A Priority Agenda for Mental Revolution in Education: Developing Criticocreative Thinking through Learning

A Priority Agenda for Mental Revolution in Education: Developing Critical and Creative Thinking through Learning


Parlindungan Pardede


Universitas Kristen Indonesia


The results of current research and educational practice revealed that critical and creative thinking skills are crucial in one’s personal, professional and social life. The need for both thinking modes skills seems more imperative by realizing that everyone requires it to meet the challenges due to the complex environmental, social, cultural and economic changes in the 21st century. Anyone needs critical thinking skill, which is rational, reflective and evaluative is needed to sort and analyze information and to solve problems. Creative thinking, which is essentially a process or an attempt to generate original or new, effective and ethical ideas, thoughts or objects is also highly necessary to survive and compete. Although both modes of thinking are different from another, they are closely related and even complementary. Each person has naturally the potential to think critically and creatively. However, in order to be able to use them, they need to be studied and developed, and it is very effective to do in the classroom either integrally with the school subjects, or through critical and creative thinking explicit teaching. If the mental revolution is to be applied to improve the education sector, one of the most important agenda is to include the programs for developing creative and critical thinking skills into the curriculum.

Keywords: mental revolution, critical thinking, creativity, learning

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The term “mental revolution” soon becomes very famous in Indonesia after Joko Widodo (Jokowi), one of the candidates in Indonesian Presidential Election 2014, declared it his vision and mission to lead the nation. Oxford Dictionaries defines the word revolution as “dramatic and far-reaching changes in the conditions, attitudes, or operation. Thus, mental revolution can be interpreted as a dramatic and fundamental change in mental or attitudes of individuals that has broad impact in the way they live and work. Jokowi himself explained his concept of mental revolution in an article published in Kompas, Saturday, May 10, 2014. His explanation begins with the paradoxical life of the nation after 16 years of the reformation movement. According to Jokowi, on the one hand, Indonesia managed to achieve a prideful progress in political and economic sectors. But on the other hand, it is obvious that the progress did not make Indonesians happy. Instead, they became unrest and confused, as revealed through the strikes and protests in the streets and in other public spaces (mass media and social media). According to Jokowi, these all happened because the reforms carried out in this nation were focused only on the physical and institutional aspects. They have not touched the people’s paradigm, mindset, or culture, which are imperative for building the nation. For Jokowi, in addition to the institutional aspects and the state system, the mentality of the officials must also be reformed.

Based on the argument above, it is obvious that the main reason why Jokowi proposed mental revolution as his vision and mission to build Indonesia, in addition to create “good governance”, is his realization that the problems Indonesia are facing are very fundamental, huge and complex. Therefore, the reformation process conducted on the physical and institutional aspects alone is not sufficient. Improvements or changes should also touch the people’s attitude, character, mindset, and culture. In other words, development must commence from human improvement.

The history of human civilization has revealed that the main mechanism used to develop the quality of life is education. According to Pscharopolos (1988), education is a way for social welfare, the key for scientific and technological advancement, a tool to combat unemployment, the foundation for social justice and equitable distribution of wealth, and the spearhead for political socialization and cultural diversity. However, until now, education has become one of the most heartbreaking sectors in Indonesian life. Various indicators released by national and international organizations as well as a variety of daily bad behaviors, actions, and events revealed that today’s education in Indonesia is slumped. For example, Education Development Index (EDI), which is published globally by UNESCO (2015) to describe the educational development of a country, shows Indonesian national education tended to be stagnant. In 2004 Indonesia was ranked 58th out of 125 countries. In 2006, Indonesian position declined to rank 71 of 129 countries. Later, a survey in 2008 put Indonesia in the 69th rank from 127 countries. In 2010 Indonesian position climbed to the 64th position from 127 countries. Then in 2011 Indonesia was the 69th out of 127 countries. Then, in terms of Human Development Index rankings, the data of UNESCO (2012) showed that Indonesia’s human development index ranking continued to decline at the end of the 20th century. Among the 174 countries surveyed in the world at that time, Indonesia was at the 102th (1996), 99th (1997), 105th (1998), and 109th (1999).

In addition to these publications, the sad condition of Indonesian national education is also revealed by a variety of bad behaviors, actions, and deeds that exposed dishonesty and immorality. Students fight, corruption, cheating, plagiarism, and bullying are some examples. Therefore, it is no exaggeration when Surakhmad (2009) states than Indonesian national education has become a tragedy. Even Baswedan (in Kemendikbud, 2014) declared Indonesian national education is in a state of “emergency”.

