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Schoolchildren 'can be taught to think critically'

30/05/2017 Joanna

Schools could be helping to teach their pupils how to think critically and question the validity of potentially false or misleading statements, according to new research.

The study, led by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, highlighted the benefits of a programme designed to teach 10 to 12 year-old pupils how to critically assess health effect claims and make educated decisions about their likely credibility.

More than 10,000 children attending 120 schools in the developing African nation of Uganda were enrolled in this research, with 13 hours spent on the teaching programme over a three-month period.

It was shown that nearly 50 per cent more children passed a test where they were asked to assess treatment claims following the intervention, an improvement that was seen as significant, particularly given that many of these schools had few teachers and limited resources.

While the time spent on the programme necessarily came at the expense of other school activities, no other negative consequences were associated with the critical thinking scheme. Although this research was carried out in a developing nation, the researchers believe it could also be used in developed countries, with a pilot test at a school in Norway resulting in staff choosing to continue using the programme after the testing ended.

Atle Fretheim, head of the Centre for Informed Health Choices at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said: "In a time of rapidly spreading fake news, it is more important than ever that people are able to distinguish the truth from 'alternative facts'.

"In addition, we need to be able to assess what is a sensible interpretation of facts, particularly when facts are used to argue for or against implementing measures. This applies to claims about what causes better or worse health."

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