Background and Objectives: Critical thinking skill is one of the important mental assets that a person needs to be able to develop as an independent individual. Critical thinking skill is important because it assists individuals to analyze situations before taking actions, instead of acting impulsively. The possession of critical thinking skill is important not only to the individual but to those around him or her as well as the society. This is because people who lack critical thinking skills very likely get engaged in actions that are not based on a deep analysis of the situation at hand, and thus expose themselves and others to danger. Therefore, developing critical thinking skills in agricultural technical and vocational students -due to the nature and purpose of their disciplines- is vital to deal with wicked problems in the agricultural sector. Based on this, many efforts have been done to embed critical thinking skills in agricultural students at the technical and vocational schools. However, these attempts have not achieved the desired goals and agricultural sector still faces many challenges. We believe that this is due to the extensive attention allocated to educational issues and as well as micro-environments within the school by researchers who are interested in this field of study; while according to Bandura’s social cognitive theory and Luhmann’s Autopoietic Systems Theory, critical thinking skills are significantly affected by outside school environment and students’ demographic characteristics. Accordingly, the study identified students’ the most important demographic characteristics which affect theirs critical thinking skills.
Methods: For the purpose of this study, a quantitative research method was used. The statistical population of the study consisted of Iranian technical and vocational students (N= 5720). Altogether, 282 students were included in the statistical sample using multi-stage stratified sampling method. A researcher-made questionnaire was used for data collection and its reliability and validity were confirmed by content validity ratio (CVR ≥ 0.75) and Coronbach's alpha coefficient (α ≥ 0.71), respectively. The included a help section on how to answer the items, demographic characteristics of the respondents, and latent variables of research (critical thinking skills). Respondents were asked to express their degree of agreement with each item by giving a score from 1 to 10 (minimum agreement = 1 & maximum agreement = 10). Finally, the data were analyzed using SPSS software.
Findings: Findings showed that there were significant differences between students’ critical thinking skills in relation to critical evaluation of issues and application of theories and ideas to real world context. However, no significant differences were observed in terms of the educational inequality condition of students. Among the demographic characteristics, gender (male of female) and lodging (rural area or city) were not significant ones for students critical thinking skills. In contrast, farming filed experiences significantly led to differences among the students’ critical thinking skills.
Conclusion: The findings showed that one of the weaknesses of previous research on students' critical thinking skills was the use of the same tools and indicators to assess critical thinking skills for all disciplines, despite differences in the content and nature of their disciplines. Therefore, based on Calma and Cotronei-Baird’s (2021) research, four skills were identified as critical thinking skills for agricultural students: 1) critical evaluation of issues; 2) development and presentation of arguments; 3) application of theories and ideas to real world context; and 4) synthesis of idea, theories and/or data. Finally, the results of the study indicated that students’ critical thinking skills were not only subject to educational issues or limited to the school environments, but also various demographic characteristics that significantly affected them. Therefore, it is important for the educational planners to consider these characteristics in their planning for developing and enhancing students’ critical thinking skills.
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