The teaching of thinking: Co-constructing and re-defining pathways to make an impact

Thinking is skilled work

Thinking is skilled work

The development of critical thinking has been regarded as an important outcome and ideal of
education since the early days of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. This ideal was pursued through the
Middle Ages and the Renaissance with the emphasis that was placed on the use of reasoning and
critiquing thought processes as central activities to the development of critical thinking. Although the
National Department of Basic Education in South Africa has placed a strong cognitive focus on
teaching and learning since 1997 these ideals appear not to have become a reality in all South African
classrooms yet. Many South African classrooms sadly still appear to be caves that mirror a closed-
minded approach to knowledge acquisition, where the facts, rules, norms and ethics that were
formulated by previous generations, are not questioned or critiqued. Moreover, the fact that
researchers are still deliberating ways, in which critical thinking can be taught and acquired, possibly
indicates that this ideal has not yet been achieved.

Following a successful 2015 conference that emphasized the importance of critical thinking as a
cornerstone for 21 st century learning, the 2017 IACESA conference aimed to create a platform to
prioritise for future milestones that would promote and scale cognitive education in Southern Africa.
This conference advocated for a multi-dimensional approach to the teaching and assessing of critical
thinking. The nurturing of critical thinking requires a multi professional approach involving all role
players in education in a variety of learning contexts (formal, informal, non-formal) to enable learners
to become sophisticated critical thinkers who can apply logical and analytic left-brain thinking skills
to solve problems. In addition, sophisticated critical thinkers also need to overcome life’s challenges
by using their intuition, creativity, imagery, and the search for possibility.
The conference presentations were clustered under the four following sub-themes:

Sub-theme 1: Thinking critically about the hidden mechanisms that make cognitive education
interventions work. Prof. Deborah Eyre, the main key note speaker at the conference introduced the
delegates to the High Performance Learning framework as a pathway to develop learners’ cognitive
resources. In addition, other presentations that focused on Philosophy for Children, social learning,
problem-soving and reasoning, the role of self-efficacy, the Learning Power Approach, the
importance of classroom climate and values and mediated learning, highlighted additional pathways
for nurturing cognitive potential effectively.

Sub-theme 2: Thinking critically about informal and non-formal learning opportunities to
advance cognitive education. Mr Tope Toogun, the keynote speaker for sub-theme 2, created
awareness among the delegates about the importance of technology and learning via simulations as
important informal and non-formal pathways to nurture thinking. Other presentations related to this
sub-theme explored the role of play, sensory processing and flipping the classroom as informal/non-
formal pathways to advance the teaching of thinking.

Mr Brent Hutcheson presented a practical workshop demonstrating the role of play by means of the
Six Bricks for holistic development of learners.

Practical workshop

Practical workshop

Sub-theme 3: Thinking critically about the purpose and process of assessment for thinking. Dr
Celia Booyse, the keynote speaker for sub-theme 3 created awareness among the delegates that
teaching for thinking should align with assessment for thinking.

Sub-theme 4: Thinking critically about optimal health and well-being (physical, social,
emotional health). Sub-theme 4 provided a new angle to the work of IACESA that mainly
focuses on formal classroom teaching and learning. Dr Bernard Brom, the keynote speaker
introduced delegates to the “Art” and “Science” of critical thinking. His presentation was followed by
the presentation of Estelle Brettenny, who illustrated through a personal health issue, the importance
of taking good critical thinking on the road of life to make good decisions about one’s own health and
well-being. Mrs Eve Dunnell, Chairperson of the University of the 3rd Age in Cape Town, who
demonstrated how cognitive development could be pursued even in retirement, concluded the
conference with a delightful presentation.

A highlight of the conference was the cocktail function where the launch of a recently published book,

Developing Critical Thinking: A Multi-Dimensional Approach in the Context of South Africa,
co-authored by a number of the IACESA Board Members and other colleagues in the field of
cognitive education was celebrated.

Conference delegates at the book launch during the cocktail function

Conference delegates at the book launch during the cocktail function

A new IACESA Board for the 2017-2019 term was also announced. Dr Magda Kloppers (NWU Vaal
Triangle Campus) will be the new President, supported by Prof. Mirna Nel (Research Professor at
Optentia, as Vice President (President Elect). A number of other NWU staff members will also serve
on the new IACESA Board, namely Prof. Mary Grosser, Dr Stef Esterhuizen, Mrs Viné Petzer, Dr
Deon Van Tonder, Mr Byron Bunt, Mr Grantt Gouws, Mr Francois Minnie and Mrs Marietjie
Willemse.

 

Acquiring critical thinking is a lifelong journey rather than something picked up in a module or a
course. It is not enough that one learns about critical thinking, one needs to practice critical thinking
with close guidance and feedback. Critical thinking societies will only come into being when human
critical thinking becomes a primary interest of the people who live in such societies. We hope that
the 2017 conference will be an inspiration to all conference delegates to pursue not only the
development of their own critical thinking abilities but also the critical thinking abilities of their
students in academic and real life contexts, rigorously.

In conclusion, a warm word of thanks to Optentia: Prof. Ian Rothmann for financial support and Lynn
Booysen, Marinda Malan and Anjonet Jordaan for assisting where they could to make the conference
a memorable one. We are extremely grateful to Marinda Malan for being the official photographer of
the conference!

Optentia at the IACESA conference

Optentia at the IACESA conference