Higher Education in Africa Needs More Emphasis on Critical Thinking, Less on Rote Memorization

Educating Africa’s Youth for the 21st Century

“Learning in many African universities still happens in large lecture halls and rewards the ability to remember and repeat information. Researchers such as Nobel Prize winning physicist Carl Wieman have shown that this is one of the least effective ways of learning.

“Effective learning takes three things. First, students must be able to reflect on what they are learning. Reflection helps students assess what they know and what they don’t. It also helps them to integrate new ideas and concepts into their body of knowledge. When students reflect, they strengthen the neural pathways in their brain, and build new pathways that link information that was previously not associated. These links enable critical thinking.

“Second, true learning happens when students stop being passive recipients of information and become active experimenters. When students take an active part, they take responsibility for the results and ensure that learning is relevant to them. They develop habits that help them learn later in life, such as self-regulation, motivation and curiosity.

“Third, learning happens when students apply new concepts or skills. This is the most natural test for a student’s comprehension of what they are studying. Doing something, receiving feedback about it, refining the approach and then doing it again also builds neural pathways for retrieval and association.”

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