THE MANIFESTATION OF CRITICAL THINKING IN LITHUANIAN HIGHER EDUCATION STUDY PROGRAMS

Valdonė Indrašienė, Violeta Jegelevičienė, Odeta Merfeldaitė, Daiva Penkauskienė, Jolanta Pivorienė, Asta Railienė, Justinas Sadauskas, Natalija Valavičienė

Abstract


Growing interest in the phenomenon of critical thinking is driven by the requirements of the 21st century labour market, which demands that employees succeed in everyday personal and interpersonal environments, pursue professional success, and become an integral part of a smart society. Critical thinking is highlighted in policy documents as a competency that is necessary to respond to labour market demands and contribute to the progress of society. Higher education systems need to correspond to labour market needs, therefore the teaching and learning of critical thinking is becoming one of the most important tasks in higher education. It is emphasised that higher education institutions should not only train employees for a specific profession, but should also educate personalities with innovative skills such as critical thinking, creativity, communication and cooperation, flexibility, and emotional intelligence. Knowledge remains important, but it becomes much more important to be able to find a solution in an unknown situation, to know where to search for information, to be able to assess its reliability, and to behave safely in virtual reality. It is noted that the development of graduates’ critical thinking skills is becoming one of the most important goals for higher education studies both in Europe and globally.
Higher education plays an important role in promoting personal development and social progress; it promotes innovation-based research, thus making a considerable contribution towards the training of the highly-qualified employees needed for knowledge-based economic growth, and ensuring prosperity. There are higher expectations of higher education than just to provide education – it needs to contribute to the development of an economically sustainable, integral, progressive society and a mature personality; to respond to the changing needs of a specific time and to predict and model these needs. International organisations recognise critical thinking as essential, and as one of the most promising possibilities for the achievement of such goals. Critical thinking is necessary for living in plural, civil communities; it helps individuals become members of smart, sustainable societies.
Understanding the relevance of critical thinking, this research aimed to ascertain the current context of critical thinking education in Lithuanian higher education institutions. In developing study programs, higher education institutions seek to include and educate not only subject-specific but also general competencies. Descriptions of the study programs, together with descriptions of the subjects, shape the visions of graduates – what competencies a graduate should have and what they should be able to do. Therefore, descriptions of study programs and descriptions of their subjects are reliable documents which allow one to determine which skills a particular program develops, which methods are used, and how these skills are assessed. In the broadest sense, the curriculum is understood as a political and social agreement; it reflects a society’s common vision while considering local, national, and global needs and expectations. It is in and through the curriculum that key economic, political, social, and cultural questions about the aims, purposes, content, and processes of education are resolved. The policy statement and technical document that represent the curriculum also reflect a broader political and social agreement about what a society deems of most worth – that which is of sufficient importance to pass on to its learners.
The object of this research is the manifestation of critical thinking education in the descriptions of study programs.
The goal of this research is to discern how critical thinking competency manifests in the descriptions of study programs, in which parts of them it is expressed, and which critical thinking dispositions are included in study programs.
In order to reveal the manifestation of critical thinking in higher education, an analysis was performed of the descriptions of the higher education study programmes that were registered in the AIKOS system in 2019. A mixed methods research approach was used – i.e., quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection and analysis were employed. The study consisted of four sequentially interrelated stages to identify the extent to which critical thinking manifests itself in the study programme descriptions and how it is expressed in the course descriptions: (1) selection of study programmes; (2) quantitative content analysis of the study programme descriptions; (3) quantitative content analysis of the course descriptions; and (4) qualitative content analysis of the course descriptions. Two data sets were used in the research: the texts of the publicly presented descriptions of study programmes were analysed in the second stage, and the texts of the course descriptions for the selected study programmes were analysed in the third and fourth stages. The study used data content analysis by joining both data sets – i.e., by combining the quantitative content analysis of the study programmes and their descriptions with the qualitative content analysis of the course descriptions of the study programmes selected for further analysis.
The quantitative content analysis of the study programme descriptions revealed that the concept of critical thinking is mentioned in approximately one-third of the study programme descriptions. The highest frequency of the concept of critical thinking was found in the fields of study of Engineering Sciences, Life Sciences, and Technological Sciences.
The concept of critical thinking mentioned in the descriptions of the selected study programmes is expanded upon and detailed in almost all of the course descriptions. Critical thinking as a concept per se is more often mentioned in relation to generic competencies than to subject-specific competencies. Generic competencies stress the ability to evaluate, while subject-specific competencies stress the ability to analyse. Both the quantitative and qualitative analyses of the course descriptions revealed that critical thinking tends to be conceptualised as a skill, without specifying its nature – whether personal, professional (special), general, or other. In most cases, critical thinking is highlighted as a significant personal skill in a particular professional field. This research has revealed that the individual dimension is dominant in study programmes. In the majority of cases, critical thinking is treated as a cognitive skill related to the development of a student’s reasoning skills for personal purposes – better learning results and intellectual growth. In rare cases, evidence of a social dimension was also found. However, this was limited to interpersonal relationships. Other people are important for listening to reasoned arguments, understanding how and why a certain decision is made, finding agreement in solving problems, and responding to the challenges of a specific field of study. The importance of others also manifests itself through empathetic relationships: openness to different opinions, cultures, and/or contexts. Nothing was found regarding social dimensions in terms of questioning authorities, raising social problems, fighting for rightness, or contributing to the welfare of society.
The constituents of critical thinking revealed in this study are linked to the context of the specific subjects or presented abstractly. Critical thinking is most commonly associated with creative, analytical, and reflexive thinking.

Keywords


critical thinking, skills, dispositions, higher education study programs.

Full Text:

PDF (Lietuvių)


DOI: https://doi.org/10.13165/SD-21-19-1-03

Refbacks

  • There are currently no refbacks.