Critical thinking is an essential 21st Century skill, but what is it and why is it important?

In his book, An Introduction to Critical Thinking and Creativity : Think More, Think Better, Dr, Lau writes that critical thinkers can do the following:

  • Understand the logical connections between ideas.
  • Identify, construct, and evaluate arguments.
  • Detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning.
  • Solve problems systematically.
  • Identify the relevance and importance of ideas.
  • Reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values.

Critical thinking is therefore not just knowing lots of information or having a good memory.  A critical thinker can use the information that he or she knows to solve problems.  This requires us to determine the relative importance of information we have, the strength of that information, and what new information we need to acquire to help with decision making and to solve the problem at hand.

Critical thinking promotes, and is an essential ingredient of creativity.   While creativity helps us come up with new ideas, it is critical thinking that is used to evaluate, select and improve on these ideas to achieve a relevant and appropriate solution.

In the 2016 World Economic Forum report : “The Future of Jobs”, in discussing the Fourth Industrial Revolution which is seeing developments in artificial intelligence, machine-learning, robotics, 3D printing, genetics and biotechnology, the report noted the global disruption this will cause in the skills needed in work.

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The data compiled by the World Economic Forum suggests that the top 3 most relevant skills relate to critical thinking, creativity, and their practical application through problem solving.

The great news is that these are skills and something that we can learn and use throughout our lives regardless of the career we choose. Critical thinking and problem solving are transferrable skills which means that they can be applied to a variety different situations.  These skills allow us to develop an understanding guided by scientific inquiry and evidence based thinking.  So rather than just noticing that something has happened, we get a deeper understanding why something has happened, through an analysis of the factors that created that outcome.

Science learning in the context of a good STEM education not only helps prepare the next generation for better jobs it also teaches them skills that can be used throughout life to help them get through tough times to open their mind to accept information based on factual evidence, and embrace new opportunities.

 

Lau, J.Y.F (2011) An Introduction to Critical Thinking and Creativity: Think More, Think Better, Wiley, New Jersey

http://reports.weforum.org/future-of-jobs-2016/

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