Critical thinking in African higher education: findings from a three country research study

Date and Time: 
Tue, 04/12/2018 - 17:30 - 19:00

UCL Institute of Education (IOE), Room 639, 20 Bedford Way,
London, WC1H 0AL

In this CEID Research in Focus dissemination event, findings from the Pedagogies for Critical Thinking: Innovation and Outcomes in African Higher Education research project will be presented by Professor Tristan McCowan (Principal Investigator), Dr Rebecca Schendel (Principal Investigator) and Dr Caine Rolleston (Co-Investigator), and the project’s in country research leaders: Professor Richard Tabulawa (Botswana), Dr Christine Adu-Yeboah (Ghana) and Dr Mary Omingo (Kenya).

Project Overview

Although it is clear that infrastructural and financial challenges have been a key limiting factor affecting higher education’s potential contribution to development in sub-Saharan Africa, increasing concerns about limited graduate capacity to demonstrate “high skills”, such as critical thinking, have prompted a growing recognition that pedagogical reform is also an urgent priority. However, this renewed interest in the importance of teaching and learning is supported by limited empirical evidence, as there has been little analysis of effective pedagogical practice within African universities. Although there is a substantial body of literature investigating the ways in which academic experiences at university can positively influence the development of student critical thinking skills, the current evidence rests largely on research conducted in other cultural contexts, particularly the USA, UK, Australia and, to a limited extent, East Asia. There are, therefore, concerns about how useful such findings may be for informing pedagogical reform within African universities.

The Pedagogies for Critical Thinking project, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), has attempted to fill this gap by investigating the impact of pedagogical reforms, implemented within eight universities in Botswana, Ghana and Kenya, all of which aimed to improve student critical thinking ability. More specifically, the study aimed to: (1) expand our empirical knowledge of how different pedagogies affect the development of critical thinking in African university contexts, and (2) explore how African universities approach and manage complicated processes of pedagogical change.


Evidence from the study will support key stakeholders who are attempting to reform pedagogy within other African university contexts, by offering contextually relevant evidence about the kinds of approaches that are likely to have a substantive impact on the development of student critical thinking ability. The study also offers important insights into the likely enablers and barriers that can affect efforts to change pedagogy, both within African universities and elsewhere around the world.

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