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Technology advances dampen critical thinking

Tuesday 31 May 2016 | Published in Regional

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FIJI – An academic has warned Fiji educators not to rush into using technology as a dominant teaching tool because it may adversely affect critical thinking.

The Director of Research Office at the University of the South Pacific, Jito Vanualailai, says the ability to think critically has declined in the region and advances in technology may be to blame.

Dr Vanualailai recently addressed a Fiji Principal’s Association conference and underlined his concern.

He told Radio New Zealand’s Dateline Pacific his concerns come from research out of the United States.

“ Basically the research is saying that technology seems to have an impact on critical thinking – that technology really is a source of a decline in critical thinking.

“From that context, I was saying that the use of technology in Fiji could lead to a decline in critical thinking or may have already led to a decline in critical thinking.

“We had a mandate from the university’s council in 2010 where they basically said the university needed to do something about critical thinking.

“We need to produce graduates with research literacy and skills to help address the environmental, the economic, social and cultural changes that face the Pacific region.

“The research is saying basically that visual skills have improved. The advent of the internet, social media, games, these have improved the visual skills of kids, of children.

“But however, they are saying the critical thinking has declined because of limited reading opportunities.

“The students or the children are not reading a lot, they are not writing a lot. Of course they text but that is not reading for pleasure as it were.”

He said in Fiji there is anecdotal evidence that some university graduates cannot write properly in English.

“They have difficulties in basically numerical analysis, how to interpret data, whether that information is correct or not, they cannot really make sense of it.

“That is part and parcel of critical skills, where you need to have the ability to critically analyse information and come up with a conclusion that is concrete and that is objective.

“We do not have that capability among our students and our graduates and that is the worrying bit.

He said his presentation to the conference in Fiji was actually a warning as well.

“Fiji has actually one of the best internet accessibilities in the region. We’ve got internet that is accessible now from villages and very, very cheaply actually. Now, with that level of accessibility, that is a really worrying aspect.

“The easiest solution, because we don’t have students using laptops or tablets yet in school, we should just hold on for a while, don’t do that.

“Let’s go back to the best solutions, the easiest solutions and that is to increase the reading level among our students, build libraries and let them write essays and do assignments because in that way we do not need a lot of resources. We don’t need a lot of money.

“In the meantime, what the university could be doing is looking at what are the critical thinking skills and then how to teach those.”

Dr Jito Vanualailai says USP is working with the University of Adelaide to create a programme to improve critical thinking.

- Dateline Pacific