The deterioration of the national education has made it one of the sectors to be given a mental revolution therapy. The therapy should cover all of its aspects, including educational bureaucracy; consistency between the national education goals and the implementation at the school level; empowerment of teachers as educators in the fundamental sense; curriculum that facilitates the ultimate goal of education, i.e. to humanize human being; etc.

An important component of the curriculum to be developed is the development of students’ ability to think critically and creatively in all levels. Both of these thinking skills are needed by every individual along his life, including when he is a student and when he becomes a member of the society. It’s quite easy to see that critical and creative thinking skills are neglected in Indonesian national education. The society’s educational paradigm tends to be materialistic. For many students the major goal for learning is to pass the exam, and the objective of schooling is to obtain a diploma which will, in turn, be used as a ticket to get a job with good income.

Educational practices taking place in such a way will obviously never produce competent and qualified human resources. At least, they will never be able to think critically and creatively, whereas both are highly necessitated skills which will enable individuals to adapt to the rapidly increasing changes in all ways of life due to the globalization. Critical thinking, which enables an individual to sort and analyze information, to solve problems, and to innovate is highly needed in life in the 21st Century which is characterized by increasing flood of information. Creative thinking, which has proven to be an integral part of the efforts to develop human life (as in development of stone, metal, plastic, and fiberglass equipment; the development of farming systems, drug discovery, and space exploration) is absolutely necessary for individuals to adapt to any changes. US Department of Labor (1991, p. 13) emphasizes that the competence and skills needed most for jobs in the 21st century include: the ability to think critically and creatively, the capability to make decisions, the ability to solve problems, and the skills to think rationally. Florida (2002, p. 69) supports this by arguing that the global competition for creative talent will be the economic issue of the 21st century, and the growth of a society correlates with its ability to empower creative people the center of innovation. In other words, knowledge and thinking ability is the key to success for all individuals and t nations in the 21st century.

The above paradigm is supported by the results of a survey of 1,000  fixed-income professionals with a four-year university education and of 25 years and over in the United States, which revealed that 85% of the respondents agree that the ability to think creatively and to solve problems is very important in their career. Among them, 68% believe creativity is a skill that can be learned. In addition, 71% said that creative thinking should be taught as a subject, like math or science. Results of this study indicated that creative thinking development should be given a larger portion in education. The majority (91%) of the respondents also agreed that creative thinking contribute a greater role in a person’s success than the contents of subjects learned, and 82% wished they were given more opportunities to develop creative thinking skills when they were a student (Canning (2015).

Realizing the essence of creative and critical thinking skills in personal, professional or social life, to prepare their young generation to face the 21st century, many countries, particularly developed countries, has set the development of critical and creative thinking one of the main target in education. The study results of O’Donnell and Micklethwaite (O’Donnell, 1999) on 16 curriculum developed countries in America, Europe and East Asia, revealed that education at all levels in these countries give a large portion to the development of art and creativity. Almost all these countries make creativity as a main content of the curriculum of primary to secondary schools. In some countries, it is even provided in university curriculum.

This paper aims to look at the importance of the development of creative and critical thinking skills through learning as one of the agenda of a mental revolution in the educational sector in Indonesia. To achieve that goal, the recent concepts and results of current research on critical and creative thinking skills in learning are discussed. Discussion begins with the concepts of critical thinking and its role, benefits and position in the learning process in schools. After that discussion focuses on creative thinking, its role and position in the learning process. Then, the discussion continues with the review of the combination of both critical and creative thinking in learning, including the applicable approaches and techniques. At the end some suggestions and implications are drawn.

Critical Thinking

Since critical thinking is a complex skill, it is very difficult to define it comprehensively in a single definition. Similar to other complex construction, critical thinking is easier to recognize than to be defined. Nevertheless, the majority of ideas that tries to explain the definition of critical thinking offer interpretations which are not very different one to another. According to Halpren (1993), although the absolute agreement about critical thinking has never been reached, there are overlapping similarities in various existing definitions.

Critical thinking is a rational and deliberately conducted cognitive skill which is directed to make decisions or solve problems. Kong (2007, pp. 304-307) states that critical thinking is a diverse and multidimensional cognitive ability which is used to clarify and evaluate the actions and activities someone conducted. The mental processes in the form of clarification and evaluation are needed in problem solving and decision making. Halpern (2010, p. 382) supports this opinion by stating that critical thinking skills are the use of cognitive strategies intended to improve the expected ideas. Critical thinking is used in problem solving, conclusion drawing, similarity estimation and decision making. For Lau (2011, p. 1) critical thinking is purposeful and rational, which involves the right and the systematic skills and follow the rules of logic and scientific reasoning.

