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Why is it important to develop thinking classrooms

By Ashok Pandey,

The pedagogical leaders must create and sustain a thinking classroom.

School leaders should bring critical thinking at the centre of teaching and learning, writes Ashok Pandey.

National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 articulates the intention to transform classrooms in para 4.5, advocating a reduction in the content to its core essentials. This will make critical thinking more holistic, inquiry-based, discovery-based, discussion-based, and analysis-based thereby enhancing learning. The policy further says, mandated content will focus on critical concepts, ideas, applications, and problem-solving. The interactive classroom sessions will regularly contain more fun, creative, collaborative, and exploratory activities for students for deeper and more experiential learning.  

Going back to Socrates, John Dewey, or the story of Nachiketa as cited in Kathopanishada, a young boy questioning his father’s poor discretion through creative and critical thinking has always dominated the 21st century learning discourse. What is missing today is a systematic, deep, adaptable approach to critical thinking, which makes learning exciting, and joyful as envisaged in the policy. Our Prime Minister says we must move from the burden of books to the boon of learning.  

What does a thinking classroom do differently? Among others, it moves our focus from hard content teaching to building soft how-to-learn skills. It encourages applied thinking, problem-solving and collaborative decision making. Students observe and learn how others think. A thinking classroom integrates teaching for, of and about thinking. Teaching must create necessary conditions for thinking, questioning and inquiry in the classroom. The teaching focused on thinking provides tools and strategies to encourage innovation and design thinking. Teaching about thinking empowers learners to develop awareness about self and others' thinking.  

The school leaders should bring critical thinking at the centre of teaching and learning, emphasising learning improvement and the role of thinking in developing integrated thinking abilities. The crisis in education is a euphemism for the crisis in learning. The pedagogical leaders must create and sustain a thinking classroom. They must plan implementational design- encouraging a whole school approach and student-centred thinking models in the annual pedagogical plans (APP). 

Amel Karboul, the founding CEO of the Education Outcomes Fund (EOF), in her TED Talk remarked that the 'mind' is the most critical infrastructure, much above any other. To transform education, investing in literacy and numeracy at the foundational level, making learning systems efficient, focusing on the output, recognising the habits of mind, and to invest in teachers are essential. 

Equity and excellence for everybody is a visa to the success and sustainability of the societies. The Sustainable Development Goals hinge on quality education and lifelong learning for all (Goal 4). Decent employment opportunity and economic growth (Goal 8) for all, rests on enhancing employability skills. Learners must learn to extrapolate their knowledge and not merely reproduce it.  

The powerful economies in the world have reached their goals through reformed classrooms. The US realised decades ago that students will have many jobs in today's world and will change career paths many times. This requires equipping them with life-long learning and continuous improvement. Schools in the UK offer critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills as a dedicated subject. Australia’s new national curriculum focuses on critical thinking in each subject area.  

Confucius famously said, “Learning without thinking is labour lost; thinking without learning is dangerous.” This poses severe challenges to educators. Can we teach mathematics in a way that helps the students use and interpret the mathematical concepts to analyse societal and scientific issues? Can we lay a greater emphasis on skills associated with critical thinking and analysis of sources to contest the historical interpretation in our social science classes? It is an exciting time in our educational journey, and investing in student agency is just the right thing to do.  

Ashok Pandey is the Director and former Principal of Ahlcon Group of Schools, Delhi. Views expressed are personal.