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Critical thinking and its importance in tertiary education

Discuss about the Cultural Differences and Critical Thinking for Western English.
 

Critical thinking is defined as an important tenet in academic settings; however, the various cultural differences between western and Asian students can affect critical thinking in international literature. In the case of tertiary education, critical thinking needs to be incorporated (Halpern, 2013). Today, students have at their disposal a plethora of information, which they are expected to analyze, examine and understand and then develop their own critical opinion on it (McPeck, 2013). It must also be remembered that culture affects the way a person perceives things and the way he scrutinizes them; for instance, Asian and Western students belong to entirely different cultures, with a separate set of values and traditions (Street, 2014) Naturally, this affects their critical thinking as well; for example, it is often wrongly assumed that Asian students have an underdeveloped critical thinking capability as compared to western students (Tran, 2013). The following paper attempts to analyze how cultural backgrounds affect critical thinking; an analysis of the journal titled, “Exploring cultural differences in critical thinking: Is it about my thinking style or the language I speak?”, has been presented in the following section (Lun, Fischer & Ward, 2010) .

The background of the research would be the stereotypical belief that Asian students are lacking in critical thinking as compared to western students. There are a large number of Asian students who study at Western English speaking institutions. Research has shown, as mentioned in the article, that academic staff members who have had experience teaching international (Asian) students have complained about the abysmal analytical and critical thinking of such students. Asian students tend to stay out of classroom discussions, and are not willing to express their critical opinions on a particular topic. For example, Korean students often have trouble expressing their thoughts and opinions. Consequently, it is assumed that since Asian students are less outspoken and tend to remain quiet in class, they lack the ability to think and analyze critically. This is mainly because in Western education, overt debates and argumentative discussions are considered to be the benchmarks for critical thinking.  

The research problem, or the purpose of the research in the case of the specified article would be that of critical thinking and if it is justified to discriminate between Asian and western students on such grounds. First, an examination of literature surrounding critical thinking has been provided. Necessary steps have been taken to define the concept. Critical thinking may be defined as a series of behaviors that throw light on the analytical and critical thinking of a student. Such behaviors would include debating, questioning and so on, which hint at active participation within the classroom. The duty of the teacher is to observe and analyze such behavior and then arrive at a conclusion as to the critical thinking skills of a student. A critical thinker would also be expected to demonstrate certain cognitive skills like open mindedness, flexibility, persistence and confidence. However, such cognitive skills usually vary from person to person and not culture to culture. To assume that a person, an Asian, would be lacking in such cognitive skills simply because of his background, would be grossly unjustified. At the beginning of the research, it is not known if the hypothesis of the paper is right or not. 

Impact of cultural backgrounds on critical thinking

The core research questions in the paper are related to the international debate regarding critical thinking and behavioral expression associated with it. The main focus of the research paper is to analyze if culture indeed plays a key role in determining critical thinking abilities. In order to determine that, a test was conducted on a group of students, including both Asian and western students. Based on the common assumptions, the paper presents a hypothesis that western students indeed have higher critical thinking than Asian students. It also focuses on dialectical thinking – this concept highlights the mechanism behind the probable low levels of critical thinking amongst Asian students. The paper also takes into account the way Asians process information (Irwin & Wilson, 2013). According to this concept, Asians are of the opinion that reality happens to be changeable and dynamic and that everything in the universe is related. This means that Asians, more than Westerners, are vulnerable to changes around them; they are also more tolerant as far as contradictions are concerned. Therefore, this mode of thinking is not exactly compatible with the logical and rational mode of thinking as is found in the Western cultures. The difference in such thinking styles play a crucial behavioral and psychological influence; this means that a Western student is more likely to adopt a rational mode of analysis while studying something whereas an Asian student is more emotional and intuitive while examining the world around them (Johnson, 2014). Thus, it can be said that dialectical thinking is more characteristic of Asian students; this also highlights the fact that thinking styles certainly vary in different cultures.

As far as the research methodology is concerned, there are two things being assessed in this research. One, the differences observed between western and Asian students with regards to critical thinking and the role of language proficiency based on what is known as Cognitive Load Theory. A study was conducted at a university in New Zealand where around 70 students participated in the survey. New Zealand is the epitome of cultural diversity and has a huge population of both Western and Asian students. Two studies were conducted at the university and the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment using Everyday Situations (HCTAES) model was used to assess critical thinking differences between European and Chinese students (Liu, Frankel & Roohr, 2014). The second study used the Watson – Glaser critical thinking approach. The students were assessed in the first study on the basis of their argumentative skills, verbal reasoning power, hypothesis testing, problem solving skills and decision making (Abrami et al., 2015). Every day scenarios were presented to the students and they were asked to choose from a series of answers. They were also asked to rate their own proficiencies in English language. In the second study, 366 students participated in this test, out of which 102 were ethnically Asian. They were tested according to the Watson – Glaser model and assessed on the basis of interpretation, deduction, assumption skills, evaluation of argument and inferences. A Shipley Institute of Living Scale and the Dialectical Self Scale were also used to determine the proficiency of Asian students. A cultural adoption subscale was also used to study the behavioral norms prevailing in New Zealand.