Ennis (in Hunter, 2014, p. 2) defines critical thinking as a reflective thinking which is used to decide what to believe or do. This indicates that every person should not always immediately accept new ideas even if the ideas seem logical or credible, or reject new ideas just because they seem different with what they believe. Ideally, every individual must analyze the level of reliability of new ideas before accepting or rejecting them. Emanuel and Challons-Lipton (2012) support this by emphasizing that critical thinking is a liberating force in education and strong resource in one’s personal and social life. It involves an understanding and expression of the meaning or the essence of various experiences, situations, data, events, assessments, conventions, beliefs, rules, procedures, and criteria. Critical thinkers are able to interpret, analyze, evaluate and conclude. Critical thinkers also can effectively explain what they think and how they arrived at a certain stage in the process of thinking. In details, Ruggiero (2011, p. 21) outlines nine critical thinkers characteristic: (1) skills in asking the right questions, (2) the ability to control his mental activity, (3) be honest to himself, recognize what is not known, recognizes its limitations, so that he stays alert to his own fault, (4) looks at the problems and controversial issues as an interesting challenge, (5) seeks to understand, maintain curiosity, remains patient with complexity, and is ready to provide time to resolve the confusion, (6) judges something based on evidence, not personal preferences, suspends judgment until the evidence is appropriate, be willing to revise his judgment when new evidence shows the previous judgment is not valid, (7) is interested in the ideas of others so that he is willing to read and listen attentively even when he is likely to disagree with the person, (8) understands that extreme view (conservative or liberal) are rarely accurate, so it tends to be avoided, but he seeks to keep thinking in a fair and balanced way;  and (9) always practices to control himself, controls feelings, and always thinks before acts.

Based on the definitions and explanations above, it is obvious that the main characteristic of critical thinking is a mental discipline which includes rationality, reflection and evaluation. Based on the analysis of researches’ results on how people operationalize critical thinking skills, Pascarella and Terenzini (1991, p. 118) found that critical thinking is believed to involve individuals’ ability to perform some or all of the following skills: (1) to identify the central issues and assumptions in arguments; (2) to recognize the important relationship; (3) to draw the right conclusions based on the data; (4) to interpret whether conclusions were actually drawn based on the data provided; and (5) to evaluate the evidence or existing authorities.

Viewing the skills used in critical thinking, it is clear that the common assumption which states a person who thinks critically always finds faults with others is actually incorrect. A critical thinker always searches for truth and knowledge rationally and constructively. To achieve that goal, he attentively listens to others to absorb their views and ideas. In addition, although the main characteristics of critical thinking is rationality, the view suggesting that the critical thinking skills are in opposition  with the emotional and relational skills is not correct. Paul and Elder (2002) emphasizes that every individual with good thinking skills will be a better professional, citizen, friend, or parent.

Critical Thinking and Learning

The five skills used to operationalize critical thinking proposed by Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) above are basically a pre-requisite for effective learning. To be effective, a learning process should involve the learner’s skill to identify, interpret, analyze, evaluate and conclude. One major cause of learning ineffectiveness is the failure of the learner to optimize the use of to these skills. In some cases, learning also takes place without involving the learner’s critical thinking skills. Such ineffective learning exists because the learners, in general were not taught how to use critical thinking skills. Up to a certain extent, this situation is closely linked to most of the practice of teaching in schools, including in Indonesia. What makes it worse is the fact that most learning activities tend to “crush” the subject matter contents to students, while training to thinking skills is rarely done. Norman (1980) states, “It is strange that we expect students to learn, yet seldom teach them anything about learning.” Clement and Lochhead (1980) emphasizes that students should be taught how to think, not only given something to think about.

The research results in the field of creative and critical thinking skills development through education such as Keefe & Walberg (1992), Paul (1993), and Sternberg & Williams (1996) propose the following recommendations. Children are not born with the ability to think critically. They also cannot develop the ability instinctively but must be taught the proper way and teacher is the most appropriate agent to do this. It should be remembered that the learners are not automatically learn to think critically when they learn the subject matter. It is not sufficient if the teacher only teaches ‘what to think’ but also ‘how’ to use the mind. Teachers also play an important role in the development of the creativity of learners, which can be realized through two main points: (1) treating the classroom as an environment which facilitates and encourages creative thinking and activity; and (2) teaching and evaluating creative skills explicitly in the context of academic learning.

