Creative and critical thinking: The road not taken in Nepali higher education

If universities do not encourage students to seek out creative, conflicting and contradictory ideas in their domain of knowledge, creative and critical thinking only becomes an empty rhetoric.

Gaurav Ojha

  • Read Time 4 min.

Whatever their stature, rank, types, or intentions, every university and its numerous affiliations here in Nepal make a broad claim, at least in their brochures, prospectuses, learning outcomes, course objectives, and assessment evaluation criteria, that as academic institutions we are committed to enabling our students to become critical thinkers, creative problem solvers, and independent decision makers.

Nepali universities have made their intentions clear about transforming students into problem solvers,creative and critical thinkers, but in reality, there is a great reluctance to infuse creativity and critical thinking into each and every aspect of educational policy and practices because nobody in Nepali higher education likes to move away from the comforts of established patterns of thinking, theories, concepts, research methodologies, and protocols and move into the discomforts of awkward questions, objective analysis, and finding creative solutions that unsettles existing structures and reverses trends. Hence, critical thinking and creativity, as important 21st century skills, have been simply reduced to a simple course rather than embraced as essential foundation for higher education in all specializations.

And, when critical thinking and creativity come down to their basics, they are about asking questions, generating new ideas and alternatives, and evaluating claims, assertions, propositions, and conclusions. Whereas Nepali universities have simply decided to ignore awkward questions related to the relevancy crisis they are currently going through because of the changing aspirations and expectations of their existing generation of students in higher education.

Besides, utterly trivial responses of our universities to the problem of student disinterest, dropping out, and decline, like the unnecessary introduction of new courses, pointing towards political leaders for every prevalent problem in university system, and copy-pasting the practices of foreign universities without pertinent support systems, only point towards the fact that our universities are not capable of understanding and analyzing their own existing problems in all their complexities and finding creative solutions.

Moreover, many students seeking enrollment in foreign universities have justified their decision to continue their higher education abroad by indicating their frustration with conventional classroom lectures and instructions that emphasize the recall of memorized information, pseudo academic ideals, and, more importantly, the educational practices of Nepali universities do not emphasize enhancing the thinking skills necessary for analysis, creativity, innovation, effective decision making, and problem solving. Hence, those students who think of higher education in terms of practicability, utility, and professional outcomes prefer a foreign university that continues to produce renowned scientists, innovators, experts, theorists, paradigm shifters, and disruptive thinkers.

Thinking out of comfort zones

At universities, each and every department has its own comfort zones and established norms. How dare young minds even question, analyze, evaluate, and challenge our learning positions? Here is the paradox: Nepali universities want to make their students into critical and creative thinkers, but not at the expense of applying critical thinking actively and explicitly in their academic practices. As a result, students and scholars must simply follow university protocols, perform prescribed assessments and evaluations, and conduct research based on set parameters and standards developed by a particular department.

A student with a disposition for critical thinking may wonder what’s the point in following the same research methodology over and over again to conduct research for the final dissertation. Similarly, she might wonder why do students study compulsory subjects that are barely connected with their specializations?  Indeed, there is reluctance in academia to think outside of their comfort zones and examine their systemic beliefs, question unstated assumptions and values, and evaluate protocols. Rather than becoming dynamic, higher education in Nepal is still linear and rigid.

Much of university orientation still resonates with the appeal to authority, where the assertions of professors are considered propositions with truth value. Based on the decisions of their professors and subject experts, universities tell their students that we have formulated our beliefs and practices based on established and stable theories. However, in the realities of a dynamic world, trend lines rise and fall, better methodologies emerge, stable assumptions and values diminish, new theories are discovered in light of new evidence and useless theories are rendered obsolete. Hence, if universities are not encouraging their students to seek out creative, conflicting and contradictory ideas in their domain of knowledge and specializations, then creative and critical thinking is just empty rhetoric.

Knowing vs thinking

Critical thinking and creativity are integral parts of academic practice because they remind scholars in any domain of knowledge that what they think is not enough; they also need to explore and realize how to think. Knowing all the theories, equations, definitions, concepts, and procedures of specializations like psychology, management, economics, marketing, entrepreneurship, and other social sciences subjects is different from thinking like a psychologist, economist, digital marketing expert, entrepreneur, business consultant, or manager.

Scholars must understand the distinction between knowing concepts and thinking with them. In other words, there is a difference between knowing science and thinking like a scientist. As a student of management science, you know about all the managerial skills, roles, processes, and levels, but if you can’t think like a manager and apply those conceptual understandings in a business setting, you are not going to become a problem solver, business incubator, or entrepreneur. You will only end up as another management educator or an employee.

Provide more opportunities

Universities in Nepal need to realize that without instilling thinking, questioning, reasoning, creativity, contextual analysis, and problem solving as integral parts of their curriculum practices, pedagogy, academic research, and assignments, unlike foreign universities, they won’t be able to develop their students into creative thinkers, problem solvers, innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs, and experts who are capable of understanding, analyzing real-world problems, and finding sustainable solutions with business potential.

Besides, as indicated in Sustainable Development Goal 4, Nepali universities need to provide ample opportunities for their students to improve their critical and creative problem-solving skills so that they become lifelong learners who are competent enough to take self-initiative, deal effectively with emerging realities, acquire new skills, solve problems, and support their professional development.

Gaurav Ojha is a writer, researcher and educator at different institutions. He can be reached at [email protected].