Thinking Critically: Developing a Culture of Critical Thinking in Azerbaijan

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12 August 2016
Gunel Babayeva, CRRC Azerbaijan 2016 Fellow
Introduction
How do you approach yourresearch work? Do you acceptthings at face value orhave you ever      
thoughtaboutthebenefitsandharmsofthecriticalmindset?
In this article I will explore the reasons behind the notable absence of criticalcapacities among       
Azerbaijani people, focussing mainly on historical factors and cultural traits. My own educational
experience has encouraged me to review the importanceof critical thinking skills notonly in our         
livesbutforthefurtherdevelopmentofanysociety.
Looking back at my school years, I can recall very few instances of the teaching of critical      
thinking skills. During school discussions, for example, I struggle to remember any  
encouragementofcriticalthinkingcriticallyonanytopic.
In general terms, the notion of ‘thinking’ is a complex and longterm ongoing process which may      
change and adapt throughout our lives. The roots of critical thinking go back to the Socratic    
period (Paul et al., 1997). FollowingSocrates, Plato, Aristotle and otherGreek skeptics followed     
the trend, highlighting the fact that the trained mind isnecessary to see what ison and beneath        
the surface (ibid). Today, because of our rapidly changing global environment, the    
establishment of critical thinking skills in future generations needs to be taken intoaccount and     
begunatanearlyage.
Critical thinking and the Soviet legacy
The development of critical thinking is a social practice which must largely take place in a    
learning environment. New practices are added to the teaching framework in order to foster      
critical thinking. Several authors have argued that the culture of critical thinking is       
underdevelopedinSovietsuccessorstateslikeAzerbaijan,incomparisonwithWest.
According to some, the reason for lack of critical thinking in the countries of the former Soviet         
Union can be found in thenature of the Soviet regime(Johns, 2002), where critical thinkingwas           
sacrificed to the statesanctioned curriculum, without any amendments to meet students’ needs
(Burkhalter, 2015). In the Soviet years, only the ‘official truth’ existed, instead of free thinking    
(Johns, 2002). Besides, there was a strong preference for memorisation over indepth
understanding (Burkhalter, 2012). Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that the tendency
to think less critically has historicalinfluences, which have affected theculture of critical thinking   
in the country. However, several programs such as the Step
by
Step (SbS) program carried out     
by Open Society Institute have promoted innovative and interactive methods of teaching to    
develop critical thinking, creativity and leadership skills in students in order to combat this    
historicallegacy(Mikailova,2013).
According to the ‘general education’ concept in the Republic of Azerbaijan (2006), one of the     
formal goals of secondary education is the transfer of creative, figurative and critical thinking. As
part of these formal guidelines, the educator’s role as facilitator also encourages a peerreview     
process to compare and contrast various perspectives. However, the development of critical
thinking skills in students needs to be reflected in the process of teaching through specific        
mechanisms.
Caucasus Barometer 2013: age and critical thinking
 
The graph above shows data from the Caucasus Barometer
public attitude survey and     
illustrates the attitude of Azerbaijani citizens toward criticism of the government by citizens. As      
can be seen, 40% of the population aged between 1835 reports that criticism towards
government is ‘not important at all’. Considering the fact that in an ideal society,young citizens     
should have a role in the policy formation through their involvement in social life, criticism toward  
government should not be seen with fear. Interestingly,12 % of the populationbetween ages of     
18and55ratedtheimportanceofcriticismas4.
Interestingly, according to further Caucasus Barometer findings from 2012, more than half of   
Azerbaijani respondents see government ‘as a parent’, who should take care of them like a       
parent. In this regard, it can be noted that, traditionally, it is often seen as wrong to criticise         
parents in their understanding. In this regard, there is some evidence to suggest that the       