There are two approaches of teaching critical thinking skills in formal schools: (1) critical thinking skills are integrated into the subject matter; or (2) critical thinking skills are taught explicitly and course materials designed specifically to aid the understanding of certain critical thinking skills. Up to these days, the first approach is more common in practice, which is carried out, for example, by having students ask questions or talk about the subject matter they had studied. This method is usually sufficient to effectively develop students’ critical thinking skills in the subjects studied. However the use of the skills cannot automatically transferred and applied to the learning of other subjects, not to mention to face problems in everyday life. In addition, this method can be applied effectively only on higher education. The primary and secondary education is difficult to apply this method.

Research results which supports the teaching of critical thinking explicitly indicate that when primary critical thinking skills (e.g. metacognition) is explicitly taught while guiding students to be active in learning, that thinking skills will increase. Swartz (2003, p. 208) summarizes the three key principles of teaching critical thinking: (a) the more explicit the teaching of thinking, the greater the impact on learners will be; (B) the higher the need for mastery of thinking skills which are integrated in learning, students’ openness and appreciation toward the thinking skills will increase; and (c) the more thinking skills are integrated into learning, students’ thinking activities in learning will increase.

The efforts to encourage students to think critically include, among others, by helping them to develop the skills: (1) to recognize and remember, (2) to distinguish opinions with facts, (3) to visualize aspects of the problems faced, (4) to follow the instructions and classify information, (5) and to predict the details of information based on one’s background knowledge and context, (6) to draw conclusions, (7) to evaluate or assess the effectiveness or quality of the data, objects, ideas, or people encountered, (8) to analyze the way by breaking down the problem into smaller parts or steps and then think of the parts, and (9) to synthesize or combine various information into a single entity. By mastering these tent critical thinking skills, students can avoid superficial, illogical, and especially manipulative thinking. Critical thinking skills will also foster intellectual independence and develop creativity (Mayfield, 1997). In the context of reading, a skill that is highly necessitated in both academic and everyday lives, Pardede (2007) posited that by involving critical thinking in reading will enable one to read critically, including to detect bias, prejudice, misleading opinion, faulty reasoning, misinformation, and illogical conclusions.

To facilitate the development of critical thinking skills above, teachers can select and adopt the activities and puzzles presented by Rozakis (1998), Caroselli (2009), and DiSpezio (1997. In addition to these books, there are many other sources, including the internet, teacher can use. What is important, is, in order to be effective, teachers need to modify those activities so that their degree of difficulty meets the level of students’ knowledge and the contents of the subjects they are studying.

To make sure that the learning environment facilitates the critical thinking development, Meyers (1986), suggested that four elements must be provided: (1) students’ interest stimulation, (2) the implementation of a meaningful discussion, (3) exposure of other people’s thoughts and views, and (4) the creation of a supporting and trusted atmosphere. Meyers believed that the students’ interest stimulation is the most important among these four factors. If the students’ interests are already stimulated, they can be led to think critically and this condition will develop analytical abilities and problem solving. The element of meaningful discussion, debate and question and answer will enable learners to develop the mental structures needed for critical thinking. The third element, the exposure of other people’s ideas and views will help the learners to clarify his attitude and help him to consider things from different perspectives. The fourth element, a trusted and supporting atmosphere is essential before students have the courage to avoid bias and try new ways of thinking.

Creative Thinking

Creativity is an important paradigm since the beginning of human civilization. Plato, the famous Greek philosopher living in the 5th century BC, has stressed the importance of creative people and urged countries to support the development of creativity. For centuries creativity was apt to be associated with famous art works or great scientific findings. However, since the mid-20th century, creativity begins to be examined in a variety sectors. In the United States, the turning point of giving attention to the creativity can be attributed to the success of the Soviet Union to launch Sputnik, the first satellite orbiting the earth, on October 4, 1957. This success brought the United States around that they had lost the early rounds of the race to explore the outer space. The defeat was, according to David and Cropley (in Currie, 2005), was due to a lack of creativity and the low quality of education in the United States. Since then, discussions and researches on creativity and its development for the industrial, business, and educational sectors, and leadership, sports, work and daily life matters as well continues to increase. A student who is writing a paper and involves creativity and an entrepreneur who includes creativity in his business development will achieve better results.

The terminology of creativity is often synonymized with creative thinking. But both are two different things. Creativity refers to the products, processes or interactions that generate new ideas, thoughts and objects. Creative thinking is the thinking skills which enable a person to generate creative original or new ideas, thoughts and objects. Creative thinking can also be interpreted as an effort to maximize the ability of the brain to think of original, diverse, and new ideas. Creative thinking is sometimes referred to the term “divergent thinking” –thinking skills that create patterns of thought and expand belief range. (Infinite Innovations Ltd., 2012). So, creative thinking is one of the elements which build creativity. Amabile (1998) supports this while distinguishing creativity and creative thinking by stating that creativity is formed by creative thinking skills, motivation and expertise.

