Fostering critical thinking in the primary school classroom through the philosophy for children (P4C) approach and its implication for national education (NE)

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The need to develop reasoning skills in children through discussion is generally acknowledged by curriculum aims. One of the challenges facing education in Singapore is that the school curriculum has to promote the development of values through critical thinking. There is, however, a lack of any definite teaching strategy to fulfil this need. This study investigated the cognitive effects of collaborative philosophical enquiry (emphasising questioning and dialogue) on a group of primary school children aged 10 years. It discussed the effect of integrating the Philosophy for Children (P4C) programme for critical thinking into Social Studies and National Education on a group of Singapore Primary 3 children's 1) abilities to think critically about issues in the Social Studies curriculum and National Education issues, 2) personality traits toward thinking critically. Two Primary 3 classes in a neighbourhood primary school participated in this one year study. One class was randomly selected to serve as the intervention group and the other served as the control group. The intervention group (n = 40) received approximately 60 minutes of additional explicit instruction distributed over the year in using the P4C programme through critical thinking and dialogue. In addition, the model was integrated into a series of assigned classroom activities. The control group (n = 40) was taught in Social Studies without the P4C programme. The students in the intervention group showed significant score gains on the New Jersey Test of Reasoning Skills, while the controls did not. Significant gains were also evident in non-verbal, verbal and qualitative aspects of reasoning. The transformation of a traditional classroom into a classroom of communities of inquiry has not only brought about better thinking on the part of students but also growth in their emotional maturity.