Demystifying children’s critical thinking skills

Karim Muhammad Khan

Critical thinking and problem-solving are the core skills of the 21st Century that every educational institution should inculcate in the learners to cope with the phenomenal challenges of the modern era.  

According to Facione, (1990) cited in Lai, (2011), there is consensus in US Philosophical Association that a critical thinker is one who is inquisitive, open-minded, understands diverse viewpoints, and has a passion to be well-informed and willing to suspend judgment to consider other perspectives. In developing countries, particularly in Pakistan, critical thinking and problem-solving skills are given the least attention in educational institutions.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the dearth of critical thinking skills among children and figure out strategies to make these core skills part of the curriculum in state-run and private-owned schools in the country.

The word ‘critical’ has been derived from the Greek word “Kritikos” which means to judge arising out of the analysis (Lyer, 2019). Critical thinking has its roots in the works of Aristotle, Socrates, John Locke and Newton which implies the analysis of ideas with consciousness, creativity and refinement (Gul, Khan, Ahmad, Cassum, Saeed & Pario, 2014).

Critical thinking is further defined as a logical thinking and intellectual process in a systematic way i.e. collecting data, analyzing, conceptualizing, synthesizing and evaluating it to reach a conclusion (Saeed, Khan, Ahmad, Gul, Cassum & Pario, 2012). But the process does not rely only on superficial evidence. The quality of evidence, data and their fair interpretation is equally significant to be taken into account (The Open University, 2008).

Moreover, critical thinking has a multitude of benefits as it provides an opportunity to have an insightful understanding of oneself, recognize the emotions and perspectives of others and solve different problems related to academic and social matters effectively.

In the field of education, critical thinking is mostly associated with the taxonomy of Bloom’s cognitive domain in which application, analysis, evaluation and creation are placed in higher-order thinking skills (Saeed et al, 2012). Contrary to this, the existing teaching processes and practices in public and private sector schools are mostly confined to the cognitive domain’s lower-order thinking skills such as knowledge and comprehension due to traditional pedagogy in practice. Additionally, owing to a subject-centred curriculum, content knowledge is focused in the classroom which does not cater to and stimulate students’ creativity and problem-solving skills.

Researchers have further identified that the education system in Pakistani schools both public and private overemphasizes rote memorization of subject matter knowledge just for the purpose of securing high marks and passing exams. Curriculum evaluation over the period of time reveals that in public schools more focus is laid on syllabus completion by transmitting textual and factual information to children while they memorize the lessons by heart in order to reproduce them in the exam and nothing else (Rashid & Qaiser, 2016).

To inculcate critical thinking skills in students, researchers and educationists have a similar stance that classroom pedagogy should be learner-centred to get children involved in hands-on and minds-on activities and inquiry-based teaching which is said to be at the heart of critical thinking skills.

Encouraging the habit of asking higher-order questions is very important as according to Socrates low level or dead questions generate dead minds and don’t help children in their intellectual growth (Rashid & Qaisar, 2016). Adding to that, critical thinking skills require asking questions of ‘why’ and ‘how’ that children must respond to for themselves if they intend to assimilate, construct and analyze the topic in any subject under study (Mulji, 2020).

Studies further illustrate that in teaching Social Studies merely content delivery to students is not enough rather analyzing and discussing social issues and finding ways to solve them are more significant steps as this process helps children to enhance their critical thinking and problem skills (Tapung, Mariani & Supriatna, 2018). Moreover, students’ critical thinking skills can be developed by engaging them in the process of stimulating and interesting learning activities in the classroom as well as outside of it (Setyowati; Sari & Habibah, 2018).

However, the story doesn’t end here as it is the teacher who executes the curriculum in the class and has very close interaction with children on daily basis. Even highly standardized curriculum in the hand of incompetent and dishonest teachers doesn’t serve the desired purpose of developing critical thinking skills among children.

Hence, teachers’ ongoing professional development is pivotal to get well versed in pedagogical content knowledge. Continuous classroom observation and sharing feedback with teachers is also important in bringing innovations in teaching practice that could influence students’ critical thinking skills.  

To sum up, one of the skills in the 21st Century curriculum is critical thinking and problem-solving skills which are to be developed among children to help them out in insightful understanding of their subject matter knowledge and coping with challenges in their daily life. However, children are lacking this productive skill due to prevailing subject-centred curriculum taught in schools in which teachers focus only on content delivery to cover the syllabus whereas children reproduce subject matter by rote memorization to pass exams.

However, studies strongly recommend that children’s critical thinking skills can be enhanced by engaging them in active learning activities inside and outside the classroom. Teachers should think of a multitude of activities for students to get engaged in discussion, dialogue, discourse, debate, project work and mini-research across disciplines.

Last but not the least, ongoing in-service teachers’ training is very important to bring constructive changes in classroom teaching practices from subject-centred to learners-centred.  


Lai, R.E (2011). Critical Thinking: A Literature Review.

Lyer, L. (2019). Critical thinking and its importance in education. Conference:

Cognitive, Psychological and Behavioural Perspectives in Education. At: karaikudi.

Mulji, N. (2020).Critical thinking. Opinion. Dawn, 21st December 2020. 

Rashid, S & Qaisar (2016). Developing critical thinking through questioning strategy among fourth-grade students. Bulletin of Education and Research December 38(2) 153-168.

Saeed, T. Khan, S. Ahmad, A. Gul. R. Cassum, S & Pario Y. (2012). Development of students’ critical thinking: The educators’ ability to use questioning skills in the baccalaureate programmes in nursing in Pakistan 62(3).

The Open University, (2008).Thinking critically.

Gul, B.R. Khan, S. Ahmad, A. Cassum, S. Saeed, T & Pario, Y (2014). Enhancing educators’ skills for promoting critical thinking in their classroom discourses: A Randomized Control Trial. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 26(1)37-54.

Tapung, M. Mariyani, E & Supriatina, N (2018). Improving students’ critical thinking skills in controlling social problems through the development of the Emancipatory Learning Model for Junior High School Social Studies in Manggarai Marianus. Journal of Social Studies and Educational Research 9 (3) 162-176.

Setyowati. N. Sari, K.M. Habibah, M.S (2018). Improving Critical Thinking Skills of Students through the Development of Teaching Materials. Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research 226 (1) 240-245.

Critical thinking skills

Karim Muhammad Khan is an Instructor/Vice-Principal at the Government College of Education Gilgit


The High Asia Herald is a member of High Asia Media Group -- a window to High Asia and Central Asia

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