Paulo Freire made an astute observation when he said that the teacher-student relationship has a narrative characteristic and therefore in the process of teaching: “The contents, whether values or empirical dimensions of reality, tend in the process of being narrated to become lifeless and petrified” (Freire, p.318). This is the reason why the author contended that a conventional teaching style is ineffective and downright boring.
However, the actual use of narration is not the main culprit; Freire pointed out that it is the “banking” style of teaching that explains the ineffective and lifeless teaching outcome. But when pressed for an alternative Freire’s response cannot be considered as the best solution to the problem. Thus, it is best for teachers to learn to adapt between the “banking” type of teaching and the “problem-posing education” methodology that was proposed by Freire.
In almost every classroom in the world today one can see a teacher speaking to a classroom full of students. The classroom can be “virtual” but still there is one single voice of authority that the students listen to as if under the influence of maestro conducting a symphony.
They nod their head in agreement to every word that comes out of the mouth of the teachers and seldom can one hear a dissenting voice that challenges the ideas thrown to the class. According to Freire, “This is the ‘banking” concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposit” (Freire, p.318). There is very limited interaction between students and teachers.
In reaction Freire said, “Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students” (Freire, p.319). In other words equality must also be demonstrated in the classroom and not just in the political realms.
However, Freire made it clear that “Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other” (Freire, p.320). Aside from the lack of creativity and the inability to inspire the students to go beyond the syllabus, this type of teaching sends a negative message. Freire contends that this system mirrors the inner-workings of an oppressive society (Freire, p.320).
This means using techniques to develop docile minds and perpetuate an environment of conformity and mediocrity. Think of North Korea, Taliban controlled Afghanistan and it is evident that authority figures can produce students that cannot learn beyond what was taught within the four walls of the classroom.
In societies wherein democratic ideals are not part of the norm then this problem is multiplied in a significant manner and produces a society that cannot break free from the shackles of poverty and backward thinking. If Freire is absolutely correct then he can prove that the conventional method of teaching is not productive.
There are many writers and educators who support this view. This is especially true in Third World societies were the evidence of oppression requires no imagination to understand. According to one scathing remark, “Perhaps we should not be surprised that education end up like banking … after all, once the IMF (International Monetary Fund) has squeezed national education budgets across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, it is the World Bank that steps in and offer loans to help fill the gap” (Archer, p.29).
It is a cycle of defeat because money that was loaned to these countries were not put to good use. It seems that the World Bank is part of a scheme to make these countries utterly dependent on loans.
Freire was correct when he said that students must not be viewed as mere repositories of information. If students are treated this way then they will behave like a banking institution, meaning that they are like inanimate objects unable to interact and understand concepts taught them and appreciate them to the point that they can use it to enhance their lives and the people around them.
Freire added, “The banking approach to adult education, for example will never propose to students that they critically consider reality” (Freire, p.320). The most important thing is that no new knowledge is created and obviously this is not good.
The evolution of mankind as a species requires breakthroughs in the science and the arts. There is indeed a need to develop a kind of system that allow students be more creative, to help them develop the skills for problem solving and not just a mode of behaviour adept in the art of memorising data without even knowing how to utilise it to create a better world.
The alternative solution is labelled “problem-posing education” (Freire, p.323). In this system students are made more aware, making them more conscious about the issues and the problems that surround them. According to one commentary, “Through critical, dialogical investigation, participants begin to understand their world in a depth hitherto unknown to them: that which was once hidden, submerged or only superficially perceived begins to ‘stand out’ in sharp relief from other elements of awareness” (Roberts, p.295).
This is in sharp contrast to the teaching style that was criticised by Freire. More importantly, learning is facilitated through dialogue characterised by a symbiotic relationship wherein teachers and students learn from each other.
The only problem of this view is that there are fundamental truths that has to be learned before one can develop the higher cognitive abilities personified by philosophers, inventors, scientists, and creative designers. Moreover, there is the need to establish a learning environment for the purpose of learning fundamental skills and not necessarily the discovery of new knowledge. In this context the narration and “banking” type of teaching methodology has found its purpose.
This can be seen in learning basic skills such as carpentry, typing, baking, weaving etc. It is foolish to let students learn on their own when it is obvious that knowledge had been sifted and clarified through the ages so that no one has to go back to the drawing board and learn how to make a chocolate cake once again. The teacher simply has to make a deposit into the hearts and minds of students or the apprentices willing to learn the basics of a particular trade.
Another problematic issue when it comes to Freire’s ideas can be understood in the context of the recipient. The application of the “problem-posing education” methodology seems only practical when it is used on adult literacy education (Gottesman, p.391). The problem comes to the fore when scholars applied Freire’s theory to K-12 schooling systems (Gottesman, p.391). This simply reinforces the previous discussion that revealed the impracticality of the “problem-posing” technique when used in certain learning environments.
Nevertheless, it must be made clear that Freire tried to delve into issues much bigger than education, “One should certainly look to Friere for guidance and inspiration in thinking about how society can build movements for radical social change” (Gottesman, p.393). This is one of the most important lessons that can be gleaned from Freire’s writings.
The importance of adopting a middle-ground approach between these two types of teaching system can be seen in the study of very complex ideas and concepts. There is a need to have a “banking” system for the sake of having a voice of authority that serves as a useful guide to learning.
On the other hand the “problem-posing” method is also important because in studying complex ideas the learning process has to be left open and not made rigid by those who believe that they are the only “authority” when it comes to a particular subject matter.
Take for example the study of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. This is a topic that requires a great deal of mastery and dedication in the study of physics, astronomy, and mathematics. It would be senseless for a teacher to allow a student with zero knowledge about astrophysics give a lecture in front of a class full of physics majors. With this kind of topic, there is a need for an authoritative voice to lay down the foundation.
If this is not done then the student will waste time chasing after non-related ideas. In other words useless experimentation and duplicate research is eliminated. A competent teacher can therefore guide the students to areas of study that requires further investigation and increases their knowledge by carefully depositing ideas relevant to the topic.
However, allowing the teacher to dominate the discussion is not the best way to go all the way in attempting to learn more about Einstein’s theory. Thus, the teacher has to maintain an open mind and after depositing a great deal of information about the subject, the teacher must then use the “problem-posing” technique proposed by Freire. There must be a two-way communication between student and teacher in order to facilitate learning and more importantly to initiate an action that will hopefully lead to the discovery of new knowledge.
Freire has a point in his criticism of conventional modes of teaching. He was quick to point out the link between oppressive societies and the teaching techniques used in most schools. He said that students have to be more aware about the world and the significance of the concepts and ideas that were taught them.
However, his ideas have limitations because it seems only applicable to adult literacy education and not in learning environment suited for primary schools. It is therefore important to learn how to navigate between the two streams of thought.
Archer, David. “Education for liberation.” Adults Learning 18.9 (2007): 28-29. EBSCO. Web. 4 Mar. 2011.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006.
Gottesman, Isaac. “Sitting in the Waiting Room: Paulo Freire and the Critical Turn in the Field of Education.” Educational Studies 46.4 (2010): 376-399. EBSCO. Web. 4 Mar. 2011.
Roberts, Peter. “Structure, direction and rigour in liberating education.” Oxford Review of Education 22.3 (1996): 295-316. EBSCO. Web. 4 Mar. 2011.