Importance of critical and creative thinking -by Emeritus Professor Dr Robert Swartz

A Strategy for Instruction (Robert Swartz)
A central goal of many educators is to help students learn how to think more effectively.  Robert Swartz (director of the National Center for Teaching Thinking) and Sandra Parks, in their book on Infusing the Teaching of Critical and Creative Thinking into Elementary Instruction, emphasize the importance of thinking skills, and then explain their approach to instruction:
“Improving the quality of student thinking is an explicit priority of current educational reform efforts. …  Good thinking is essential in a technologically oriented, multicultural world. …  Our students must be prepared to exercise critical judgment and creative thinking to gather, evaluate, and use information for effective problem solving and decision making in their jobs, in their professions, and in their lives.”

Comment by Zahari Othman

I fully agree with Robert  Swartz on the importance of  developing thinking skills among learners.Malaysian students seem to be trained on procedural aspects of  doing things .In mathematics for example, Malaysian students are mainly taught how to  get correct answers  but not so much of  the process involved in arriving at the answers.Hardly any activities in the classroom that help or guide students to analyze problems so that they can understand problem situation.In other words there is no skills taught on ‘Learn How To Learn Maths ‘  .Most students were generally being exposed to motivational programs  which focus more on attitudinal problems but short of thinking skills in mathematics (mathematical thinking) or any form of other skills to help students to be efficient problem solvers in mathematics and their real life  situation.Students were given the impression(through instructional method) that mathematics is a subject that they  need to pass because it will help them in the overall grade in an examination.No focus in the current instructional approach , to  impart for example , critical and creative thinking through mathematical learning.It is not surprising for example to see  many boarding school students (selected based on their high academic performance when there were in primary six or form three ) struggling hard to understand more complex mathematics  such  as found in Additional Mathematics.It looks like there is no strong  correlation between students’ performance in PMR examination with their ability to solve problems in Additional Mathematics.This is so since Additional Mathematics  requires not only hard work on the part of the the students b ut also their ability to think mathematically, critically and creatively.And these are  forms of  HIGHER ORDER THINKING (HOT) and need to be taught  and is not inborn for most students.

Do  mathematics teachers   and  heads of schools in Malaysia realize the importance  of HOT ? or would prefer to adopt a tradional way of teaching mathematics through rote learning.I would say a  more practical approach would be  to complement the current practice  of drilling approach  with a program  called PROBLEM SOLVING (see website: on a more detail explaination of what problem solving is and why all students should be given the opportunity to optimize their potentials through a systematic development of thinking skills, strategies of solving problems, communication in mathematics and management of  mathematical knowledge).As Professor David Perkin(from Harvard School Of Education),said in an International  Conference On Thinking .Educators  should be teaching students not only on the content knowledge , but also on the skills of learning .Thank you

Zahari Othman

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