Every moment in our heads, thinking happens automatically; decisions are made due to the conscious and unconscious thinking. These decisions, however, that we make will be infinitely better and more likely to achieve success if we take a moment to reach a tentative conclusion and consider its impact on people around us.

This is where critical thinking comes into the picture. Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally, understanding the logical connection between ideas. Being an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information is the essence of critical thinking.

A critical thinker actively challenges pre-existing ideas and assumptions instead of accepting them at face value. Critical thinkers are driven by observation, analysis and systematic problem solving. They are even able to reflect upon and critique their own assumptions, beliefs, and values.

In order to be able to think critically, we need to practise skills of observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem solving, and decision making. We can develop certain activities and apply them to our everyday problems to condition ourselves with critical thinking ability.

The range of likes and dislikes, learnt behaviours and personal preferences that we carry throughout our lives get in the way of simple decision making. They are the hallmarks of being human and are quite difficult to get rid of. The first step towards ensuring critical thinking is to be aware of these personal characteristics, preferences and biases and make allowance for them when considering possible next steps. The more aware we are of ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, the more productive our critical thinking will be.

The goal of education is to prepare learning through discovery. Students need to be provided with opportunities to practice critical thinking that will assist them to analyse the preconceived notions. Lawrence Balter, a renowned psychologist, stresses upon the need for youngsters to grow up being critical in their judgments. Critical thinking skills could also be used as a paradigm shift both in teaching and learning. This will increase educational engagement and will enhance the collaboration among teachers and students.

The school system may have to start over, but it will also provide a way for students to succeed in the long run. Educators need to provide students with the strategies to go forward and ask more than just surface-level questions. Questions must be such that it motivates them to explore knowledge. Connections to real-world scenarios should be inspired making learning more memorable and meaningful.

The National Educational Policy (NEP) 2020 is rooted in the call to empower students to be critical thinkers and aims to promote the use of 21st-century skills and, more importantly, thinking skills. Essential skills that are the basis for critical thinking include:

  1. Communication and Information skills
  2. Thinking and Problem-Solving skills
  3. Interpersonal and Self-Directional skills and
  4. Collaboration skills.

These skills can then be extensively used by students in any field. Critical thinking for students is more than just memorizing knowledge. Educators can make it a routine to begin lessons with a probing question that inspires discovery learning and problem-solving. Another flaw seen in present pedagogy is teachers designing project models for the students beforehand. This will help the class run smoothly, but at the cost of inhibiting creative development among students. Not having everything “glue ready” in advance enkindles learning. Instead, greater efforts must be made to provide students with all the supplies needed to create their own model of a project.

Autonomy allows students to become critical thinkers. Teachers need to restrain themselves from jumping in to help and let the students work through a productive struggle. Encouraging them to connect to a real-life situation and identify patterns is a great way to practice their critical thinking skills.

Sometimes critical thinking is not even a task to achieve if approached systematically, starting with asking basic questions, challenging basic assumptions, being aware of self, trying to view things from a different perspective but also accepting that no one thinks critically all the time.

A few other techniques to encourage critical thinking are using analogies, promoting interaction among students, asking open-ended questions, allowing them time for self-reflection, using real-life problems, conducting activities that involve thinking.

Critical thinking prepares a space for students to think for themselves for the rest of their lives. The goal of education is not generating an army of like-minded individuals with a robotic sense of learning. Critical thinkers are less likely to travel alongside the crowd because they think for themselves. Critical thinking is a learning that will fetch benefits beyond classroom. Teachers must strive to develop critical thinking in their students from a young age if we wish to advance and discover new wondrous solutions to the plethora of problems surrounding us.