The critical reading and thinking abilities of Malay secondary school pupils in Singapore
Research on the education of Malay pupils, a minority group in Singapore, is sparse and is normally centred on Malay underachievement in schools in comparison to other ethnic groups in Singapore. This study attempts to fill in the gap in research by studying one of the factors that might be related to the achievement of Malay pupils, that is, namely their critical reading and thinking abilities. While critical thinking and reading skills were identified as important skills to be acquired, these two areas were not given proper emphasis in the Malay language curriculum. Research in this area may contribute not only to a better understanding of the nature of critical reading and thinking, but also help to identify the pupils' strengths and weaknesses in the construct, information useful for curriculum development and improving their performance in schools. In investigating the critical reading and thinking abilities of Malay pupils, I have undertaken two lines of inquiry in this study. The first line of inquiry focussed on the development of two instruments the Malay Language Critical Reading Test (MLCRT), designed to assess the critical reading ability of the pupils, and The Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory (CTDI) intended to measure the pupils' disposition to think critically. The second line of approach was directed towards developing a model of the relationship of the correlates of critical reading and thinking ability, and also their relationship with selected variables. Three versions of the test on critical reading, the Trial MLCRT and the Actual MLCRT and the Revised MLCRT were developed . The Trial-MLCRT, a 100-item test, was piloted on 353 pupils while the Actual MLCRT and Revised MLCRT were standardized on a sample of 1444 students from five grade levels in secondary schools. The test items were originally designed based on ten subskills, namely, to elicit the ability to evaluate deductive inferences, the ability to evaluate inductive inferences, the ability to evaluate the soundness of generalizations, the ability to recognize hidden assumptions, the ability to identify bias in statements, the ability to recognize author's motives, the ability to identify facts and opinions, the ability to identify sources, uses and relevancy of materials, the ability to recognize similarities and differences and the ability to evaluate the strength of arguments. In the revised MLCRT, henceforth refered to as RMLCRT only nine subskills comprising 65 items were retained. The results of the validity and reliability studies based on the RMLCRT show the instrument to be reliable and valid for pupils from the Normal or Express stream, and for all five grade levels. Factor analysis of the subskills of the RMLCRT indicates one main general factor, the core critical reading subskills, to be its underlying trait. However, the result of factor analysing the items failed to give a clear picture of the underlying construct. The second instrument, The Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory (CTDI), is a new instrument developed especially to measure pupils' critical thinking disposition. It was composed of 38 items which was shown to be internally consistent with the main scale. This instrument was standardized on 1024 pupils, in the same way as the RMLCRT. The reliability of the CTDI was found to be high and suitable for all five grade levels, for the Normal as well as for the Express stream pupils and for both genders. An exploratory factor analysis of the CTDI items revealed one main general factor as the underlying construct. The second part of the study which utilized a subsample of 580 pupils was mainly focussed on presenting a model of the correlates of critical reading ability among Malay pupils in Singapore. The result indicates general ability, Malay language competency, general reading comprehension ability, grade level, age and sex, socio-economic status and critical thinking disposition to have an effect on critical reading ability. General ability was revealed to have the largest effect, showing its importance in determining critical reading ability. Malay language and reading comprehension were shown to have quite large effects, attesting to the importance of the language and reading factor, even surpassing that of critical thinking disposition which has a small but significant effect on critical reading ability. Discussion of the findings, uses of the instruments, its implications for syllabus design and suggestions for further research in the area were also presented.