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Teaching critical thinking in the age of ‘fake news’


FAKE news has always been around but the growth of social media and mobile technology in the last two years has radically changed the way people communicate, paving the way for the free flow of distorted and unfiltered information.

In 1693, a British printer named William Anderton was executed after a jury found him guilty of printing fake news about the monarchy. In 1835, The New York Sun published a series of articles about the discovery of life on the moon but after gaining readership, it admitted that it was a hoax. American author Mark Twain was reported in New York in 1897 to be dying in poverty in London. Twain himself confirmed that it was fake news. He died in 1910.

Fake news may have been around even before Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press in Europe in 1439. Documentaries about the Philippine revolution also show how gossip, rumors, and propaganda flew in the absence of newspapers and other communication tools.

Fake news, however, became a catchword in 2016, starting in the United States and spreading like wildfire across the globe. In January 2017, an aide of US President Donald Trump introduced the term “alternative facts” for easy to prove falsehood.

In the Philippines, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter became the launching pads for fly-by-night websites that peddled lies, rumors and all sorts of made-up stories designed to manipulate views and opinions toward political personalities.

Fake news has greatly influenced the way media platforms operate and how the people receive information. Sadly, the government has not effectively addressed its proliferation and, at times, became the purveyor of manipulated news.

In this age, it is crucial for educational institutions to confront the problem over fake news. Thus, The Manila Times College (TMTC) has included in its curriculum for both journalism and broadcasting degrees the subject “Critical Thinking and Problem Solving,” which focuses on the process of reasoning in analytical and critical ways and improving the skill in analysing and evaluating arguments.

While fact-checking has long been taught in journalism, the phenomenon of fake news has made critical thinking more crucial in discerning the truth from falsehood and lies. Studies have proven that fake news not only spreads faster than legitimate news stories, it also has a much wider reach because of social media platforms and, oftentimes, with the aid of automated bots.

In TMTC, students are given hands-on training from the classrooms to the newsroom, exposing them from Day One to the rigors of news processing at The Manila Times news desk and in news beats where they cover events alongside professional reporters and photographers. This exposure provides them avenues for analytical and critical thinking and prepares them to be work-ready even before they graduate.

For veteran educator Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon, the idea of “teaching” critical thinking as part of a curriculum is itself an oxymoron. For her, critical thinking can only be learned through practice. “Critical thinking should be integrated in every subject employing critical thinking as the approach/method in teaching every subject,” said Dr. Tumapon, who writes a column on education issues that comes out every Friday in The Manila Times. She is a professorial lecturer at the Graduate School of Liceo de Cagayan University in Cagayan de Oro City.

“Critical thinking should be taught in all subjects through class discussions; the questions teacher asks, the activities, the assignments given learners,” she said when sought for her insights on teaching critical thinking as a way to combat fake news.

“Students should be taught how to answer questions on what is asked by the question. Example: How would an answer to Discuss differ from an answer to Explain or to Distinguish from to Compare or Illustrate from Describe? Teaching learners how to respond to such questions leads them to think critically,” Tumapon explained.

If students learn to differentiate one word from the other, they would have the discipline to verify information and be equipped with the knowledge of creating content based on facts.

To be able to instill the discipline of critical thinking, Tumapon said that as a teaching method, it could start at the elementary level by adjusting the questions asked and the level of analysis required.

“Critical thinking cannot be taught in a vacuum; there has to be a context, meaning; there has to be a subject of thought, a topic of a field of study to be learned, on which the mind has, besides knowing, understanding, applying and analyzing, said topic/field of study has also to be evaluated or innovated [creativity],” Tumapon explained.

“My opinion is that critical thinking should be the approach in problem solving.”

Here’s an example she gave: “To decongest traffic, MMDA recommended coding. So what happened? The rich bought another car so the cars have the code for certain days. This shows that the decision makers did not critically think. They were supposed to solve the congestion. Did they? This was much unlike what the United Kingdom did — charging half the fare to London after 10 a.m. and instructing malls to open only beginning at 10 a.m. This way, traffic is not heavy for people who go to work in London.”

The example shows that critical thinking should be taught not only in the school as a tool against fake news, but also in the bureaucracy to make sure that public money is spent wisely.

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Today’s Front Page January 21, 2020

Today’s Front Page January 21, 2020