The use of critical thinking approach in the education system of Latvia

The use of critical thinking approach in the education system of Latvia


In 2008 EDC implemented the project “The study on using the critical thinking (CT) approach in the education system – impact and effectiveness in Latvia”. It studied the introduction and implementation of CT approach in the education system – the acquisition of developing the CT approach in higher education and further education; the experience of using of this approach on the education policy level and the school level; the teachers’ experience, the students’ and experts’ opinions about the benefits the critical thinking approach. The use of developing the CT approach in the teaching/learning process was studied by examining and analyzing also the text books used in primary schools in the subjects of humanitarian, nature and social sciences as well as the Standards of basic school education.

The study showed that the parties involved in the education process: teachers, school administration, students, parents, whose educational institutions use the CT development approach, present the skill to work with large amounts of information, to select, analyze and structure the information, to compare opinions and arguments, to listen to different viewpoints. Diversity is another benefit of the CT approach mentioned by teachers, students and experts: the possibility to improve the interaction skills, the ability to participate in the discussion and to express one’s opinion. This not only and develops the person’s self-confidence but also cultivates the tolerance towards the diversity, different attitudes, viewpoints and strengthens the understanding about the values of a democratic society and the possibilities for effective cooperation on the individual and group level in the process of developing a responsible society.
The respondents of the study admit that the CT approach in the teaching/learning process encourages going deep into teaching/learning activities in order to teach the student himself/herself to learn, by creating and showing the perspective and link among different content areas at schools and in life, between varied knowledge and skills. In order to perform these tasks we need the conviction and daring of the teacher to change his/her working style in case of need, to work creatively; to make purposeful pedagogical observations, to trust one’s observations and sometimes even the intuition.

However, the study also reveals the shortcomings in using the CT approach as the respondents see them. For instance:

  • Shortage of time resources. The necessity for comparatively more time investment in preparing the lessons and in acquisition of the material, according to experts’ assessment, is one of the greatest shortcomings of CT didactics. The lack of time resources for preparing the lesson and also for the acquisition of the envisaged material lowers considerably the teachers’ motivation to apply CT methodology in their everyday practice. As the teachers’ work is mainly assessed by the end result, the concern about the possibility to reach the desired results often serves as an argument against using CT methodology.
  • Assessment criteria. Rather often the experts mention in the context of CT approach that the uncertainty concerning what criteria to use and how to assess students’ creative work creates problems for teachers. The experts emphasize that teachers often lack the assessment skills, namely, the skills to determine criteria according to which to assess the students’ performance. As one of the representatives of education policy developers mentions the use of CT methodology in school practice brings along also the necessity to give up the final examinations in the assessment system as the main and often the only measure or criterion in assessing the student’s knowledge and skills.
  • Parents’ understanding of the critical thinking. The necessity to explain the essence of the methodology of CT approach and the assessment criteria to parents who themselves had learned according to the traditional methods is another obstacle faced by teachers who apply the CT approach in their everyday work. Several experts consider that the essence of CT approach and the necessity of its application is very seldom explained to parents, thus, as a result, teachers often have to meet resistance also on the part of parents because this methodology differs considerably from how they themselves had learned.
  • Discipline problems in the class. Finally, a part of teachers connects the weaknesses of the methodology with the concern about ensuring enough discipline in the class during the lessons.

The education policy makers consider that the only way how to facilitate teachers’ motivation to apply the CT approach is to broaden the teachers’ possibilities of selection by offering them several model programs. The idea envisages that each of these programs is based on its methods of teaching, including also the basic principles of critical thinking, and ideally it is supplemented with corresponding teaching/learning materials. The introduction of multiplicity in the field of model programs, which is supplemented with changes in further education and the development of textbooks, which are based on CT principles and framework, according to education policy makers are the three key provisions for introducing critical thinking on the system level.

Conclusions of the study have been analyzed and recommendations for overcoming shortcomings have been provided:

  • Problem- Lack of supportive environment in the educational institutions for implementing CT approach
  • Recommendation – School administration should take upon itself the coordinator’s function in this situation both when planning the possibilities of acquiring the approach of developing CT at school and sharing the experience and methodology in the teaching/learning process.
  • Problem – The succession of the CT approach is not implemented in all stages of education.
  • Recommendation – Development of critical thinking should be started at the elementary school level and successively, correspondingly continued in the subsequent educational stages.
  • Problem – Insufficient, fragmentary and no practice-based professional competence of teachers on developing CT.

Recommendation – When developing the content and length of the professional development- further education courses, the developers should envisage a possibility that within the course it will be possible to gain general knowledge about the CT approach and the scope of its impact, to master the totality of methods corresponding to the approach and to envisage time for approbation of this approach as well as time for receiving the feedback from the course participants. One of the solutions is to develop a two-part CT approach courses where in the first part the participants will get the system level knowledge about CT as the philosophy of education and its possibilities and the second part will focus on the acquisition of particular strategies and their practical application.

  • Problem – Insufficient use of the CT development approach in higher education in Latvia.
  • Recommendation – The development of a new study course and offering it to higher education institutions of Latvia
  • Problem – The CT approach is only partly implemented in the textbooks – not the approach as a whole, but mainly these are separate strategies that are included in the books.
  • Recommendation – methodological support is needed for teachers, who use the sets of teaching/learning materials and the authors of the textbooks, paying special attention to the books and materials of the nature sciences.
  • Problem – students’ parents and society at large on the whole have little or no information at all about the possibilities of developing critical thinking.

Recommendation – To develop cooperation with parents and society by explaining the importance of developing the CT approach and its impact on the society.
At present the authors are actively working on developing four programs for the following target groups: the university staff; schools: education policy makers, heads of educational institutions, methodology leaders, teachers; the authors of textbooks and materials; state institutions and society (politicians, media people, entrepreneurs).
Programs to popularize the key role of developing the CT approach in strengthening a democratic society and promoting diversity, to facilitate discussions about promoting the effectiveness of CT approach in the education system and society of Latvia will be piloted in April and May.
One thing is clear – the educational society still has much to do so that critical thinking becomes a part of everyday life of independently thinking, active citizens of a democratic society. And it should be done differently than before. Political will as well as the pedagogical expertise should be mobilized. When reading the study you will ascertain yourselves that students are ready to think critically and are full of the joy of thinking; you’ll lose some illusions about the rooting of the critical thinking approach in the normative justification of education and at schools, thus getting inspiration or the second wind for the next wave of critical thinking in education of Latvia.