Saturday Features

In pursuit of creative schools

  • Times are changing. Shouldn’t the education system change along with it?
- Jeevan Karki

Nov 11, 2017-

In a Guardian article historian Yuval Noah Harari, the famed writer of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, estimates that by 2050 most existing jobs will be lost to automation. When that happens, many will be forced to seek new employment opportunities and possibly find new jobs every other year. Changing career paths frequently will require the ability to tackle new problems which will require us to think creatively and critically. But has our education system prepared us to face the changing tides of the modern world?

Nepal’s education still adheres to the centuries old system devised by colonial Britain, whose sole objective was to produce people capable of doing little more than routine clerical work.  The fact that we have more job seekers than innovators and entrepreneurs speaks to the fundamental problem in our existing education model.

Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and thinker, in his seminal work Pedagogy of the Oppressed has defined the colonial method of education as a banking concept where “knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing.”  Under this model, the teacher is the subject whose role is to deposit knowledge on to the objects—his students.  The teacher presents reality as a static being, rather than a dynamic process, which can be transformed through action.  As a consequence, the pedagogic action of the banking system inculcates existing social system and power relationships in the society. “The capability of banking education to minimize or annul the students’ creative power and to simulate their credulity serves the interests on the oppressors,” he says, “Who care neither to have the world revealed nor to see it transformed.”

Every child is curious and posses a sense of wonder, but our standardised mode of education, rather than using the child’s sense of wonder to foster a depth of inquiry and an ability to question the world, helps prolong a certain set of beliefs without ever questioning their validity. And since our method of education relies on examination for evaluation purposes, students come to believe that the knowledge deposited by their teachers have a greater relevance than their own inquiries about the world.

This mode of education perpetuates a casual relationship, where students,  because they “ receive the world as passive entities”,  become passive observers, and fail to become agents of their own education and consequently agents of change—they are merely “products,” mass produced, capable of  doing what they are told, but not able enough  to think on their own feet.

The solution to banking concept of education, as Friere proposes, is the problem-posing method, where teacher and the students engage in a dialogue in order to come to an understanding of the concept that is being learned. The dialogue, as opposed to the narrative structure of the banking concept, opens up the possibility where both the teachers and the students can learn from each other.  This method of education was popularised by the Greek philosopher Socrates and his student Plato. Today the problem-posing method is known as Socratic Dialogue or the Socratic Method, and has been adopted by several institutions and countries who are finding a way out of the ‘colonial system’ of education.

Given the acute lack of infrastructure, manpower and policy, it is difficult to imagine any expedient change in the overall system. While it is ideal that Nepal’s education system adopt a new pedagogy, and a new structure for school instruction, it is possible to instill the values of the problem-posing method within limitation of the current curriculum.

As Ken Robinson, the man who gave the famous TED Talk on the need to change the way we think about education, argues in his new book, Creative Schools that transformation and revolutions do not have to wait for legislation, but can emerge from what people do at the ground level. “If you’re teacher, for your student you are the system. If you’re a school principal, for your community you are the system. If you’re a policy maker, for the schools you control you are the system.” Robinson reminds that the core role of a teacher is to facilitate learning which is akin to being a gardener—plants grow themselves but the gardener creates the best conditions for that to happen.

A science teacher while teaching the planetary system could give historically believed reasons on why the sun goes around the earth and persuade the students that it is so, before asking them to think why the opposite might be true. A social studies teacher could show the map of the world and then show students the “inverted” version of the same map—this kind of approach will help students realise that what is taught in school has a epistemological foundation that might be unique to the school’s approach, and there could be other epistemological structures that gives rise to its own set of knowledge.

If we are able to instill problem-posing method in our schools, we will “produce” citizens capable of critical thought who have the ability to emphathise with someone who grew up with a different set of world-views.

- Karki holds an MPhil degree on Education and Development Studies from the Kathmandu University

Published: 11-11-2017 08:35

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