In my first year in the University, one of the courses I was most looking forward to taking was Critical Thinking and Practical Reasoning. It is a course that challenges preconceived views of thought and speech but most importantly, like its name, encourages one to think critically.
I heard rumors about how difficult the course was and how important it was not to miss a lecture. The high number of students resitting the course was also meant to serve as motivation for fresh students to work hard to pass the course. If this were Chemistry, I would have been scared to death after all these admonishments. “But its Critical Thinking”, I thought to myself. What could be so hard about thinking critically?
I was right, at first. The Critical Thinking lecture each week was my most interesting lecture. It was very interactive and the tutor encouraged everyone to express themselves. We were not so much asked to give answers to questions as to understand why we gave the answers we gave. Understanding of principles was encouraged as opposed to just knowing them. We were on a journey and the tutor was our guide. We skipped from Mathematics to Science, delved into Philosophy and studied Language. Critical Thinking became more than a course to me and I genuinely looked forward to 17:30 on Mondays even though it meant I would get home late at night since our lecture routinely lasted more than the allotted two hours.
Unfortunately, or so I felt then, complications with my registration at the time meant I would not sit for exams during that semester but I had no qualms about this development as it just meant I could experience the excitement of a Critical Thinking class all over again the next semester.
I had cause to reassess my views of Critical Thinking after my colleagues wrote the Interim Assessment. It turned out the culture of creative and critical thinking was just meant for the lecture room. The usual “chew and pour” culture reigned in the examination hall. I was naïve, believing the creative culture in the classroom would be tolerated in examinations. I realised sadly that Critical Thinking was not so much about thinking critically but about “chewing” critically.
Critical Thinking is just a microcosm of what University education is. We apply to the University expecting freedom, fun and great, new experiences but we also expect to be intellectually challenged and developed; a complete difference from what we have undergone in High School.
But no! Its more of the same. Longer notes; bigger classes; fewer practicals and of course examinations which test your memory and not your ability. Just like Critical Thinking, the University promises so much and delivers so little. Intellectual development gives way to mental fatigue and sooner rather than later, you ask yourself why you ever thought Critical Thinking or University education would be different.
The cycle doesn’t stop though. This year, a huge number of people will apply to the University with high hopes and dreams. Quite a number of them will get admission and then they’ll have to take Critical Thinking and then they’ll realize that just like Critical Thinking, the University is not all that it is piped up to be.