Since creativity is used in many sectors of life, literature offers various definitions of creativity. However, these definitions concurrently indicate that creativity is associated with novelty, effectiveness, and ethics in using ideas, products, processes, analogy or tools. Therefore, creativity is the product or the ability to create and implement ideas which meets the criteria of novelty, effectiveness, and ethics. Cropley (2001, pp. 5-6) supports this by stating creativity is associated with novelty, effectiveness, and ethics. The element of novelty requires that creativity should be products, actions, or ideas which are different from the existing ones. The element of effectiveness requires that a successful and rewarding creativity should work and be useful. The usefulness can be in aesthetic, artistic, spiritual, or material sense, such as winning a contest or making a profit. The element of ethics requires that creativity should not be destructive, selfish, criminal, and harmful.

There are some misconceptions that could mislead the concepts related to the creative thinking. The first misconception is the assumption that views talent and creativity are the same. This drives ordinary people think of someone who is talented as creative people, but it is not always the case (Lau 2011, p. 2.). For example, a talented guitarist is not necessarily able to create his own songs to play. The second misconception is the view that someone who is a genius does not need to study or work diligently to become skillful in the art. Recent research in psychology reveals that in order to be skillful or an expert in the field of sports, music, and other arts one should go through a deep and structured practice for about ten years and 10.000 hours of exercises. Jobs (in Lau, 2011, p. 216) says that a creative person is able to connect and synthesize his old experiences with new experiences to create new things. This is possible because the person has a deeper understanding of his experience more than others do.

Stages of Creative Thinking

According to Wallas (in Torrance, 1988) creative thinking process takes place in four stages: preparation, incubation, incubation, and verification. In the preparatory phase, initial study is conducted to explore the focus of the problem to solve, then various information are collected from various sources (references, environment, people) as a material for evaluating the design analysis which has been prepared. If more information are needed, additional information are searched to complete materials to analyze. All these activities will enable individuals to understand the problem, identify and classify existing solutions, including their limitations, to view the collected information from a variety of different perspectives, and connect ideas one to another. All this preparatory activities need to be done repeatedly in an intensive way to reach the maximum limit, i.e. up to when the individual feels he has tried all possible ways, analyzed all the information, and viewed from all perspectives.

In the incubation stage, relaxation and cooling down takes place. The individual escapes from the problem for a while. He does not consciously think about the problem, but “brood” it in the pre-conscious nature. Smith and Dobbs (1999, p. 39) defines incubation as “a stage of creative problem-solving efforts, namely the period when the individual leaves the problem he is facing aside after he totally tried all he could to solve it.

The illumination stage is the climax of the incubation phase, i.e. the moment when smart ideas to solve the problem emerges. This stage is referred to as the “a-ha” place, because intelligent solutions or ideas come to mind like a light bulb suddenly lit up. Brilliant ideas often appear at this stage, i.e. when an individual reflects back full the results of the consideration focusing on the problem he is facing. Many people who were finding difficulty to solve a problem can immediately, after a restful night sleep find a solution. Some people obtain creative solutions while listening to music, watching movies, or swimming. Although not yet scientifically understood, after an intensive process of thinking, an inactive period greatly encourages creativity. Some people believe sleep gives the opportunity to the subconscious mind to process the problems encountered. In addition, releasing the mind or being inactive for a certain period of time allows us to look at the problem in a more fresh way. Whatever the exact explanation, a brief escape from something one has maximally thought out is obviously an effective strategy. Indeed, there is no guarantee that a pausing or an escape will provide superior creativity. If so, we have to repeat the stages of preparation and incubation again (Lau, 2011, p. 218).

In the verification stage the ideas obtained at the stage of illumination is analyzed and tested to see its quality and significance. If the idea turns to be not the best solution, we must understand the causes. By doing so, we can prevent the same mistakes in the future. In fact, if the idea is the best solution, we can review the creative process through which we get it to understand whether the process can be repeated in other creative problem solving process in the future.

