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Philosophy of education: critical pedagogy Vs the banking model – Paulo Friere

Paulo Freire was a Brazilian Educator and Philosopher (September 19, 1921 – March 02 1997) who founded the Critical Pedagogy or Problem Posing theory.

He is also best known for his influential work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Freire’s philosophical views on education grew from his experiences as a teacher and consequent interactions with students and other teachers. He came to appreciate the need for a democratic relationship between learners and teachers, as opposed to the traditional hierarchical one. It is while teaching that he came to see the Banking Concept of Education.

Explaining the banking concept of education, he said it is a method of teaching where students simply store information relayed by the teacher. The classroom he posited is structured such that the primary role of students is to remember and accurately recall information given by the instructor. They are not expected to participate in any way but sponge what is given. In this type of approach Friere says, “the world is seen as static and unchangeable and students are simply supposed to fit into it as it is.” An educated person according to the banking concept is, “the adapted person, because he or she is a better ‘fit’ to the world.”

As a corrective measure to this abnormally, Fiere came up with the Critical Pedagogy or Problem Posing theory of education. Comparing the two he wrote, “Banking education treats learners as objects of assistance; problem posing education makes them critical thinkers.”

Whereas the banking model “anesthetises and inhibits creative power,” problem-posing education involves “constant unveiling of reality.”  He also believed that learners must build knowledge as a political act, from their relationship with the teacher and other learners in the classroom, to active, critical and thinking social beings of the society in which they are involved.

The Critical Pedagogy social movement comes from critical consciousness or conscientizacao in Portuguese, which allows for the perception and full exposure of social and political contradictions: “presenting reality as it truly is and not glossing over the truth.” Thus any political failures according to Freire, should be given to learners as they are. Issues of governance and the rule of law must be part of the curriculum. The belief is it will strengthen democracy. Also, Friere saw dialogue as a vital part of successful education. The ultimate aim of critical pedagogy is therefore, emancipation from all forms of oppression.

As a movement, critical pedagogy rejects that knowledge is ever politically neutral. Its advocates argue that “teaching is inherently a political act, whether the teacher acknowledges that or not.” They also continue to insist that issues of social justice and democracy are not distinct. This truth can be seen in the Botswana education system. For why else would one decide to make English an official language and language of education and Setswana a national language, in a country of such rich linguistic diversity? The only reason can be a deliberate linguistic genocide for political reasons: subjugation and control.

Freire believed that education should be rooted on pursuit of knowledge of students not obedience or conformity, thus learners should be free to pose question about what and how they are taught not be “passive receipients” of instruction. The latter he said, makes learners obedient workers “who enter the workforce as passive, noncritical workers”. A phenomenon Batswana would dub, “a wa ja?ee: a ga oje?ee”. Passiveness, which boarders on being a zombie. 

The educator criticised the “banking model” of teaching which he posited, creates an oppressive dynamic between the learner and the teacher saying, “The teacher commands absolute obedience and unquestioning acceptance of her teachings and the

student passively acts as an empty retainer into which nuggets of knowledge are deposited.”

He averred that a critical education is a “problem posing” pedagogy. And in his view, the solution to a problem, should be arrived at by both the educator and the educatee. This kind of teaching and learning produces critical thinkers.

He strongly opposed the vertical, hierarchical relationship between teachers and learners. This relationship is characterised by insecurities and suspicions. The power dynamics in the hierarchy are also oppressive given that the teacher needs to maintain control at all times. This manifests itself through the use of personal pronouns like my and I. ‘…in my class…submit my assignments…pass my tests…you only talk when I tell you to…’

The vertical relationship also manifests itself through the use of corporal punishment as a weapon of control. Locally, in the morning, teachers stand at gates armed with sticks waiting to beat all who are late. Nobody bothers to find out why the learners are late, despite the fact that majority of learners come from poor backgrounds and thus walk great distances to school. Not to mention the fact that they are hungry too… The situation is clearly oppressive and the vertical relationship strengthens the oppression.

“The use of corporal punishment is one of the biggest problems in the Botswana education system,” Polelo and Pansiri- Corporal punishment makes children passive, as they fear being beaten.

When you come across a class of ‘zombified’ learners, know that their teacher beats them. Truth is, an environment where learners are beaten, is not conducive to learning as even when they don’t understand, majority of learners won’t ask.

Freire advocated for a horizontal, democratic and reciprocal relationship where, both the educator and learner learn with and from one another; same as John Dewey’s power sharing belief.

The teacher could for instance, inquire of learners what teaching method and or strategy should be employed, as long as what is learnt is not divergent from the syllabus objectives.

Also, instead of standing in front and telling, the teacher could give groups tasks to work on and later present. Here learners are in charge of their learning and are free to unleash their gifts, creativity and intellect. The other advantage of group work and discussions is that they foster dialogue which is central to the critical pedagogy.

Another oppressive culture in local schools is the language policy: The Botswana Education Policy of 1997 and the Revised National Policy of Education 1994. “These documents are used by teachers to ensure homogeneity and uniformity of the curriculum activities in Botswana schools” according to Polelo. Children and learners are not allowed to use mother tongue in class.

All subjects except Setswana are taught in English. Given the teacher is the only one proficient in English, especially in rural Botswana schools, learners are at his mercy. This has resulted in poor examination results, especially in rural Botswana.

“This practice is a distance away from the principles of true learner-centred pedagogy, because it makes learners fear school”, notes Tabulawa. Concurring, Maruatona argues, “School practices are despotic as opposed to being democratic.”

Fitting into the world dictates that even the most educated can’t question these despotic practises.

“The atmosphere of the home is prolonged in the school where the students soon discover that (as in the home) in order to achieve some satisfaction they must adapt to the precepts which have been set from above. One of these precepts is not to think,” Freire opines.

Educationally Speaking




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