THINKING SKILLS FOR A TECHNOLOGICAL AGE: HAS PRIMARY EDUCATION AN IMPACT ON STUDENTS’ SKILLS?

M.A. Manassero-Mas, A. Vázquez-Alonso

Universidad de las Islas Baleares (SPAIN)
The knowledge societies of the 21st century are deeply embedded in science and technology. As education should prepare citizens to live and work in this demanding context, the label 21st century skills has been coined to describe a set of innovative skills that allow people to better adapt to living and working in a scientific and technological environment. The high-order thinking skills, also referred to as critical thinking, (problem solving, decision making and the like) are part of these 21st century skills.

This communication asks whether current primary schools are adequately preparing citizens on developing these thinking skills, as these skills have become central in today mainstream education, because of its broad and functional impact on personal, social and workplace competences demanded by technological societies.

The theoretical framework is a taxonomy of critical thinking skills that has been empirically elaborated by the authors along four main dimensions: creativity (generate ideas, conclusions), reasoning and argumentation (justify prediction, implication, conclusion), complex processes (decision making and problem solving) and evaluation and judgment (assessment of the thinking quality).

The methodology of the empirical research draws from value-added orientations for assessment that involve accurate measurements of the cumulative effect of education, through a longitudinal experimental pretest - posttest scheme. The critical thinking assessments usually focuses on assessing a bundle of skills, which in this research are prediction, comparison, classification, problem solving and logical reasoning. This paper aims to answer the research question on seeking the impact of one year of education on these skills. To this aim a sample of grade 6 Spanish students (N=434) belonging to nine different schools participated in taking the tests.

The overall results point out that the impact of one school year education on thinking skills is positive (the skills are better at the end of the year) yet the improvement is not significant (measured by the effect size statistics). Further, the impact is different along the five thinking skills assessed here.

The former analysis pre-posttest has been repeated yet differentiating two types of schools that take part of the sample. On the one hand a school that implements a specific program that teaches thinking skills to the students (thinking based learning); on the other hand, the remaining schools that do not implement a specific program to teach thinking skills the students. The main results show that the former school improves very much the students’ thinking skills; in fact, the effect size for four thinking skills amounts over half standard deviation and three of them stand close one deviation. However, the improvement of the comparison skill does not attain statistical signification. The remaining schools display a positive impact on students’ thinking skills yet the effect size of the improvement is low.

The results involve some consequences and proposals for the development and improvement of the thinking skills in primary schools. The main consequence to be further developed is that usual school teaching contributes to improve thinking skills yet the impact is quite low. The second complements the latter: teaching thinking skills significantly contributes to increase the students’ mastery of skills. Finally, some other details will be presented and discussed at the Conference.