Critical Pedagogy



Sitting idle is not an activity that attains my appreciation. On an inactive Saturday afternoon, I was grazing through the scores of Pakistani television channels when promptly I had to reverse back to a previous channel that was airing an advertisement. The ad had a message which inspired me to ‘think’. The significant idea put forward was that every graduate will get his/her degree only when they teach in any village for at least three months. Isn’t that brilliant? I jumped from my sofa in excitement. Good teachers are required to alleviate the foremost cause of our suffering which is lack of a cycle in which ambition is the path to success and determination is the conduit. This cycle doesn’t come as in-born talent but is gradually learnt as a skill. A teacher here plays the role of a catalyst.

In today’s Pakistan, everyone is flying their own kite of faux eminence. The raison d’être behind this calamity is lack of ambition and deficiency of good teachers in the country. “Ambition should be made of sterner stuff,” said Mark Anthony over Caesar’s assassination. As a commodity, has it changed its texture over the centuries? What exactly contributes to this inspiration? Is it need for more money, the collection of status symbols, greed, avarice, good taste or style, the last two being frequently mistaken for acquisition. Ambitions move in different channels, from the quick buck to the fancy-schmancy designation, to the accoutrements of office to crystal and porcelain and brand name cars and watches. Only the rich say the poor are happy. The poor probably don’t have much of an opinion on it since no one has ever cared to ask them.

By the very token ambition is also an element that the 21st century sets upon a pedestal. If you are not ambitious, you are dead fish flowing with the tide. Ambition obviously means winning. But at what cost? Do we weigh cut-throat, no-holds barred, go-for-broke options in the same balance as structured and carefully planned career planning. And even as we keep trying for the next rung, do we have the appropriate educationalists to send the right message out to our children?

Lack of quality teachers is the sole contributor towards social and economic backwardness of Pakistan. A common Pakistani knows well this means crisis, disaster, tragedy, pain, corruption, discontent and turmoil. Faith in the ongoing education leadership has become scarce in Pakistan. Naïve as most people were a few years ago, it was easy to lure them into education policy promises that were never executed and they swayed with political whiffs. But somehow, perhaps the failure of most of us in the international market has brought forward a strong realisation that now the test of basic education success ought to achieve the results of positive transformation and development. It is imperative to come out of the clichéd status-oriented mind-set.

Does a common Pakistani really want impetus called knowledge? Can the teaching quality of today help individuals effectively cope with change? Are the citizens empowered enough to make competent choices? Sanity dictates we must be specific about what kind of future we want for generations to come. The birth of Pakistan generated a bitter dilemma about the form of government and the role of institutions that ultimately bred dichotomy between attaining degrees for serving apathy and accomplishing genuine education for ameliorating ambition.

It is usually said that we like to live in the past, but if we examine carefully our thoughts and actions, it’ll be found that we live more in the future. Yesterday is gone forever and cannot be reclaimed but tomorrow is certainly there for us to win or to lose. The choice is ours entirely.

One cannot always be idealistic. What did not work for six decades might not work for the next. The tide needs to move towards squaring off, a pragmatic approach in the wake of fading idealism. It is not education but the quality of teaching that makes a common Pakistani disinterested towards schools. Abhorrence, envy, ethno-religious strains, lust for power and faithlessness in our socio-economic and political system is what we have experienced over the years. This repugnance is the product of illiteracy which takes birth from the womb of ill-equipped teachers. As a result, there is a dearth of truly representative leaders in the present times. Where this leadership would spring from is hard to say. Perhaps middle class is the panacea, but even that is not possible as long as we don’t take an initiative to improve the quality of teachers and introduce modern teaching techniques at primary and secondary level.

In today’s rapidly changing world the role of schools and educators has become exceedingly diverse. With the advent of computers and the Internet, the student is an increasingly active participant in the teaching-learning process and not merely a passive recipient of knowledge. The modern-day educator, in turn, must assume the role of a designer of learning experiences and one who facilitates in the learning process. He who will not apply new remedies must expect new evils because time is the greatest innovator.

