By Kimberly Gregory
Paulo Freire (1970) proposes that liberation requires critical consciousness and creative thought (p.73). Unfortunately, this is something that is lacking in the Malawian education system and this was extremely apparent yesterday when working with some children in the After-school program. After having a long discussion about the six food groups included in the Malawian food guide and explaining the nutritional values of each, the students were asked to invent a fruit or vegetable that they had never seen before. They were also asked to draw it, name it and explain its nutritional values. When I saw that many of them were drawing fruits and vegetables that we had discussed, I reinforced the fact that I wanted them to use their imagination, however only 2 students actually invented and named items that did not already exist. Today, they also demonstrated that they struggle with using their imagination. For instance, when the students were asked to act out what a plant needs to grow, they all imitated the same thing that the first group did.
I discussed this phenomenon with my co-learner and he helped to elucidate what I had just observed. He explained to me that in the Malawian education system, most of the time, the students do not use their imagination to come up with things on their own because they are used to listening to the teacher and doing what they are told. Hence, the educational system in Malawi involves what Paulo Freire would call the “banking concept of education” (p.72). This system is based on the idea that the teacher is the source of knowledge and that they must deposit the “knowledge” in the student (p.72). The reason I write the word knowledge in quotation marks is because, in fact, as Freire has stated, I do not believe that authentic teaching and learning can take place in an “ivory tower of isolation but only in communication” (Freire, 1970, p.77). Thus, mutual activity and mutual exchange of knowledge is needed.
The banking concept of education makes students passive and it limits creativity. It is based on the idea of learning facts and memorizing them. However, to prepare students for today and tomorrow, “curriculum and instruction must change from traditional models based on coverage and rote memorization because this does not develop conceptual, creative and critical thinking which are essential for complex problem solving” (Erickson, 2008, p.7). The passivity that stems from the banking concept of education does not provide the students with the critical tools that are necessary to engage with the world.
Paulo Freire (1970) states that this type of education system suits the oppressors’ interests as it “adapts people to the role as dominated and passive” (p.74). In other words, it does not provide them with the tools they need for their liberation. The teacher-student relationship in the banking concept places students in an inferior position; it requires them to turn to the teacher to acquire knowledge. As a result, they have been conditioned to distrust themselves (Freire, 1970, p.64). They lack the confidence to try and figure things out on their own and this was evident in the After-school program. Freire (1970) goes as far as to say that “ any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence” (p.85). This is evident when exploring the way in which it keeps the local people in the oppressive situation that they are in today.
During my time here, I was to implement and construct a curriculum that continuously engages students in critical thinking. I do not want “content to be an end product, but merely a tool to lead students to deeper thought” (p.12). The more they engage in critical thinking, the better prepared they will to struggle for freedom and self-affirmation (Freire, 1970, p.64). Furthermore, I do not want the students to be subservient to the teacher, but rather create a teacher-student partnership in which both contribute knowledge to the classroom. This type of education has the power to change the current state of violent poverty in Malawi.
Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
About the Blog
Since 2013, students participating in Transformative Praxis: Malawi have been writing blog posts reflecting on their experiences of participating in action research in Malawi. The original blog with the full archive can be found here