"Of course at this time, being a Singaporean, I would readily point the blame finger at the government and MOE for creating a flawed system where schools do not encourage critical thinking but hard memorization and accurate application (or maybe that was just my school only). So I was just wondering, how does one develop critical thinking if the system we are in doesn't necessarily encourage it?"Personally I am very interested in the mind. But less interested in critical thinking. While critical thinking is no doubt a useful tool, my personal adventures into the intuitive right brain (via meditation, self-hypnosis and certain other esoteric methods) have made me a little wary of the dangers of over-reliance on the logical left brain.
I'm sure that the above statement will surprise, perhaps even upset, some people. And it is not exactly the easiest thing to explain to a general audience via a blog post. So I shall not elaborate. Not now anyway.
Back to the left brain then. Here are six questions about critical thinking:
1. What is it?
2. Who said so?
3. Why should I be interested?
4. Where can I use it?
5. When shall I use it?
6. How can I apply it?
Guess what, I am not providing the answers. I posed those six questions just to demonstrate a certain critical thinking skill. It's called asking questions. This one, specifically, is known as 5W1H.
The five W's are what, who, why, where and when, and the one H is how. 5W1H was originally conceived as a journalistic tool. Out in the field, reporters would use 5W1H as a mental checklist to generate questions and make sure they cover all the basic facts needed for their news story. Now 5W1H shows up in all sorts of other places, such as in the Six Sigma processes.
As far as AM's law school adventures are concerned, 5W1H can be applied as follows. Suppose you are reading a legal article where the good professor is expounding certain opinions. Since he writes persuasively, you feel inclined to agree. On the other hand, if you wish to consider his article more critically, you simply generate questions to consider. Such as - what is he really saying here? Who would agree with this? Who wouldn't? Why not? What is the justification for this point? Where are the examples? What are the alternative views? When would this idea fail? And so on.
You might not have expected that such a simple thing as asking questions would be so important as to merit its own special acronym "5W1H". Well, it just goes to show you that critical thinking isn't that difficult, after all. On the other hand, many of us know from our personal experiences that Singapore's teachers often implicitly discourage questions, especially if the question strays outside the confines of the school syllabus. And over the years, many Singaporeans will forget how to ask questions. So perhaps we do need to remind ourselves about 5W1H. In fact, asking good questions is probably the most important thing that an MP can do in Parliament.
Not to flog a very dead horse, but there's a useful illustration from April this year:
Mr Low Thia Khiang: "Did MHA conduct regular audits at the Whitley Road Detention Centre (WRDC) prior to the escape of Mas Selamat?"Paragraph 1 of Wong Kan Seng's answer was irrelevant to the question. Paragraph 2 of his answer was also irrelevant. Well, no, not exactly, they did serve a purpose. They distracted people.
Mr Wong Kan Seng: "The WRDC and the Gurkha Contingent guards have their respective procedures. When the detainees are in the cell block, they are watched by a significant number of guards. The ratio of guards is more than what one can see in the prison.
When they're taken to other blocks, most of those movements are in passageways that are enclosed and they're also blindfolded, to keep them from familiarising themselves with the surroundings.
The only thing that ought to have been done better is a regular system check and audit. These will now be carried out on a regular basis."
Now, look at Low's question again. And then just focus on the only relevant part of Wong's answer:
"The only thing that ought to have been done better is a regular system check and audit. These will now be carried out on a regular basis."What would be the most natural follow-up question you would ask?
Probably something like this:
"Did MHA ever conduct any audit at WRDC at all? If so, when?"The question was not asked. So we will never know the answer. We do know what happened next. Various lowly MHA officers were punished for the Mas Selamat escape, while the Minister was completely unscathed. In fact, he was the one handing out punishments.
But what if the question had been asked? And what if the truthful answer was that not only was there no regular audit system, but there had been no audit at all, for many years. For example, what if the answer turned out to be something like this:
"WDRC has never been audited. Not even once, ever since I became Home Affairs Minister fourteen years ago, back in 1994. As a matter of fact, we've simply never bothered to audit any of our prisons and detention centres for security."Under such circumstances, I think that it would be more difficult for PM Lee to assert so blithely in Parliament that it is unthinkable for Wong Kan Seng to be punished.
But then we don't know. We probably never will. The right question wasn't asked; it was never asked; Wong didn't have to answer it; and so, the political history of Singapore took a certain turn, and went on in a certain way. As I predicted quite long ago, Wong Kan Seng managed to make the Great Escape.