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Critical Thinking and Skepticism for Children in Africa

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Whenever skepticism is discussed, reference is often made to adults, university students and staff, scholars, and intellectuals. Skepticism is a topic for philosophers or eggheads, a discipline that requires much learning and training to practice. Skepticism is a school of thought linked to particular cultures, to Western thinkers such as Rene Descartes, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, etc, Skeptical expressions are believed to be an undertaking that requires advancement in age and education. It is a common conception that one needs a tertiary level of education and many years of study to understand or meaningfully engage in skepticism. In another sense, skepticism signifies negative thinking, distrust, objection, or rejection of a particular information or experience. In this case, skepticism is confused with cynicism, which is a distrust of any information, especially when it challenges one’s belief system.
Incidentally, Africa is seldom mentioned or referenced when discussing skepticism. Now, are Africans not skeptical? Of course they are. Has skepticism a place in African thought and culture? Yes it does. The skeptical outlook is mistakenly seen as a Western heritage alien to the African knowledge systems. African children, primary or secondary schoolers, are scarcely reckoned with in the business of skepticism. Meanwhile, African societies wax with skeptical sentiments and tendencies in religious and political discourses.
Children are often believed to be incapable of skeptical thinking or inquiry. Some people are of the view that children are too young to be critical and skeptical. Children need to grow, mature, and become adults before they can think critically or skeptically. This is a grave mistake that has negatively impacted the intellectual growth and development of our children. Skepticism is natural and cultural to humans. Skeptical ingredients are innate to humans, but they have to be cultivated for fuller expression and manifestations. As a human being, an African is a homo skepticus, a skeptical human, a being that constantly inquires and looks around. It is natural for humans to inquire and explore; it is in the human DNA to be critical and skeptical. Children begin to manifest and display critical abilities very early in life. There should be a program to develop this human faculty. Skepticism for Children aims to fulfill this need and nurture this ability.
Skepticism for Children (S4C) or Skepticism for Kids(S4K) in Africa is a subset of philosophy for children. Philosophy for children teaches children to reason and argue, to debate, dispute, object, and interrogate issues. S4C aims to provide a cognitive foundation for philosophical and scientific inquiry in children and young people. It inculcates skills, questioning skills, needed and necessary for the exercise and development of critical and interrogative abilities. S4C adopts a very elementary approach using basic learning skills that align with the mental state and capacity of children. S4C encourages children to doubt, and challenge ideas, the status quo, things as they are said, or as they appear; things as they are told and taught. Children are encouraged to question ideas and to ask deep and open-ended questions. Children are taught to exercise their curiosity and inquisitiveness. Teaching children critical reasoning skills early in life improves their cognitive and academic abilities, and enhances their ability to learn. Teachers are facilitators, not authoritative sources of information. The ability to question and challenge authorities encourages children to invent and innovate, and to express their creative ingenuity. Marilyn Price-Mitchell said this about the benefit of skepticism to children: “If we model skepticism instead of cynicism, our children will inherit a world less dependent on power and authority and more dependent on critical thinking and ethical reasoning. Adolescents and young adults will be capable of questioning the reliability of what they think or hear. They will learn to believe in their natural abilities to facilitate positive change through intellectual inquiry. They will become discerning consumers of ideas rather than passive accepters of other people’s visions of certainty”. Price-Mitchell further notes that skepticism is a key part of critical thinking. It could be the other way round. Critical thinking is a vital part of skepticism, and programs to promote critical thinking in primary and secondary schools embody skepticism for children.
Leo Igwe works and campaigns to promote critical thinking in African schools.
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