Thinking Critically

Last month, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the United States with a group of around 30 women entrepreneurs from across the region. The visit, which was organized by the US State Department and Goldman Sachs aimed to promote the role of Middle Eastern women in business and enhance their leadership skills.

I could have dedicated this month’s editorial to highlighting the achievements of the remarkable women I had the pleasure of meeting during the trip, but instead I decided to focus on the teaching we all had the privilege of experiencing at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

During an intensive few days at the esteemed graduate school, I was introduced to the Socratic method of learning, which is based on interactive learning to stimulate critical thinking. We learned everything through case studies, and the distinguished professors were only there to steer the discussion that we, as students, were actively engaged in. According to one professor, this method is particularly prevalent in the graduate school and has recently started to trickle down to other institutions.

This means a lot more work for the teachers, who must prepare compelling case studies. And of course, much more work from the students, who are motivated to think. Perhaps this method could be one of the solutions to our education problems, which are many.

By and large, Jordan’s education system is based on rote learning. In some faculties, a university academic often writes a book and makes it the sole material for the semester, expecting students to memorize whatever information it contains. Unfortunately, our teachers and professors reject critical thinking in favor of spoon feeding students. This means graduates often struggle once they enter the world of work due to a lack of problem solving skills.

Jerome Bruner, the American psychologist, believes the purpose of education isn’t to bestow knowledge upon a pupil, but to facilitate the development of problem-solving skills. Bruner is adamant that a child is capable of absorbing all sorts of information, no matter how complex. Therefore allowing students to create their own knowledge and limiting the teacher’s role to just being a facilitator enables students to better solve problems.

According to Bruner, the intelligent mind creates from experience “generic coding systems that permit one to go beyond the data to new and possibly fruitful predictions.” Unless we heed these words and improve the quality of our education system, our young minds will always fall behind others who were lucky enough to study abroad. More worryingly, they will not be able to face the challenges that life throws their way.