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By Graeme Paton, Education Editor
Published: 10:00AM BST 08 Jun 2009
Teenagers will be awarded the equivalent of a GCSE in "thinking" under new plans.
They will be taught the difference between an argument and a rant and how to separate fact from opinion, it was disclosed.
Topics covered in the new course - drawn up by one of Britain's biggest exam boards - will include debate over the existence of UFOs, a belief in the after life and arguments for and against euthanasia.
In the first move of its kind, the "Thinking and Reasoning Skills" qualification will be offered next year following claims from universities and employers that young people lack basic skills.
Last year, the Confederation of British Industry said an obsession with iPods, mobile phones and the internet meant many computer-savvy teenagers were unable to hold proper conversations and write essays.
The OCR exam board said there was "massive" demand from schools for the new course.
But critics say the focus on skills detracts from traditional subjects, such as history, geography and science.
Bernice McCabe, head of fee-paying North London Collegiate School, and director of a charity set up by the Prince of Wales to promote good teaching, said mainstream subjects were no longer "fashionable".
Nick Gibb, the Conservative shadow schools minister, said: "The problem with these skills-based subjects is that pupils can actually miss out on the basic subject knowledge that is particularly important pre-16."
OCR has already introduced an A-level in critical thinking.
Under latest plans, a new "Level 2 qualification" will enable schoolchildren to gain the equivalent of an A* to C grade GCSE in the subject.
According to the course syllabus, the qualification will complement mainstream subjects, by allowing pupils to "develop a conscious, critical awareness of the full range of skills which together constitute higher forms of thinking".
Pupils are expected to develop an understanding of 10 "skills", said OCR, including evaluating evidence, decision making, problem solving and creative thinking. Under the heading of "understanding arguments", students will learn how to recognise "the difference between arguments and rants and lists of information and explanations", as well as "identifying indicator words which signal the presence of reasons and conclusions".
They will complete exercises based on a series of topical issues. Suggested subjects include the rise of teenage violence, drug and alcohol abuse, genetic engineering, euthanasia, global warming and animal experiments.
In one exercise - based on conspiracy theories - students will be asked to debate the existence of UFOs and alien abductions.
The course, which is aimed at under-16s, involves around 60 hours of teaching. Students sit two, hour-long written exams and are awarded a distinction, merit or pass.
An OCR spokesman said: "There is increasing evidence that improving a learner's thinking and reasoning skills has a hugely beneficial effect for their learning in other subjects."
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