Building capacity for critical thinking enhancement in African Higher Education

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Education, Practice & Society

Abstract

Critical thinking is widely acknowledged as being key to individual capabilities and the development of societies. Ghana and other African countries are in great need of graduates with highly developed critical thinking skills, so as to address the challenges of poverty reduction, democratic governance and environmental sustainability. While universities have great potential for developing critical thinking, to do so effectively they need a conducive learning environment. Evidence from our earlier study "Pedagogies for critical thinking: innovation and outcomes in African higher education" showed that there was unevenness between institutions, but that some were facilitating rapid improvements. The most significant factors were seen to be lecturers' orientation towards a 'facilitation' rather than 'transmission' approach, a shared collaborative culture in departments, and flexible assessment regulations.

Building on these findings, this project aims to enhance impact on universities in Ghana and beyond. Through reflexive workshops with academic staff on a cascade model, it enhances the teaching practice of lecturers in five Ghanaian universities. It also aims to develop a broader transformation of teaching and learning in the institutions through strengthening of support units within universities, development of critical thinking assessments and the creation of a lecturer network. Finally, it addresses the macro level of policy through engagement with national higher education commissions, particularly in the area of assessment.

The project aims to bring direct benefit to students in Ghana, to ensure they can develop their critical thinking, and go on to utilise it in their professional and personal lives. It therefore contributes to addressing the broader development challenges of the country. Through policy dialogue in Kenya, and dissemination to other African contexts, broader impact can also be achieved across the continent. In addition, implications for other regions of the world will be drawn out regarding the most effective ways of achieving pedagogical transformation in universities.

Planned Impact

Enhancing teaching and learning in African universities is essential for ensuring that graduates develop the knowledge and skills needed for their lives and work. The project aims primarily to facilitate academic staff development in Ghana, through a series of workshops, on a cascade model. This will enable lecturers through a reflexive process to transform their orientations to teaching and learning and to ensure a learning environment for their students that is conducive to the development of critical thinking. This initiative will be augmented with work to support teaching and learning units and critical thinking assessment within institutions. Finally, there will be engagement with policy in Ghana, Kenya and beyond to ensure that assessment regulations are flexible and to allow for pedagogies conducive to developing critical thinking.

The main beneficiaries of this project are the students who will come into the contact with the new forms of pedagogy and curriculum, and sharpen their critical thinking. Abilities to evaluate arguments and detect bias will assist graduates not only in their working lives, but also in their contact with the media, and are particularly crucial in the era of 'fake news'. The ability to synthesise sources of information and construct their own arguments well bring clear benefits to their work, civic participation and personal lives.

Lecturers participating in the project also stand to gain through developing their own teaching practice, and in developing more collaborative relationships with colleagues and peers from other universities. There is also indirect benefit for the society at large, given the improvements that critical thinking can bring to the work of graduate professionals in areas including health, engineering, local government and many others.

Publications

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