Faculty of Education - Theses

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    Rethinking Thinking Schools, Learning Nation: teachers’ and students’ perspectives of critical thinking in Singaporean education
    Ab Kadir, Mohammad Akshir ( 2009)
    One of the key thrusts in Singapore’s Thinking Schools, Learning Nation (TSLN) educational vision, launched in 1997, is the emphasis on critical thinking in schools. This entails pedagogical changes and challenges for teachers, especially, in terms of their knowledge, dispositions and practices of critical thinking, which are argued to be fundamental in fulfilling the TSLN thrust. Although TSLN is now 10 years into its implementation, to date, there has been little research undertaken to determine the efficacy of the implementation of the critical thinking policy thrust through the perspectives and voices of both teachers and students — the key stakeholders of education and the ultimate agents in the successful implementation of educational initiatives. Therefore, in gaining an in-depth understanding of teachers’ and students’ perspectives of the implementation of critical thinking from the ‘swampy lowlands’, a qualitative case study approach was used. Six government school teachers and their students participated in the case study and data were gathered through lesson observations, interviews, and the analysis of documents. Findings suggest that a multitude of interrelated systemic and contextual factors, which are predisposed by underlying ‘technocratic and instrumental rationalities’ that govern Singaporean education, remain major barriers to the realisation of TSLN’s critical thinking thrust. The study found that there are gaps and uncertainties in the teachers’ knowledge base of critical thinking and that the incorporation of critical thinking as part of their pedagogy and classroom practice is marginal. Student data corroborate the general lack of emphasis and the limited role of critical thinking in the classroom and they indicate that the hegemony of both school curricula and high stakes examination perpetuate rote learning and didactic pedagogies. Implications of the study suggest the need to reorientate teacher education and professional development programmes with the explicit aim of transforming teachers’ knowledge base and dispositions to engage with the pedagogical changes that TSLN’s critical thinking policy thrust necessitates. However, to effect deep change and realize the core aspiration of ‘thinking learners’, there must not only be restructuring; reculturing also needs to occur across and beyond the educational system. Importantly, such changes need to be primarily informed by the reconceptualisation of teachers — from mere ‘technicians’ to ‘transformative intellectuals’ — and teachers’ work — from ‘technical work’ to ‘intellectual work’. It is also vital that teachers who are entrusted with the task of developing ‘thinking learners’ under TSLN teach curricula and work in school contexts that explicitly encourage, value and reward critical thinking.