Creative Thinking in Learning

The existence of the elements of novelty, effectiveness, and ethics in creativity indicate that creativity is very useful in learning because the imaginative process is really effective and productive to enrich human knowledge, even when the new generated ideas are not recognized or seem beneficial when they produced (Fisher, 2002). Moreover, creative thinking is very in tune with the learning theory of constructivism, which sees learning as a process of producing the understanding and knowledge through experience and reflection on that experience. Viewing from constructivism, creative thinking and learning are both a producing process. Similar to a creative thinker who produces something new, a student who learns using the constructivism approach is also an active creator of knowledge, not a passive recipient of knowledge. As a creator, he actively asks, explores, and assesses what he knows during the learning process. So, creative thinking and learning are two overlapping processes and reinforce each other. Accordingly, the development of creative thinking basically does not require a radical change in the approach to learning (Hall and Thompson, 2005) because both can be done in line with the learning effectiveness development.

The benefits of developing creativity in learning will be enhanced by realizing that life in the 21st century is dominated by unexpected accelerating changes. Approximately 50% of the present knowledge and skills of each individual will be obsolete or useless within a period of time (Cropley, 2001, p. 135). In addition, the knowledge and skills needed in the future cannot be identified with certainty. Not all skills and knowledge being learned and trained by a student today will be helpful for him after he graduated later. Therefore, educational institutions should not limit learning only on the package of knowledge, skills, techniques and values which ​​seem important at present. Educational institutions should also encourage the establishment of adaptability, flexibility, openness to new things, and the courage to face unexpected things.

Another factor that makes the development of creativity is crucial in learning is the finding that an increase in creativity is positively correlated with the aim of teaching in schools, namely the improvement of knowledge and skills. According Getzels and Jackson (1962), various studies show a positive correlation between creativity and the scores obtained at school. These findings are in line with some of the cognitive theory of learning which views the activity of thinking as “constructive process” (Houtz & Krug, 1995). That is, when a person thinks, he constructs his knowledge. Sternberg and Lubart’s (1995) research results, which revealed that that creativity supports conventional intelligence to improve learning achievement is also in line with these ideas. Empirical data collected in in Finland also support these ideas. According to Dun (2012), students in Finland are not burdened with memorizing information or struggling with the topics to be faced on standardized tests. They are encouraged to think creatively and learn just to learn. Creative drama performance and problem solving are central activities in the classroom, which is designed to give informal and relaxed atmosphere. This system is very different from the system in many countries which are focusing so intensely on the test results. However, the Finnish system is proved to be more effective because it produces students with not only high test scores but also a very high level of productivity.

Some countries have already seriously developed creativity through education. But until now this practice is still causing controversy and opposition among teachers in many countries. The reasons most frequently forwarded are: (1) creativity in essence is unknowable mysteries and so it cannot be developed by the ordinary [teacher]; (2) because creativity is a special ability that is found only in certain people, its development will create elitism; and (3) the development of creativity is feared to lead to coercion of children so that they become victims of teachers and parents fanaticism to creativity (Cropley, 2001, p. 134).

In addition, Kampylis, Saariluoma and Berki (2011) explains that the most likely reason for ignoring the development of creative thinking skills in the classroom is the teachers preference to keep control of their classes and to focus on finishing the material in the syllabus rather than facilitating creativity which is perceived ambiguous and confusing. Cropley (2001, pp. 134-135), supports this argument by stating that in everyday life, teachers and parents feel disturbed by the development of creativity in schools which might emerge irregular, defiant, sloppy, imprecise, or mischievous behaviors. In addition, some teachers are worry that teaching creativity will make the basic skills and standards neglected. Kraft (2003) added by emphasizing that the study of creative teaching and creative learning are limited because of the centralized control in pedagogy, curriculum, content, and teaching strategies and because teachers are treated as technicians, not an artist. Finally, teachers often feel inadequately trained or confident in fostering students to think creatively, even if they think of creativity as a key factor for personal and social advancement.

Cropley’s (2003, p. 137) summary on the various results of recent studies indicate various forms of controversy in the form of biased views of teachers in the development of creativity. First, most teachers in Australia, Nigeria and Turkey did not like students’ attitudes related to creativity, such as courage, and the desire for originality and novelty. The majority of teachers prefer politeness, compliance, timely attendance, and willingness to accept their opinion. In the field of mind development, the ability to memorize and accurately disclose the subject matter is usually preferable to critical thinking or independence in making decisions. Teachers in Turkey saw that students with high creativity were aggressive and had inappropriate behavior. In the United States, more creative students are often considered ‘disruptive’ than those who are less creative. In contrast to the above teachers, some teachers who succeeded in developing students’ creativity emphasize ‘creative production’, flexibility, acceptance of alternative suggestions, and tolerance of humor. They are creative individuals who are familiar with their students (Clark, 1996).

