An investigation of the concept of critical thinking in the context of a functional English course in a BEd Degree in Pakistan

Khan, Shaista Irshad (2017) An investigation of the concept of critical thinking in the context of a functional English course in a BEd Degree in Pakistan. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The National Education Policy document published in 2009 in Pakistan emphasised that one of the wider goals for teaching and learning at all levels is the need to encourage and develop critical thinking skills. In the literature, these have been conceptualised in terms of a variety of skills many of which relate to evaluation. These skills imply the ability and willingness to ask productive questions related to the material that is being presented.
The Higher Education Commission, Pakistan, worked with a team from the United States Agency of International Development (USAID) Teacher Education Project to develop and implement the curricula for a new BEd Honours/ADE (Associate Degree in Education) programme. This has been offered in 22 Universities and 75 Elementary colleges in Pakistan since 2012. Critical thinking is specifically listed as a goal in the generic course outlines as well as in the objectives for the revised BEd/ADE degree.
The development and implementation of these planned new approaches to teaching and learning offered an opportunity to explore critical thinking at policy, course development and implementation levels. The revised Functional English course was chosen for this study because it was a compulsory course in BEd/ADE degree, giving access to the entire student teacher cohort. Based on the literature, the working definition of critical thinking adopted for this study is conceptualised as purposeful thinking which is to be seen in skills like analysis and evaluation, weighing arguments, judging the quality of evidence and the credibility of sources. The central feature is the skill and willingness to ask productive questions. Using the working definition as a point of reference, this study explored how undergraduate students and teachers perceived the nature of critical thinking as a concept as well as the set of skills that exemplify critical thinking. The study also examined the likely facilitators and barriers in the development of critical thinking as perceived by students and teachers involved in the course. Another theme that was explored was how the course guidelines were being followed in the context of the development of critical thinking.
This study was carried out in two Phases. Phase-I (at the start of the Functional English course) investigated the teaching and learning experiences of the participants in their previous English courses along with their expectations from the Functional English course in the context of critical thinking. Phase-II (at the completion of the Functional English course) explored the participants overall experience of studying Functional English including the extent to which this course met their expectations in terms of learning and their perceptions towards critical thinking skills. The study used a mixed method approach involving questionnaires, student teacher focus groups, teacher interviews in both phases and observation of classes during the course. 140 undergraduates (the entire cohort following the course in Hazara Region) studying Functional English in BEd/ADE and 7 English teachers were involved, across five institutions (2 universities and 3 colleges). The data were analysed using SPSS and NVivo.
The findings from Phase-I revealed that both students and teacher had little understanding of critical thinking as seen in the literature but, on the completion of the course (Phase-II), both conceptualised critical thinking as skills involving analysis, evaluation, synthesis, weighing best options, all underpinned by productive questioning. Both students and teachers identified the key role of questioning. However, they were unable to identify the specific kind of questioning involved. Nonetheless, observation of the classes did indicate that questioning of a productive nature was taking place. In terms of facilitators and barriers, both teachers and student teachers identified similar factors including student academic and social background, the role of the teacher, the classroom environment, potential peer mockery, lack of confidence, lack of teacher training and the issues related to policy and practice.
The study revealed that the course had been well received by student teachers and teachers and was being delivered in line with the intentions of the course documentation. After five observation sessions, the lasting impression was gained of enormous student involvement, vibrant activity and vigorous discussion. It was evident that teachers used the course guidelines with flexibility and considerable imagination. Comparisons of Phase-I and II revealed that, with the emphasis on wider educational outcomes, there was a marked move among both teachers and students away for the dominant emphasis on memorisation and recall.
The evidence points to the simple principle that the way to encourage the development of critical thinking is to place learners regularly in situations where critical thinking skills are not only encouraged but are perceived to be valuable by the learners. In the Functional English course, this has been encouraged through interactions between learners working in groups or peer discussion, an approach that is broadly Vygotskian. Classroom observation as well as student teacher and teacher responses in focus groups and interviews respectively indicated that the more student-centred learning approach was providing opportunities for productive discussion and questioning through the range of different activities undertaken. With critical thinking seen as a curriculum goal, the study also suggests that there are no barriers intrinsic to either teachers or students in achieving this goal. Students value it. Given the guidelines, teachers enthusiastically encourage it. This suggests that the development of students as critical thinkers is facilitated by students gaining the confidence to ask questions of each other and their teachers. The study concludes by reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches employed as well as suggesting areas where future work might build on the findings of the study.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Critical thinking, higher education, education.
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Elliot, Dr. Dely
Date of Award: 2017
Depositing User: Miss Shaista Irshad Khan
Unique ID: glathesis:2017-7922
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 09 Feb 2017 14:29
Last Modified: 03 Mar 2017 09:26

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