Why Critical Thinking Is Important for Cambodians in Digital Age
Written by: Ly Houv, a 4th year student majoring in International Studies at The Royal University of Phnom Penh
Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News
(Photo credit: "More than 250 young Cambodians who received a 'Grade A' on the 2016 National High School Exam visited the Embassy on Sunday for a special event to promote study in the United States." by USEmbassyPhnomPenh is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)
The digital information age is one of the best moments in this century. People can get information much faster and easier than ever before. Previously, people received information through radio, newspaper, TV, and other channels. It took time and was insufficient if compared to the present digital information. Thanks to technological advancement, people can now access as much information as they want by just simply taking out their smartphones and searching for it on the internet.
We are indeed living in an era in which information is widely available and accessible. When we have a question or problem, our first solution is to google it or to watch YouTube and learn how to do it. It completely changes the traditional way of how we obtain information and knowledge. The presence of the internet has provided us with a more responsive and convenient search engine. It has made our life easier when it comes to acquiring new information.
But when information is superfluous, it also becomes troublesome for us to identify and analyze which information is reliable and credible. As we know, with the help of technology, anyone can publish any information on social media platforms and websites. It is tricky to verify the quality of such information. As a result, false information, fake news and propaganda have been often taken by many, affecting their ability to make a good decision.
I think there need to be some interventions to help people do better while consuming information. One of the interventions is to help people develop their critical thinking. With this skill, people will be able to tackle all of these digital information concerns.
What is critical thinking?
So, what is critical thinking, exactly? Critical thinking is the general term for a wide range of cognitive skills and intellectual dispositions. People need this ability to identify, analyze and evaluate argument and truth claims effectively, allowing them to find out and overcome personal biases. People with critical skills can provide and confer convincing reasons to support their claims and make a reasonable and intelligent decision on what to believe and what to do.
For example, when people were young, they tended to be passive learners rather than active ones. It is supposed that they absorb and memorize the lessons and paste them back into the exams. In contrast, it is more open at the university level as students tend to become more active in learning. The main goal is to teach students how to think rather than what to think. That is how to become independent and self-directed thinkers and learners.
I am not an expert in critical thinking, but I know this is one of the most valuable skills we use in every aspect of life. Therefore, I want to share some of my experience and perspectives on critical thinking capacity and why I found it crucial.
As a social science student, critical thinking is a required skill in our academic journey. Following this discipline, I need to read and research most of the time to understand the lessons and complete the assignments. One of the examples, in the research process, it is not ideal to rely only on one source and use it as core information in your research paper. So that it requires us to extract information from many different sources as we want to guarantee credibility and reliability. In addition, I also have to learn a lot of political and economic theories throughout my courses. Thus, with a critical thinking mind, I can analyze every theory more effectively and systematically. Meanwhile, I also can apply this skill to explain international events using abstract theories.
Why is this skill important for Cambodians?
In Cambodia, there is a rapid increase in internet users. According to a BBC Media Action report in 2021, there are up to 3.86 million social media users in the country -- 87% of whom are young Cambodians aged between 15-30 years olds. Facebook is the most popular platform, and its users are equal to 88% of total social media users. Also, Facebook is no longer a place for only young people. There is an increasing number of elderly users now, meaning that Facebook is the most common and most considerable platform for information sharing and advertisement.
But as I mentioned earlier, anyone can create and spread information online, so does Facebook. They can create a Facebook page for less than a minute free of charge to share news content as well as do live streaming, and some even share conspiracy theories they translate from anonymous English sources. Most of these self-proclaimed news pages are unregistered, and their contents are loaded with fake news and misleading information. Why are they doing that?
The reason is that they want to make a profit as they are clickbait sites. Therefore, they have no credibility and professional ethic to provide their news content. Their main objectives are to gain popularity to attract more viewers while generating more profits.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have been exploiting the situation to spread fake news on COVID-19, especially on infections and vaccines, because they expected to gain more engagement and attention. Sometimes, it is easy to identify whether the content is fake by looking at how they design and organize the content, platforms, and web links.
However, as mentioned above, all Cambodian users come from different ages and backgrounds. Some of them may have the ability to identify fake news or fake content, but many believe and fall victim to those content. That's why we need to have a critical mind in determining all of the false information and protecting ourselves.
I think it necessitates an ability to reason, be rational, and understand the logical connection between ideas when one wants to improve how to think critically.
Consequently, we should always be skeptical about any content that we are reading. For instance, we should always question who writes it, who says it, what it is all about, and why? Is the information logical? Are there any other sources reporting similar information? Therefore, if you can answer these questions, you would have sufficient knowledge and ability to analyze and identify this information.
Not only fake content we need to care about, some opinions and content can also be biased. Western media can sometimes be biased and try to promote their ideology to influence other non-western countries' political systems. Therefore, we really to maintain a critical mind and examine rigorously every angle of the issue to make sure that we can comprehend it precisely
In my perspective, to help people improve critical thinking skills, the most vital step is integrating the courses on critical thinking in the school curriculum so that young people will have an opportunity to acquire sufficient knowledge and build a critical mind. It will surely pave the way for them to pursue an academic journey successfully. In addition, young people are strongly encouraged to actively partake in debates and public speaking events because doing so will help them develop their critical thinking.
Last but not least, taking into account that critical thinking is a learned skill, we should introduce it to the general public, including senior citizens. Doing so will require all stakeholders to initiate and support extensive education and training on critical thinking skills, which involves practicing basic and simple steps. This, of course, enables people to develop this skill better eventually.
*This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.
Jun 21, 2021