Stereotypical belief about Asian students lacking in critical thinking

The findings of the research must be analyzed to understand the impact of culture on critical thinking. The first study showed that the Western students had better critical and analytical reasoning and thinking powers than the Chinese students, which affirmed the paper’s hypothesis. As a matter of fact, the Western students also demonstrated higher levels of proficiency in English. It can thus be concluded that culture certainly has an impact on critical thinking, much more than gender or other such parameters. In the second study, the European students scored higher on all the variables except on the Dialectical Self Scale. This showed that the two cultures mentioned in the study are not that inherently different in terms of dialectical thinking styles and intellectual competence.

The findings of the two studies would challenge the current theories in critical thinking; both the studies show how Asian students were far behind the Western students in terms of critical thinking and analytical skills. This hints at the fact that student belonging to different cultures and backgrounds would have different choices and preferences, which might be disadvantageous for some students. As a matter of fact, this would completely negate the concept that critical thinking should form the underlying principle at every university; this is because at university, the hub of cultural diversity, students would possess different levels of critical thinking, originating from their backgrounds.

To critically evaluate the paper, it must be ascertained that the authors certainly delve deep into the topic to present a clear argument. Not only do they present their own hypothesis, but also present a review of existing literature on critical thinking, dialectical thinking and English proficiency. However, the paper bases its entire research on an assumption; as is mentioned in the paper itself, there is no concrete evidence to support the claim that critical thinking is less developed in Asian students than Western ones. Thus, the paper carries out its investigation on objective differences – in the form of questionnaires and surveys which are not all that reliable. The results provided are objective in nature, thus establishing the paper as a credible one.

In the paper, the authors assume that Asian students have a lower analytical skill and critical thinking ability as compared to western students. While it is wrong to base an entire hypothesis on simply an assumption, it must be admitted that a student’s cultural background and upbringing certainly plays a key role in his or her ability to critically evaluate something (Banks, 2015). If he or she belongs to the Asian culture, chances are, he or she would be more guided by perceptions and emotions; on the other hand, someone brought up in the Western culture would be more inclined to analyze or evaluate something rationally, using logic and theory. Thus, the paper successfully affirms the hypothesis, stating that Western students indeed have higher critical, analytical and reasoning abilities than their Asian counterparts.

To conclude, it can be assumed that the paper presented above successfully establishes its hypothesis; it effectively manages to convey that Asian students indeed have a lower reasoning and analytical power when compared to western students. This further highlights the fact that it would be wrong to penalize such students for inadequate critical thinking because cultural differences have an insurmountable role in determining the same. A university is supposed to promote the concept of cultural diversity and therefore cannot utilize a generalized theory of critical thinking, which usually only takes into account Europeans, while assessing the students. 

References:

Abrami, P. C., Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Waddington, D. I., Wade, C. A., & Persson, T. (2015). Strategies for teaching students to think critically: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 85(2), 275-314.

Banks, J. A. (2015). Cultural diversity and education. Routledge.

Halpern, D. F. (2013). Thought and knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking. Psychology Press.

Irwin, H. J., & Wilson, K. R. I. S. S. Y. (2013). Anomalous experiences and the intuitive-experiential style of thinking. J. Soc. Psychical Res, 77, 65-71.

Johnson, R. H. (2014). The rise of informal logic: Essays on argumentation, critical thinking, reasoning and politics (Vol. 2). University of Windsor.

Liu, O. L., Frankel, L., & Roohr, K. C. (2014). Assessing critical thinking in higher education: Current state and directions for next?generation assessment. ETS Research Report Series, 2014(1), 1-23.

Lun, V., Fischer, R., & Ward, C. (2010). Exploring cultural differences in critical thinking: Is it about my thinking style or the language I speak?. Learning And Individual Differences, 20(6), 604-616. doi: 10.1016/j.lindif.2010.07.001.

McPeck, J. E. (2016). Critical thinking and education. Routledge.

Street, B. V. (2014). Social literacies: Critical approaches to literacy in development, ethnography and education. Routledge.

Tran, T. T. (2013). Is the learning approach of students from the Confucian heritage culture problematic?. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 12(1), 57-65.

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