Building a Country-Wide Network of Critical Thinkers in Argentina

Gerónimo and Romina are eleven and attend sixth grade at public school in the small city of Desepeñaderos, Córdoba, in the center of Argentina. Together with their teacher, they began to research problems affecting water in their community. They had heard about problems affecting this vital natural resource before but were powerless to do anything. This time however their approach is different. A new project offers students like Gerónimo and Romina the opportunity to participate in a deeper process to understand problems like this, select different sources of information, read and understand the texts they find, analyze different voices and points of view on this issue, participate in debates, and be part of the solutions.

As part of the Critical Thinking Hands-on Project—an initiative developed by the Argentine NGO Fundación Leer with the support of the Education Support Program, Open Society Foundations—these pupils, together with groups of students from thirty schools located in different geographical areas of Argentina, began a process to put critical thinking at the center of their learning experience.

The goal of the Critical Thinking Hands-on Project is to promote the implementation of critical thinking practices in primary schools in Argentina. Fundación Leer trains and guides teachers to integrate approaches to critical thinking into their teaching on a daily basis. It is expected that in every participating school, among other activities, teachers include different kinds of texts and promote a deep comprehension of them, provide students with the opportunity to reflect on different subjects, organize debates in which students have to listen to each other’s points of view, express their own points of view, and feel free and safe to do so.

In order to facilitate a collaborative learning process among teachers and students living in different parts of Argentina, the project is fully implemented using the Internet. Teachers interact with a tutor and with their colleagues on an e-learning platform that allows them to download project documents and engage with other teachers to pose questions, share answers, publish their lessons and reflect on their teaching practices together. Young pupils can also benefit from this experience in another website specially designed for them. On this website, students can create and edit documents, comment on them, and participate in discussion forums. Face-to-face activities are combined with online proposals based on dialogue and collaborative learning.

At this stage of the pilot, begun in June 2012, more than 120 teachers have gone through training intended to start a conceptual change that leads them to apply critical thinking approaches in their everyday practice. As a result of this approach, students are researching diverse information sources, critically evaluating these sources, framing questions, identifying and probing different points of view and becoming part of a rich debate.

In a context where government plans are beginning to promote access to information and communication technologies, Fundación Leer’s challenge is to create a community of learners—both teachers and students—who recognize the value of critical thinking as part of active democratic citizenship.

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Prior to becoming a university professor of some thirty-five years, and lecturing in eight universities in four countries, my first teaching experience was with seventh graders in the state of Maryland where I replaced a teacher shot dead in the classroom; this was in the days of segregation in an all-white school. But it was through the development and encouragement of students to look beyond their immediate environment, to analyze contrary opinions, that a new era opened for students who previously had gone unchallenged to think critically. Having been to Argentina several times as a professor of history and political science, I am delighted to know that the Soros Foundation is supporting such a worth while project. I believe from this educational base Argentina will benefit in a new generation of thinkers.

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