I want to begin this article on the importance of critical thinking in Africa with a syllogism. It goes like this: “All human beings can think critically. All Africans are human beings. Therefore, all Africans can think critically.” But can they? The answer to this question must surely be, yes, they can. But do they? And must they? These are the questions we must answer in this article. But before we do that let us define what we mean by critical thinking.
Critical thinking has received a lot of attention from scholars and the literature is vast. In the process, it has generated many definitions. One of the best I have come across defines it as “the intellectual disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualising, applying, analysing, synthesising and/or evaluating information gathered from or generated by observation, experience, reflection and reasoning.” Critical thinking is therefore concerned with information processing and can be viewed as a complex, purposive, judgemental (quality) higher order reasoning, which is usually devoted to critiquing information, problem-solving and decision making. The goal is always to reach sound conclusions based on credible premises.
Do Africans think critically? There is no doubt that some do. However, it is also fair to observe that substantial numbers of others don’t. And they don’t because it is supposedly un-African to do so, particularly when it is being used to challenge traditions, positions and opinions informed by superstition, primordial thinking and blind faith or dogma. It would, therefore, appear that thinking Africanly means suspension of thought, logic or common sense and continuance of thinking in spiritual, occultic or magical ways.
Almost as a way of underwriting this unintellectual tradition, Africa has, over the years, tended to design educational systems that do not promote critical thinking. A quick sampling of the curricula and class arrangements many education departments set for their schools and tertiary institutions reveals that there is an overemphasis on knowledge and recall (rote learning), a lack of, or insufficient emphasis on, critical thinking in the various course contents, poor knowledge of critical thinking by lecturers, poor training of students from the lower levels of education in critical skills, overcrowding in lecture rooms giving little or no time for useful interaction and questioning, overreliance on lecture methods without the old tutorial classes, and overemphasis on certificates rather than skills acquired. In addition to this, universities and colleges these days pay little attention to co-curricular activities that promote critical thinking among the student population, such as quiz and essay competitions, debates, public lectures, seminars by students, etc.
To the extent that such mystical thinking and habits clog the African mind, and to the extent that critical thinking is not actively being encouraged, to that extent it can be said that Africans do not think critically.
But must Africans think critically? Yes, of course—and for the following reasons.
First, critical thinking will lead to the retention of their dignity as creatures who are made in the image of a God who reasons and who, through the application of intelligence, created all that exists. To reduce themselves to incarnations of the mystical and magical is for Africans to degrade themselves to the level of creatures with no minds.
Second, critical thinking will lead to the rejection of mystical and other ritualistic and religious nonsense that dominates the mental space of many Africans and which has done little or nothing to elevate their dignity and to instil a holistic development that has eluded the continent of Africa even in the contemporary world. When the West rejected ideas that were rooted in Greek mythological thinking and in Aristotelian authoritarian ideas, they began to make progress both in the fields of science and technology. In the same way, Africa, through a critical application of her mind, should delete ideas and practices that halt her noetic activity and consign her to a self-imposed perpetual Dark Age and backwardness.
Third, critical cum-creative thinking is in itself an injection of a resource that will bring untold benefits to the continent. This resource, which hitherto has been vitiated by elders (older males) in African communities, is the desideratum of meaningful or holistic development. Leaders in Africa therefore need to adopt an attitude which allows for a free reign of critical and creative disposition, which other community members, such as the youth, women, men and children can use as a catalyst for development of the continent. When God created Adam in his image, he, among other things, created him free to apply his mind in the execution of the cultural mandate. Adam would not have been in a position to subdue the earth and to have dominion over it if his mind was not free to think and create. Similarly, the African mind must be left free to explore and create after the image of its maker, and not be beholden to a tradition of non-thinking, if it will burst at the seams of non-development.
Western civilisation (which is the most advanced in the world), at her best, believed in critical thinking (based on the Bible). This critical use of the mind led to progress in just about every field of human endeavour. When Africa thinks critically, she will no doubt see the advancement she craves.
If Africa must make the highly desired advancement in democracy, science and other sectors, she must imbibe critical thinking. This, in practice, will mean educational managers seeing to it that teacher education curricula and others are improved to accommodate critical thinking skills in order to equip student teachers with necessary skills to enable them to train youths to become human capitals useful to themselves and to the nation.
It is not without reason that the African Christian University (ACU) is prioritising critical thinking. Critical thinking, of course, is not an isolated goal unrelated to other important goals in education. Rather, as someone has put it,
it is a seminal goal which, done well, simultaneously facilitates a rainbow of other ends. It is best conceived, therefore, as the hub around which all other educational ends cluster. For example, as students learn to think more critically, they become more proficient at historical, scientific, and mathematical thinking. Finally, they develop skills, abilities, and values crucial to success in everyday life.
ACU will be training students in critical thinking for all of life. Critical thinking is a skill needed by all in life: leaders, followers, professionals, businessmen, market vendors, young and old, men and women.
At ACU therefore, the type of curriculum designed, its quality and the instructional delivery, will be that which accommodates critical thinking skills, which we believe are germane for manpower development. When students become good thinkers, there is a chance that inventors and job creators will arise from them with benefits to the individuals and the African nation(s).
All of this assumes, of course, that those who teach have a solid grounding in critical thinking and in the teaching strategies essential to it. For teachers who are entrusted with producing future leaders and manpower for every nation, it is even quintessential. You will do well to pray for those who are called to teach at ACU.
This article originally appeared in April 2016 on the African Christian University website, and is reproduced here with permission.