Learn to Decide Against Violence: Why Maths and Critical Thinking Matter for Preventing Violence. 17/2/2017

Published by SAFERSPACES

Critical thinking is essential for both solving maths problem and deciding to find alternatives to violence in one’s daily life.

Maths and violence prevention are not usually topics that are viewed as associated with each other. However, the over-arching skill of critical thinking is essential for both the successful completion of a maths problem and the decision to find alternatives to violence in one’s daily life. Yet developing critical-thinking skills is rarely the focus of violence prevention programmes - an opportunity for improved academic and life-skills that is generally missed.

An intervention called Ingomso Lethu Club (ILC) seeks to draw the link between violence prevention and maths, via teaching the skill of critical thinking. ILC is part of the Umhlali Project, which focuses on early violence prevention and is being implemented in Walmer Township, Port Elizabeth, by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP), in collaboration with Masifunde Learner Development (MLD).  

ILC began as a simple after-school programme for primary school children from Walmer Township schools, where they could access a safe space to receive homework supervision and a basic meal. Over time, it became clear that many of the children struggled with basic elements of their maths homework, and so the ILC gradually shifted towards developing foundational mathematics skills. 

This shift was accompanied by desktop research in order to explore the possible benefits of developing foundational mathematics skills within the scope of a violence prevention project. As a result, the ILC model was adapted to include a greater focus on critical-thinking skills.

Ingomso Lethu Club - Logic Model

The logic behind the ILC is simple as this step-by-step outline shows:

  • Improving children’s access to structured education on foundational mathematics skills will assist in the development of their improved critical thinking skills.
  • Integrating critical thinking teaching strategies into teaching foundational mathematics will improve both children’s mathematics and critical thinking skills.
  • Applying these critical thinking skills to real-world problems and challenges will increase the likelihood that the children will begin to use their improved critical thinking skills in other areas of their lives as well. This will help the learners to
    • Improve their social skills
    • Improve their decision-making and problem-solving skills
  • Improving social functioning, decision-making and problem-solving skills will increase the learners’ resilience to crime and violence.
  • Through the teaching of critical thinking skills using academic and real-world examples, as well as leading by example with critical thinking strategies in one’s teaching style, this model is believed to lead to increased resilience to crime and violence.

But what exactly do we mean when we talk about critical thinking skills?

What are critical thinking skills?

Essentially, critical thinking is the ability to reason in a logical and objective manner in order to arrive at some sort of conclusion.

There is extensive evidence that supports teaching these skills to young learners. It allows learners to develop their focused thinking, planning and strategizing abilities, which allow them to be better organised and make better decisions and life choices.

Studies on critical thinking emphasise these skills are learned most effectively why they are linked to teaching other basic skills like reading, writing and speaking.

Stand-alone critical thinking interventions are not as successful as a mixed approach, which combines general critical thinking skills, as well as subject-specific instruction.

A successful duo: critical thinking and math skills

There is a strong link between the teaching of critical thinking skills and teaching foundational mathematics, so long as targeted teaching strategies are used.

Critical thinking skills can further help develop learners’ grasp of maths through the use of methods such as the logical and sequential use of interpreting, analysing, evaluating and presenting information.

This approach is a far cry from how maths is often taught in schools, where repetition and memorisation are heavily replied upon.  As a result, learners often miss out on the opportunity to learn the skill of logically working through a problem to come to a solution. Learners may then find it difficult to apply the knowledge acquired through memorisation to solve maths problems in a new situation.

Positive effect on social skills

Teaching maths and critical thinking skills can have a positive effect on the development of social functioning or life skills, because having the skills to think through and solve a problem in maths class, is not that different from solving a personal problem in daily life.

These are the core social and cognitive skills that people need to function effectively in society and their link to criminal behaviour has been extensively researched. Interest in social functioning skills emerged as an alternative way of dealing with behavioural problems: one where well-being is not defined by the absence of behavioural pathologies but defined by rather by the existence of life and social skills. Such life skills include:

  • asking questions,
  • being able to set goals,
  • listening actively and
  • the ability to adapt and function in a variety of social settings.

Next steps

The ILC intervention offers an example of how a problem in learning could be turned into an opportunity for improving learners’ life skills and resilience.

As ILC enters its second year, further work will be undertaken to assess the impact of the ILC over the next few years.  A 2016 maths proficiency baseline will help to evaluate the impact of the intervention. Moreover, a learning review that provides detailed information on the structure and content of the intervention can be downloaded from the project website at www.umhlali.org.

As ILC has shown, developing young peoples’ math and critical-thinking skills appears to hold great potential for strengthening their resilience to crime and violence. Let’s tap this potential!