What is most important for us is to know that in an era that aggravates everyone to mull over things in a brilliant fashion, we are still not thinking. It’s important for students to start cogitating and questioning even if the need be to apply the Socratic Method. They say a good teacher is not the one who teaches but the one that helps the thinking hormones flow recurrently. Pakistan is in dire need of such teachers that can cobble together the loop holes and coin new generation minds in a way that they develop consciousness of freedom and connect knowledge to power. Let’s take inspiration from the concept of critical pedagogy (philosophy of education) that was given by Henry Giroux. It means educational movement guided by passion and principle to take constructive action.

As Socrates said, “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.” Only teachers are capable of stimulating the thinking nerves in a student’s mind and it is only thinkers who have the ability to invigorate revolutions. The Pakistani news media, politicians, critics, and common man are forced to ask this question: Can we ever be successful in eliminating the social and economic backwardness in Pakistan? Considering the socio-economic importance of the country this question has become an international debate. The United States of America is one of the most progressive and stable nations, with a fledgling education system and bright prospects. Instead of criticizing the worst, let’s appreciate and learn the best from the best.

Like in his 1997 State of the Union Address, President Clinton issued a “Call to Action” that included as a priority improving the quality of teachers in every American classroom – a similar “Call to Action” is required in Pakistani classrooms today. Respecting the concept of egalitarianism all human beings have the right to education and growth in the best possible way. We need to bring to limelight the often overlooked techniques that provide children with the knowledge, information, and skills needed to compete in a complex international marketplace.

I am convinced that nature finds its balance somehow or the other. Each of us has his/her own idea as to what lies at the root of losing the balance between education and excellence. Michelle Obama, in her article: Teachers Are a Key to Successful Economy, writes “And when we think about the qualities that make an outstanding teacherboundless energy and endless patience; vision and a sense of purpose; the creativity to help us see the world in a different way; commitment to helping us discover and fulfil our potentialwe realize: These are also the qualities of a great leader. Today, more than ever before, we need precisely this kind of leadership in our classrooms. As the president has frequently said, in a 21st-century global economy where jobs can be shipped to any place with an Internet connection and children here in America will be competing with children around the world for the same jobs, a good education is no longer just one road to opportunityit is the only road. And good teachers aren’t just critical for the success of our students. They are the key to the success of our economy.”

Let’s start working and develop techniques inspired by developed and successful models. I believe that acceptance of other cultures is healthy. And healthier still when one does not hesitate to criticize one’s own culture. In a few years’ time, we will be forced to question ourselves: “Why have we forgotten the delight of contentment?” In pleading for refurbishment I feel profound sadness that a great deal of damage has already been done. If we fail to change the present state of affairs in Pakistan, from what roots shall we generate our future generations? Growing up is not going to be easy. When was it, I wonder?

At the same time I also believe that the standard of education should be a tailored suit that fits our culture and not a ready-made one imposed on us to wear without our will. The dilemma isn’t with education as a medium; it’s with the quality and seriousness towards it. We expect too much of a tool, forgetting that specific skills are required to use it well. A country with a standard education system, honest administrators and quality teachers is less likely to face decay.

In order to churn out teacher-leaders, we need to figure out the pedestal whether children get motivated or are they scared out of their minds by peer and parent pressure in Pakistan? Failure is a spectre. Unfortunately even doing well is not good enough. Parental ambition is almost handed down

Teachers play an important role but mediocrity seeps their ranks, too, and often just getting by is seen as good enough. Average has become a dirty word and very often much hidden ability is lost because no one has the time to search for it or discover it in the melee that passes for mass education. It is gradually being realized that we are moving into times where nothing is going to be secure  change will be the only constant phenomenon!