Based on literature reviews, Cropley (1997) describes nine conditions which help a teacher to successfully develop students’ creativity: (1) to encourage students to learn independently, (2) to use a cooperative and social-integrative teaching style, (3) not to ignore the mastery of factual knowledge as the basis for divergent thinking; (4) to delay assessing the students’ ideas before they are resolved and formulated, (5) to encourage flexible thinking skills, (6) to encourage students’ self-assessment on their work, (7) to respond students’ suggestions and questions seriously, (8) to offer opportunities to study the various materials in different conditions, and (9) to develop students’ courage to be true, so that they will be dare to try something new and unusual.

Creative Thinking Methods

Until now, various creative thinking advancement methods have been developed, such as SCAMPER (standing for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse), Morphological Analysis (aiming to create new products by combining different attributes), Brainstorming, and Blocking and Block Busting. These methods can generally be learned and trained for use in a variety of contexts, such as in the industrial sector, advertising, and education. The one to be briefly described is a combination of five techniques: evolution, revolution, synthesis, reapplication and direction change. Here is a brief explanation for the fifth method, which was adapted from the work of Harris (1998).

Evolution is a method for making gradual improvement, in which new ideas are made of other ideas; new solution is modified from previous solutions; new product has the advantages of the old one. Many sophisticated things we enjoy today were developed through continuous improvement in a long period of time. Thus, evolution is a method of making something much better or perhaps completely different from the original. For example, aircraft we use today is the result of the evolution of the first aircraft invented by Orville and Wilbur Wright in the early 20th century. This evolutionary method reveals an important principle, namely: every problem which has been solved can still be resolved in a better way. Every creative thinker holds the principle that improvement is always possible to make, including to something that is already good.

Revolution is a method of creative thinking to make quick repairs. This method is conducted by breaking away from the traditional thinking and creating new perspectives. A creative faculty can apply this method by asking, “How can I make my course better?” A possible revolutionary idea is, “I better stop lecturing and encourage the students to teach each other by assigning them to work as a team or presenting a report.

Synthesis is a method of merging two or more ideas into a new idea. For example, the cell phones we use today is the result of the synthesis of a variety of tools that we once had with one function, namely the telephone (to communicate verbally from far away places), a pager (for communicating short messages), camera (making photos), radio, etc.

Reapplication is a method of creative thinking conducted by viewing or using something old in a new way. A creative thinker who goes to the junkyard might see ‘something’ in an old car. He has the car fixed, paints it with artistic colors, and manages to sell it hundreds of times the cost he spend to buy and improve it.

Changing directions is a method of creative thinking which is done by shifting attention from one corner to the other. This method can be done, for example, by playing a game of “If I were …” (If I were …)”.

Critical and Creative Thinking as a Unity

Discussion about the concepts of critical and creative thinking above shows that both modes of thinking are different. Critical thinking is convergent, while creative thinking is divergent. Critical thinking is done by following certain fixed principles, while creative thinking takes place by violating existing principles. Creative thinking deals with the ‘making activity’ or production, whereas critical thinking is used to assess the feasibility or validity of something made. Different they may be, critical and creative thinking are essentially taking place or used simultaneously, as we have seen earlier while discussing the stages of creative thinking. Therefore, creative thinking and critical thinking are complementary, not contradictory. Both synergize to facilitate an individual to do high-quality mental activity using imagination and intellectual engagement, which then enables him to produce and assess. Beyer (1987, p. 35) asserts that although not identical, both are two sides of the same coin. To show the close relationship between the two modes of thinking, Passmore (in Peters, 2010) call them ‘criticocreative thinking ‘.

Various studies support the close relationship between creative and critical thinking, by calling critical thinking as the mode of convergent thinking and creative thinking, divergent (Johnson 2001; Paul, 1993; Beyer 1987). Creative thinking requires critical thinking to evaluate the results, sorting and picking the outcome of the process of creative thinking and deciding what to do the that creativity product. Conversely, critical thinking skills require the ability to think creatively to find the best solution for the encountered problems or to submit arguments or alternative explanations or to think “outside the box”. Intellectual creation (creativity) and critical judgment (critical thinking) has a logic of reciprocity (Paul & Elder, 2006). There is a close interrelation between the two. Paul (1993) asserted that all thinking types are built up by creative thinking and critical thinking in an intimate way.

Critical and Creative Thinking Development Procedures in the Classroom

Of the various existing procedures, the procedures created by the Tsai (2013) by combining the work of Brookfield (2012) on critical thinking, the work of Treffinger and Isaksen (2005) on creative problem solving and the learning model of Kolb (1984) is probably the most popular one. This procedure consists of five steps: (1) expanding the horizons, (2) exploring the possibilities, (3) changing ideas, (4) evaluate assumptions, and (5) apply the solution. Here is a brief explanation for the use of the procedure. Since it can be easily combined with other teaching approaches, such as case studies, constructivism approach, problem-based learning, experience-based learning, and other similar approaches, this approach is a very effective learning tool in the classroom.

