Examining the Influence of Culture on Critical Thinking in Higher Education
In the midst of an increasingly changing world, the ability to think critically has become a crucial attribute expected of university graduates. However, the endorsement of critical thinking in higher education has been challenged by the growing cultural diversity in university classrooms. Concerns about Asian students' lack of critical thinking and the appropriateness of critical thinking instruction in international education have been raised by teaching professionals. The present dissertation sought to understand the influence of culture on the teaching and learning of critical thinking in higher education. Chapter 2 presented a study examining the instructional contexts of Hong Kong and New Zealand. It was found that similar assessment methods were employed in the university courses in both cultures, but university courses in Hong Kong placed more emphasis on knowledge development whereas those in New Zealand explicitly described critical thinking in the course objectives. Chinese international and New Zealand European postgraduate students were individually interviewed to investigate the exact influence of cultural-educational contexts in Asia and New Zealand on university students' conception and practice of critical thinking (Chapter 3). Both samples of students held similar conceptions of critical thinking, but reported differences in their socialization experiences regarding the practice of critical thinking in their respective cultures. Specifically, stronger inhibition on students' practice of critical thinking was noted in Asia than in New Zealand. In Chapter 4, two studies that investigated the differences in critical thinking skills between Asian and New Zealand European students are presented. In both studies, New Zealand European students were found to perform better than their Asian counterparts on an objective measure of critical thinking skills. The difference was explained by students English language ability but not cultural factors such as cultural differences in cognitive styles or behavioral adoption of New Zealand culture. It was suggested that observed cross-cultural difference in critical thinking skills is related more to language ability rather than cultural variables. A significantly positive relationship between critical thinking skills and academic performance was found, and the relationship was not significantly different between Asian and New Zealand European student samples (Chapter 5). The relationship was also not different as a function of students' adoption of New Zealand culture, indicating that pedagogy with an emphasis on critical thinking is similarly applicable to both Asian and New Zealand European students. Overall, the present findings indicated that culture has an important influence on students' practice of critical thinking. Although there is cross-cultural difference in critical thinking skills between Asian and Western student samples, the difference appears to be related more to language ability rather than cultural factors. The present thesis provided empirical evidence to show that culture influences the educational practice of critical thinking, but the influence of culture does not necessarily impede the application of critical thinking instruction in international classrooms. With appropriate adaptation, critical thinking instruction can be beneficial to the intellectual development of students regardless of their cultural backgrounds.