We need logical thinkers now more than ever

Illustration: Salman Sakib Shahryar

For many people, education means sitting in a class and mindlessly repeating what the teacher tells you. But is that really what education is about?

At the Institute of Wellbeing, we have a sizeable internship programme. We engage the interns in a number of activities, exposing them to new ideas and challenging them to think critically on a range of topics. After the internship, the interns are required to submit a reflection. I take the time to read each one. Most of the remarks are unsurprising: they are thrilled to participate in a live talk show, to interact with a transgender person, to have opportunities to debate issues with their peers. All those who have been forced to do the internship remotely due to Covid-19 wish that it could have been offline.

But there are also the surprising comments that make me take a pause and sit back for a moment, stunned. One of those that has come up a few times is their gratitude for being heard. Let me say that again. They speak; I am interested in what they have to say. The internship is not about rote learning—about them repeating what I tell them. I am actually interested in their ideas. I often disagree; I enjoy arguing with them. But I encourage them to express their own ideas.

The topic came up strongly with a couple of Pakistani students, so I asked my Bangladeshi students if they faced the same issue here. Perhaps, I thought, it was a problem mainly in the Pakistani educational system. Surely by the time they go to university, students are no longer expected to just regurgitate what their professors tell them? Alas, my Bangladeshi students said they experienced the same thing in most universities.

What kind of education do we offer our youth if we do not encourage them to learn to think logically and critically? It is not hard to notice the damage done by blindly trusting what you see on Facebook and other social media sites, while disbelieving doctors, scientists, and the print media. Obviously, people need to be able to apply an analytical mind to misinformation, sifting through the lies, deceptions and garbage to see if there is anything worthwhile, and knowing where to turn for better information. It has always been dangerous not to possess the power of logical thinking, but as we are inundated with misinformation, and as the potential costs go up—not believing in the safety and efficacy of vaccines, believing that the climate crisis is a hoax—knowing how to think for yourself becomes more important than ever.

Certainly, many of the most powerful among us would prefer that people not ask questions. That we accept the gig economy, the lack of secure jobs, the gross income and gender inequality that keep the rich rich, and men powerful at the expense of so many others. That we accept the idea that the environment is dispensable; all that matters is the economy, and the economy specifically refers to the ability of the wealthy to gain ever more money and power. But do billionaires control our educational system? Do we allow them to control our minds?

As our fascination with technology continues, we seem to have lost touch with so much that is basic in our societies. Many people say they have never read a book. Children are so absorbed by smartphones that they have lost the ability to hold a conversation. Our desire for ease, speed and convenience causes us to trash our planet with plastics, and throw away our lives on the roads.

Part of why I love working with the youth is that they, like me, tend to be optimists and idealists. They believe in a brighter future. I hope to show them that that brighter future, while still possible, is fading away quickly—and will never be obtained by trusting in the wealthiest and most powerful to make decisions on our behalf. We need to regain control of our lives, our thoughts and our politics, so that we can work together to achieve a better world for this and future generations—not by repeating what we are told, but by using our minds and hearts to search for, and achieve, something truly worthwhile.


Debra Efroymson is the executive director of the Institute of Wellbeing, Bangladesh, and author of "Beyond Apologies: Defining and Achieving an Economics of Wellbeing."


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