thinking skills, we are required to exercise skills related to questioning, analyzing, debating, putting arguments, making issues, an so on, which are all dependent on our competency in English.
Indonesian students joining the IAP cannot be said to have the same level of English and if we do, the IAP is inclusive for the non-native students that make the IAP classes different to real classes in Australian universities. In IAP we may not be able to really experience real class situations. We may still find lots of surprises in the practices of critical thinking in real class situations.
We may find our exposure to critical thinking in IAP beneficial when we are aware that critical thinking is similar to computer skills and also driving skills in that the maximum benefit of these skills depends on certain proper situations.
We can perhaps avoid feeling inferior if we are able to negotiate with ourselves what cultural practices of the universities we should adopt. In addition, through comparing learning practices in Australia and Indonesia we may think that critical thinking is one technique among many ways of good science and see that the acquisition of critical thinking is necessary to gain academic success in Australian universities without feeling that our educational backgrounds are deficient.
Teaching critical thinking in the bridging programs is not an easy task because it may place students exercising different learning styles in a situation where we feel inferior.
However, weighing the benefits and the drawbacks of teaching critical thinking to Indonesian students as mentioned above, there should be more critical thinking practices introduced to our education system at any level so that there will be more Indonesian students who are ready to study in English speaking countries.
The writer is a lecturer at STAIN Salatiga and is now studying in the Master’s Program of Educational Leadership and Management at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.
From Rey Edi
I am surprised that obviously almost nothing has changed since 1981, when I studied Bahasa at Satya Wacana in Salatiga . I remeber very well how difficult if not impossible it was for me as a Westerner to really openly discuss topics. You are absolutely right. If Indonesian students want to be sucessful at overseas universities, they should be taught the skill of debate and how to defeend their opinion.
From Ibrahim Isa Alias Bramijn
You have made an inmportant remark.
Critical thinking for Indonesian students, are especially of utmost inmportant on the question of modern Indonesian history.
For more than 3 decades , during the entire period of the Orba, students were made to believe of the lies and manipulation by the regime of Indonesian modern history, as the only truth.
Students followed blindly the Orba scholars interpretation about the ‘bad governance’ during the Sukarno era, and of the ‘excellent economic policy’ of the the Orba, etc.
Critical thinking should be practiced by Indonesian students, as well as (especially) by the professors and lecturers themselves.
14 August 2007