How important is a raging current issue and what will be its consequences? Ask this question to a student and majority of the time they’ll not be able to voice their opinions. In a democratic society like ours, it is essential to teach students to be aware of the current affairs around them. Not just awareness, thinking and voicing opinions are also essential skills that students should take up.

The current situation of low awareness gives rise to these questions: Why are academicians and students silent on crucial issues? Are they really not interested? Are they scared of airing their views? Or do they lack critical thinking?

NEP and critical thinking

The new National Education Policy (NEP) highlights the importance of “critical thinking”. It states that “creativity and critical thinking to encourage logical decision-making and innovation” is part of “the fundamental principles that will guide both the education system at large, as well as the individual institutions within it”. If the focus on critical thinking in the NEP is something that the leaders are proud of, then critical thinking should be celebrated and students encouraged to foster and apply critical thoughts in key situations.

Freedom to disagree

Critical thought is crucial in the 21st century and educators have a moral responsibility to promote critical thinking among students. The purpose of education is to create informed citizens who can analyse any issue and comment on it in an objective manner. Students should be encouraged to have intelligent and meaningful discussions on current issues, and form their own opinions instead of being influenced by others.

Voicing dissent shouldn’t be construed as being anti-national. Those who love their country should be bold enough to voice their views on various national issues. Good critical thinkers care for the country and prove their love through their active participation in a democratic polity. Shouldn’t the purpose of education be preparing students for such a democratic polity?

The nation will progress and become truly democratic if educators, police officers, politicians, decision-makers, and others in key positions are real critical thinkers and apply critical thinking to their decision-making process. As Martin Luther King Jr said: “Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction. The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.”

(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in The Hindu. The original article can be found at https://www.thehindu.com/education/teach-to-think/article33889195.ece)