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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Description Following a capacity building workshop in May 2021, three universities in Ghana have developed strategies for incorporating critical thinking into their educational programmes. Wisconsin International University College is establishing a Centre for Teaching Support.
The initial focus of this Centre will be to:
1. Provide a center of excellence in research and development of innovative teaching and learning methodologies.
2. Organize periodic capacity building workshops/trainings for lecturers on critical thinking.
3. Serve as a reference centre for research and development in critical thinking to contribute to the overall teaching and learning activities within the university.

The University of Business and Integrated Development Studies is establishing a Critical Thinking Enhancement Group, with the following objectives:

• To create awareness on the need to move from knowledge transmission to knowledge facilitation through the employment of critical thinking skills;
• To make critical thinking the pivot around which teaching and learning revolve;
• To create a platform for sharing experiences in handling large classes;
• To building capacity in realizing the importance of critical thinking skills in higher education; and
• To learn the practical ways that critical thinking skills be incorporated and mainstreamed in the curriculum.

The University of Mines and Technology (UMaT) is introducing a compulsory course on Critical Thinking and Integrated Thought for all students. The course will help students in cultivating the attitude of questioning opinions and values, and promote in the students' fair-mindedness to represent multiple perspectives accurately and the open-mindedness to entertain viewpoints opposed. In the end, UMaT gradually wants to improve upon critical thinking in all the courses being taught at the university by periodic organization of workshops for lecturers and also monitoring and evaluation of its incorporation.
Exploitation Route While there are the direct interventions are taking place in three universities in Ghana, there are a number of ways in which the positive impact can extend beyond. The community of practice developed between lecturers in the country is also open to lecturers of other Ghanaian universities. The final knowledge exchange event to be held in late 2022 will also engage representatives of other Ghanaian universities. A written systematisation of strategies for incorporation of critical thinking is also being developed for use by other universities. Finally, through our partners at Strathmore University, Kenya and the University of Botswana, the findings will also be engaged with in other African countries.
Sectors Education

 
Description The project is still underway, but impact has already been seen in the following areas: • Development of critical thinking enhancement strategies in the University of Business and Integrated Development Studies, the University of Mines and Technology and Wisconsin International University College • Establishment of a capacity building partnership between these universities and the University of Cape Coast (Centre for Teaching Support) • Establishment of a community of practice involving lecturers from these universities in Ghana, along with colleagues from University College London, Boston College, Strathmore University and the University of Botswana.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Participating university: University of Business and Integrated Development Studies 
Organisation University for Development Studies
Country Ghana 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Overall project coordination, grant management, facilitation of international partnerships and input on research methods and theoretical framing.
Collaborator Contribution Development of critical thinking enhancement strategy, hosting of critical thinking workshop, participation in national stakeholder meeting and lecturers' community of practice.
Impact Critical thinking workshop (March 2022)
Start Year 2021
 
Description Participating university: University of Mines and Technology 
Organisation University of Mines and Technology
Country Ghana 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Overall project coordination, grant management, facilitation of international partnerships and input on research methods and theoretical framing.
Collaborator Contribution Development of critical thinking enhancement strategy, hosting of critical thinking workshop, participation in national stakeholder meeting and lecturers' community of practice.
Impact Critical thinking workshop (March 2022)
Start Year 2021
 
Description Participating university: Wisconsin International University College 
Organisation Wisconsin International University College
Country Ghana 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Overall project coordination, grant management, facilitation of international partnerships and input on research methods and theoretical framing.
Collaborator Contribution Development of critical thinking enhancement strategy, hosting of critical thinking workshop, participation in national stakeholder meeting and lecturers' community of practice.
Impact Institutional critical thinking strategy
Start Year 2021
 
Description Project partner: University of Cape Coast 
Organisation University of Cape Coast
Country Ghana 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Overall project coordination, grant management, facilitation of international partnerships and input on research methods and theoretical framing.
Collaborator Contribution Facilitation of critical thinking workshops, coordination of participating universities in Ghana, convening of national stakeholder meeting and enabling of lecturers community of practice.
Impact Workshops delivered in Cape Coast (May 2021) and Accra (May 2021).
Start Year 2021
 
Description Critical Thinking Enhancement Workshop - UMaT 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact University lecturers attended a workshop to enhance their critical thinking skills
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Critical Thinking Skills Enhancement Workshop - UBIDS 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact University lecturers attended a workshop to enhance their critical thinking skills
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Training of Trainers on Building Capacity for Critical Thinking Enhancement in four Institutions in Ghana 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Inception workshop held with lecturers from Ghanaian universities who will act as champions in rolling out critical thinking enhancement
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Workshop for Facilitators of critical thinking enhancement - UCC 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Workshop for facilitators supporting Ghanaian universities in critical thinking development work
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021