Learning Critical Thinking in Saudi Arabia: Student Perceptions of Secondary Pre-Service Teacher Education Programs

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Abstract

Saudi scholars have been agitating for education reforms to incorporate critical thinking in education programs. This paper is a qualitative case study undertaken at King Abdul Aziz University and Arab Open University and examines students' perception of learning critical thinking in secondary pre-service teacher education programs in Saudi Arabia. Definitions of critical thinking are based on the Delphi Report (Facione, 1990). The findings underscore the need for education reforms based on critical thinking to elevate the quality of education in Saudi Arabia.

Keywords: critical thinking, students' perspectives, Saudi Arabia, secondary pre-service teacher education programs

1. Introduction

The importance of critical thinking in education has been recognised by leading theorists and scholars (Paul, 1992, 1995, 2008, 2011; Elder, 2002, 2005; Faccione, 1992; McPeck, 1990; Siegel, 1988; Fisher, 2001; Ennis, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1997; Halpern, 1998; Swartz, 1994) and has been the focus of education reforms in many parts of the West such as the US, England and Australia. Fisher (1998, p. 5) for instance, states that "the aim of this movement is to create a 'thinking curriculum,' placing the development of thinking skills at the heart of the educational process."

Because fast-paced technological change has brought about vast changes in the way people work, communicate and learn, skills such as analysis and evaluation have become important and necessary. For this reason Paul (1995) maintains that critical thinking is "the heart of well-conceived educational reforms and restructuring because it is the heart of the changes of the 21st century" (pp. 97-98).

Critical thinking is considered important not only for achieving educational achievement outcomes based on the narrow criteria of standardised testing but as Swartz (1994), Facione (1998) and Paul (2008) maintain, the benefits of critical thinking transcend school life, enhancing greatly the quality of life and professionalism in the workplace. Critical thinking benefits not only the individual but society in general as Beyer (1995) points out, arguing that critical thinking skills are tools for cohesive social function.

Furthermore, as Beyer (1995) states, critical thinking enables individuals to make decisions and evaluate "information related to personal, social, economic and political issues" (p. 28) while Brookfield argues that "critical thinking is a survival skill that you need to make your way through life" (Johanson, 2010, p. 27).

In relation to pre-service teacher education, Dewey (1997) "contended that the primary purpose of teacher education programs should be to help pre-service teachers reflect on problems of practice" (Mewborn, 1999, p. 316). Consequently, according to Elder (2005) "critical thinking is foundational to the effective teaching of any subject, and it must be at the heart of any professional development program" (p. 39) such as pre-service teacher education programs. Akyüz, (2009) claims that

Many educators believe that specific knowledge will not be as important to tomorrow's workers and citizens as the ability to learn and make sense of new information. On the other hand, most scholars can agree that one aspect of critical thinking is the ability to analyse, understand, and evaluate an argument" (p. 541)

For secondary pre-service teacher education students, critical thinking assumes greater relevance because these students will be responsible for instilling critical thinking in their own future students. If critical thinking is not taught effectively at secondary pre-service teacher education programs, student teachers will be unable to teach critical thinking effectively to their own future students. Or as Tsui (2001) agues "if these students do not receive training in higher-order thinking while at college, when can they expect to receive it?" (p. 19).

2. Context of the Problem

According to Walsh and Paul (1986) critical thinking skills "should be thoroughly integrated into all aspects of the teacher education programs and prepare future teachers to be models of effective thinking strategies" (p. …