LEADING LIGHTS     Issue 1 | 2020

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Critical thinking vs fake news

Article by   Ann Briggs

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A core element of Finland’s school curriculum teaches children how to think critically and to distinguish information from misinformation, lies and gossip.

I was reading an article in the UK Guardian recently, which addresses an urgent need in today’s society: teaching children how to think critically and to distinguish information from misinformation, lies and gossip.

Like many thought-provoking advances in education, the strategy comes from Finland. In an initiative developed from 2014 onwards in response to the country being targeted with fake news originating in Russia, information literacy and critical thinking became a core cross-curricular element of the national curriculum, practised in both primary and secondary schools. Children learn to be detectives, to fact-check from multiple different sources, and to think about the reliability of the information in front of them. They learn about misinformation, which may simply be mistakes, disinformation – lies and hoaxes – and malinformation, which may be true but is presented in a way intended to harm.

In maths, young people learn about the potential mis-use of statistics; in art how an image may be manipulated to present different meanings; in language, how words can be used to confuse or mislead. They practise writing ‘accurate’ and ‘fake’ reports of incidents and discussions, and in media sessions learn to identify all kinds of misleading news. One aim is that young people will question the source and intent of information they encounter, working out what it really says and whether what it says can be verified elsewhere.

The philosophy is that everyone should be able to detect and fight false information, and Finland is currently on top of an annual index measuring resistance to fake news among 35 European countries.

You can read the whole article at

What particularly struck me was the embedded nature of the programme, and the spill-over into habits of everyday life. Critical thinking is not just an add-on: it lies at the heart of how we learn and what we learn, and we take it into adult life as a vital strategy for navigating the world. Applying the skills of critical inquiry to the plethora of ‘information’ we encounter daily should become a life-long habit, protecting young people and adults alike from those who seek skilfully to mislead us, and those who simply distract us with ‘noise’.