Narrowing the educational attainment gap

Empowering young people with critical thinking skills

By Karim Al-Abbas, Director, Enlighten Education

As the director of Enlighten Education, an education company based in the heart of Tottenham, we have, for the last ten years, empowered schools, universities and companies around the world to use critical thinking techniques.

Critical thinking gives us the ability to understand the world around us. It teaches us to ask questions about our society through independent research, enabling us to share those ideas openly with others. Critical thinking is about deeper questioning, rather than superficial answers, and is brought to life with emotional intelligence.

You cannot control the types of ideas that critical thinking produces, which is why it is our greatest asset in enabling our young people to challenge society’s inequalities. Societal change does not happen when we rely on the dominant group to lead that shift. If we are serious about redressing society’s imbalance, then we must empower our most disadvantaged students to think for themselves, to join forces with each other and critique the world they live in, to enact change.

Anyone who claims certainty around what education should be, probably has not thought about it deeply enough. But we are aware of some of the key ingredients that will let our young people move into the world with confidence, creativity, courage, resilience and openness. The ability
to understand how they learn, and the ability to work closely with others. An understanding of what they most enjoy, and the motivation to improve.

Now imagine what our government is doing to help state schools empower our young people towards these skills. Now, imagine what private schools are doing, and then take a moment to think about where most of the cabinet were educated, and where they will send their own children.

This is not a government that is interested in disrupting the status quo.

The government has talked about ‘catch-up’ and narrowing the attainment gap. But their ideas include lengthening the school day of our most disadvantaged students, removing their summer holidays and cramming content into them.

In Tottenham, our young people demonstrate huge creative energy and resilience every day. But we also understand many of them face very real challenges.

We have watched in horror as the promised laptops never arrived, but the degrading free school meal parcels did, and as an overcomplicated tutoring scheme continues to miss its most urgent targets.

Worthwhile initiatives have sprung up across the country, but all have been focused on curriculum and content, so, we asked ourselves – what could we contribute?

What if, instead, we supported young people emotionally, whilst providing them with simple techniques that enabled their learning across every subject and beyond?

We have distilled the simplest techniques into four, free, short ready-to-watch videos that focus on skills such as accelerated learning, and how to develop creative insight. Critical thinking takes time and patience to implement, but we can help to start that conversation today − that is what these short videos enable us to do.

We need to place our young people at the centre of their understanding. Let them learn by making associations to their own lives. Empower them with techniques to become active, involved, reflective, and able to state their beliefs confidently.

Critical thinking will not solve everything. But it is a start.

For more information: enlighteneducation.co.uk

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