In the first step, expanding horizons, teachers can assign and guide the students to investigate a phenomenon. In the beginning, for example, the teacher asks a question: “What do you know about traffic jams in Jakarta? What can be done to reduce the congestion? “As a warm-up, the teacher asks the students to write down as many as possible what they know and their responses to this topic within three minutes. Since it is done quickly, spelling, punctuation, and grammar do not need special attention. What is important is that every student can activate relevant knowledge and experience they have had.

In the second step, the students were asked to explore the possibilities in order to obtain a holistic overview of the topic learnt and to generate more ideas at the same time. This step could be effectively done by assigning the students in 5 to 10 minutes mind mapping to turn their ideas into a visual diagram and to provide a holistic picture of what they understand about flood in Jakarta. Besides mind mapping, this step could also be facilitated using brainstorming.

At the stage of exchanging ideas, the teacher divides the class into groups, consisting of not more than five members. In the groups they discuss and present their mind maps to present the ideas made in the previous step. When a person presents his idea, other members act as a “detective”. The role of detectives is not just be a passive spectator but also an active listener. They should ask questions to clarify each idea until they understand why the presenter proposes those ideas.

Soon after every presenter finishes presentation, in the fourth stage, evaluating assumptions, the detectives are asked to check the assumptions behind the ideas put forward by asking questions. For example, if the presenter proposes the idea of restricting people to use private cars to overcome traffic congestion in Jakarta, the detectives can ask, “Why should you limit the use of private cars? Please explain!” The main purpose of this question is to ask people to think more deeply and assessing the assumptions made, which may affect his or her idea. After all of the group members identify and truly understand each assumption, they can be asked to discuss other ideas that might improve their personal assumptions. This phase will take longer time than the other stages because each member’s assumptions are clarified and confirmed. A larger portion of the time is usually spent to uncover the mental factor, the barriers that prevent individuals from exploring other alternatives.

Interactions in the groups have a dual role. On the one hand, by reflecting their assumptions, the students may be aware that in addition to the proposed ideas or results, the existences of other ideas are always possible. On the other hand, by listening to other people’s ideas and experiences, the students’ thoughts might be tremendously enriched, especially when the ideas are unexpected. In other words, they can expand their ideas through reflecting in their mind and receiving new ideas from outside after eliminating their own mental block.

In the final stage, to apply the solution, students can write, in their journal, their intellectual and emotional reaction emerging during the discussion. There are several questions necessary to be answered in the journal: (a) “What’s new for you in this activity?,” (b) “Is every point contrary to what you already understand or believe?,” (c) “After this activity, what questions still resonate in your mind?, “(d)” When do you feel confused?, “(e)” When are you getting additional insight?, “and (f)” What lessons have you learned and how you can use it for other aspects of your life? In short, the last stage is about implementation. Teachers should help students to take advantage of this learning experience and then transform their ideas into useful lessons.


A national education system covers the development of creative and critical thinking skills through learning should be one of the priorities in the mental revolution movement for improving Indonesian national education. Those two modes of thinking are important to develop in all levels of education, because they are not only a strategic learning tool, which makes learning more effective and meaningful and encourages individuals to learn and develop themselves for life, but also an important tool in personal and professional life.

Critical thinking is the core of all intellectual activity because it empowers an individual to understand or develop arguments, present evidence to support the argument, draw conclusions and use the data to solve problems. On the other hand, creative thinking enables individuals to produce and implement new ideas in a given context, see the situation in a new way, identifying alternative explanations, and create new relationships to deliver better results. Although both are different modes of thinking, critical and creative Indonesia are mutually symbiotic, because creativity requires a groundwork provided by critical thinking to flourish.

Accordingly, both modes of thinking can be developed simultaneously, both inside and outside of the classroom. What is needed is to motivate teachers and provide them opportunities and training for the development of the two modes of thinking. To encourage the development of critical and creative thinking among students, they must be given the motivation to think, time to develop ideas, collaboration and support by making information and feedback available anytime for them. Critical teachers will evaluate her teaching and students’ learning methods. Thus, she will have a strong foundation for implementing creative learning, which is, in turn, will encourage students to be creative.


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P.S. This paper was presented  at the “Mental Revolution in Education for Human Character Building Seminar, held August 14-15, 2015 in Universitas Kristen Indonesia Jakarta.

The pdf file version could be accessed here

1 Comment

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