Critical Thinking and Information Literacy: Expanding on the Definition of ‘Education’

Information literacy, as set out in the Alexandria Proclamation, is defined as something that ‘empowers people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational, and educational goals.’ In pedagogical terms, this would include basic literacy, computer literacy, research skills, and critical thinking.

These pedagogical tools when threaded together will help an individual sort through information, determine its importance, and create novel opinions. However, misinformation is not only prevalent but abundantly available. 

There are two schools of thought surrounding misinformation in news and media. No matter how you choose to look at these two ideas, both make one thing abundantly clear that information literacy is important to cultivate in society.

One school of thought believes that there has been a flow of false information that preys on the trust built up by the conventional sources of ‘news’ over the last few decades. Individuals depend directly on certain channels of information and place full faith in them.

The other school of thought argues that misinformation has existed in popular media ever since its inception. It is with the growth in people’s abilities to verify this misinformation, that consciousness has been created regarding its existence, pervasiveness, and effects. How then, do we equip every individual in the society to be capable of sorting the “information” out of the misinformation? How do we equip people with the ability to know when some evidence is not sufficient to make a viable theory?

The answer is simple- we make information literacy a part of school learning. This doesn’t need to be information literacy in the same sense as it is referred to in academia, it only needs to embody a simple concept- some sources are more dependable than others. Consequently, these reliable sources ought to be used more often in trying to inform oneself and others. One way to inform students is to carry out simple research with them. This can be done in three easy steps-

  1. Planning research or posing a question — for example, “Is climate change real?”

  2. Formulating a research model.

  3. Finding resources — such as databases, documentary films, Web sites, print sources, and local experts.

This is where the students can be instructed regarding the reliability of various sources, and also for respecting the opinions of experts in their respective fields. Students should also be taught evaluation and critical analysis of resources — What are the credentials of the experts? Why was the research question important? What is left out of the research? What are the multiple perspectives surrounding the research question?

Here, critical thinking ties into information literacy; if we are unable to critically analyze both the information and the source it comes from, we will not be able to eliminate information that is biased or inaccurate.

Within the framework of ‘Education’, not emphasizing information literacy essentially reflects a mentality of ‘learn what we want you to learn’, wherein everything published in textbooks is taken at face value. Students are not asked to look at any information from a critical lens, and students are never told how to explore beyond textbooks.

Information literacy then represents at the core a fairly simple, although important idea – critical thinking leads to a better society.

Written by: Zebaish Varma