Tomorrow’s children will work in a highly computerized-networked world, where they will be required to make constant adjustments not only to the technological change but also to their beliefs and lifestyles. The rate of change will be unprecedented in human history. Children will require more help in acquiring the ability to anticipate change, to make adjustments, and to be more tolerant of diversity. And as push comes to shove and the survival of the fittest manifests itself there will be much causality.

The basic dilemma is lack of admittance to modern teaching trends. I don’t deny the importance of higher education but everything holds an origin. We need to sow the correct seeds, at proper time to get our desired crop. The need of the hour is to promote the quality of primary and secondary education in Pakistan which cannot be accomplished without apposite and trained teachers.

Without understanding the viewpoint of the most successful teachers, Pakistan’s quest for a progressive society may diminish with a lack of educational awareness, involvement, and understanding. In most of the public classrooms of Pakistan, students are taught just the basics without any concept of creative and critical thinking. These lessons form the basis for future interpretation of what escalation demands. Current is an emergency state. Considering the depth of the unforeseen crisis we need to come up with a project that can provide a groundbreaking opportunity to understand the framework of promising teachers.

The previous and present regime has opened many avenues and has undertaken many responsibilities through the New Education Policy to pride Pakistan’s seriousness to be a part of vigilant and aspiring global partner. Yet ambiguity prevails and the sole reason for this is lack of determination as a result of which today we are all standing, sitting and sleeping in a protégé of backwardness.

It is time to think and appreciate the teacher’s role in disseminating knowledge making students aware of their capability to make choices. The theory of critical pedagogy also includes the relationship between teaching and learning. Perhaps, we have lost the faith in the value of growth. In the coming times great demands are going to be made on the quality of teaching and only those nations able to produce teacher-leaders and contend with its adaptability to altering epoch will cope better on the map of the world.

Pakistan is a beautiful country rich in natural & human resources and yet very little is being done to develop and utilize these blessings. The human resources can be utilized only if we step forward to enforce rigorous teacher training workshops keeping in view the international teaching standards. This is a long-term but the only solution to curb the prevailing terrorism and corruption in the region. The current situation is worrisome and we need to shift our focus from short-term to long-term planning.

The instability between the public and private schools has done the country no good over years. Not much has been done in terms of excellence, economic disparity and sustainable development. Vagueness and doubts fight a war of policies and do little to resolve the situation. I propose the education ministry to enhance the quality of education at Primary and Secondary levels in Pakistan by focusing on teachers training and development programs. All of us have been through a similar reverie analogous to the one in the advertisement in the opening vignette.

The entire quandary can be solved if we strike a responsible sense of balance. In order to substantiate we need to start at the grass root level and with the intention of coping with the modern world challenges, Pakistan needs to engage in promising educational reforms. One of the key reforms in this context is the development of professional teachers. The country is facing dearth of professional educators. This will further promote teaching as a profession just like any other profession e.g. medicine, engineering, designing, finance, etc. Pakistani teachers deserve new opportunities for growth, exploration, learning and development.

There are still ‘…miles to go before I sleep’. We need to apply critical pedagogy in order to provide our children with tools that help them be responsible citizens and strengthen democracy. In order to form a just society we need to deploy education in its best form and I am confident that we will raise a pristine generation of Pakistani leaders in all domains. These leaders will shape-up a nation with first and foremost liability to ‘think’ and ideology to ‘learn-teach’. It won’t be an easy triumph but failure to take action at this hour will lead to perilous consequences in years to come. In the words of Bertrand Russell: “It is amazing how much both happiness and efficiency can be increased by the cultivation of an orderly mind, which thinks about a matter adequately at the right time rather than inadequately at all times.”

We need change and solution. As in the words of Albert Einstein: ‘Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.’ And my humble request is to treat our country well because undoubtedly it was given to us by our parents; moreover it is loaned to us by our children. This indubitably makes ‘pedagogy’ a prime prerequisite for present times.

Sadaf Abid is a qualified entrepreneur specialist (ITC-ILO), member of Future Leaders of Pakistan (FLP), anchorperson for a socio-political TV show, and a lecturer at a university in Ajman.

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