South Africa is a country that has a rich and diverse history which influences the social and political contemporary issues that are deeply contested today. Despite these challenges, we have a total population of 55.6 million people, 36.2% of which are young people. However, the youth face the great burden of lacking critical engagement skill with socio-political issues that affect them.

Through a series of blog posts, Qrate will discuss and tackle various social issues that as an organization believes that children should be open-minded towards and willing to hold discussions amongst their peers, teachers, and parents. These blog posts will be helpful for parents, guardians, and teachers to engage in discussions with the youth of today.

Our first blog post is centered on understanding the importance of critical thinkers for young children.

What is Critical Thinking? Critical thinking consists of different skills that help us learn to make decisions. It is the ability to evaluate information to determine whether it is right or wrong.

To think critically about an issue or a problem means to be open-minded and consider alternative ways of looking at situations.

Critical thinking has become a buzzword thrown about in educational and economic discourse with few doubting its importance.

“Critical thinking is the ability to ask difficult questions in the right way at the right time. It It is a willingness to challenge prevailing assumptions whilst acknowledging the limits of your knowledge. It is a desire to know and a lifelong passion for learning.”

The first myth about critical thinking is the claim that we measure a learner’s critical thinking ability. Teachers are, understandably concerned with justifying the curriculum and the percentage progress typically serves this purpose. If schools are to teach students how to think critically, creatively and independently, we need to rethink how we conceptualize scholastic achievement.

The second myth is about the methods of questioning. Too often I have heard phrases like “question everything” linked with critical thinking. A willingness to question one’s certainties is a key component of rational investigation, but it is the way we ask questions that make the difference.

A critical thinker asks questions that are relevant to the matter at hand and knows how to make sound judgments about the information they receive. They also know when they do not have enough information to make an informed decision.

To be good at thinking, children must believe that thinking is fun and want to be good at it. Parents, guardians, and teachers have the power to make that happen.

In teaching children to think critically, we’re doing them not only a favor but the highest service. Children throughout their lives will be expected to go through a lot of information and using that information – they will have to make choices.

And schools are not the only sole source of knowledge!

In the ever-changing world of technology and easier access to information – it is crucial that children are equipped with the right skills to analyze information.

If critical thinking nurtures a lifelong passion for learning, then we teach children to love thinking for its own sake. Learning becomes its own reward. Passionate learners contribute to a productive classroom and may offer a way to engage those who would otherwise fall behind.

The ability to analyze critically the information we encounter, to put it into its appropriate context and extract insights without falling into prejudice is the antidote. 

A society that thinks is infinitely harder to fool than one that can’t or won’t.

How can you get children to be critical thinkers? 

Critical thinking is a way of asking questions to help a child find answers themselves, rather than answering them for them. It’s about providing a safe place and giving the opportunity for your child to respond without judgment or interruption.

At QRATE, we developed handy tips for helping children learn to think better. Teach these to your children and then interact with them in ways that reinforce these standards.

  1. Be CLEAR. Invite children to be clear by asking for explanations and examples when they don’t understand something. Let children know it is okay to be confused and ask questions. 
  2. Be ACCURATE. Urge kids to be accurate to check to see if something is true by researching the facts. 
  3. Be RELEVANT. Encourage children to be relevant by discussing other topics that are important to the discussion or problem at hand. Help them stay on track by linking related and meaningful information to the question they are trying to answer or the topic they are learning about. 
  4. Be LOGICAL. Help them see how things fit together. Question how they came to their conclusions and whether their assumptions are correct. 
  5. Be FAIR. Set expectations that your child be fair. Promote empathy in their thinking processes. Make sure that they are considerate of others when drawing conclusions. 

By Candice Chirwa & Josh Nel

Here’s to raising a generation of critical thinkers! 

Candice Chirwa is a Masters of Arts International Relations student at the University of Witwatersrand. She is the Founder and Director of Qrate. In her spare time, Candice loves tutoring her High School and University students as well as drinking coffee (lots of it). 

Josh Nel is a Masters of Arts Philosophy student at the University of Witwatersrand. In his spare time, Josh loves reading political philosophy books.