Education by Design

Picture a classroom containing 50 students. They are sitting in rows of tables facing a blackboard on which a teacher frequently writes and draws while pacing back and forth. She speaks directly from the textbook which pertains to the class they are taking. As she talks at them, they frantically write down everything she says in case she happens to mention something that is not in the textbook they are expected to memorize. Every week they are to complete the given homework assignment, and they are tested once a month on the material she has expounded upon for the past thirty days. Not once does she engage in conversation with them or ask them their thoughts on the matter. Rarely does she stop to answer questions the students might have, and when she does she resorts to the textbook to help her explain, yet it only mimics her original explanation, ultimately leaving the question unanswered. There is a distance between the teacher and her students which remains constant. This is my idea of an Idealist classroom. And this picture is all but too common in traditional classrooms. This was my Physiology class.

This is the “banking” concept of education according to Paulo Freire. In his essay concerning ways of teaching, he discusses how students are never engaged in discussion with their educators, let alone with each other about what they learn; they are “oppressed” by their teachers—the “oppressors.” Unfortunately, it seems to be as though more teachers approach their students with this “banking” concept instead of using the antithesis: the “problem-posing” method.

While reading about the Idealist philosophy, I found myself having a strong sense of aversion for the staunch and rigid ways of the classroom and the demeaning manner by which students are regarded and treated. And as I progressed through the readings on the other philosophies, I found myself drawn to and assenting to the refreshing, out-of-the-box approaches of the student-centered Existentialist and Pragmatist philosophies. I was on the fence with the Realist philosophy, its heavy emphasis on Math and Science and where students are taught factual information for mastery. With science high schools cropping up in the metro and being a product of a science high school myself, I find it hard to find fault in this system. It worked for me, and the approach combining theory and practice makes perfect sense to me. But I also realize this is not for everyone. I envied the freedom and enjoyable learning experience accorded to the students in the Pragmatist and Existentialist classrooms. I admired the Pragmatic teacher’s focus on hands-on problem solving projects and agree with the belief that having students work in groups is a highly effective teaching method. Existentialism, for me seems like a breath of fresh air. It sounded very eclectic. I found myself acquiescing to the Existentialist view that students are not objects to be measured or standardized, yet I also realize it’s is going to be hard to stand and fight a system that imposes standardization. Standardized tests have their own value, merit and uses; but I also believe that the results of these tests are a good indicator of one’s intelligence, ability and worth nor is it an effective predictor of a person’s success in the future.

In doing research for the Group discussion Forum, I found that in the highly complex education system there are various combinations of the different approaches to teaching and probably no ‘pure’ Idealist, Realist, Pragmatist or Existentialist teaching. Still, the tendency in the education system of today is toward the teacher-centered approach. Testing is viewed as a prudent way to determine the success or failure of the teaching and learning process.

I can conclude that both of the approaches student -centered approach and teacher-centered approach have the advantages and disadvantages. It will be better if it is used at the suitable time. In the studying and teaching process, a student and a teacher have the same composition. They must be involved in this process. The teacher-centered style is more associated with a more formal and direct way of teaching.  This style can help to ensure that students are learning what they need to learn, though the teacher telling them what to do and think, but by using this method there can be more control over the class and the amount of social distractions would decrease, leading to lower noise levels and possibly even a higher level of academic achievement.  This is only dependent on the settings and also the teaching style may not be suited to some students.  This method may also more suited to shy and insecure students. In the student – centered classroom, the teacher does not rely on preset formulas or magical recipes; rather, it requires involving students in the teaching process. Success in the classroom meant slowly implementing new techniques and thereby adapting students so they would understand lesson goals and objectives, value communicative tasks and activities, generate topics and choose materials, work cooperatively, and identify their own learning strategies and styles. I believe that such an environment can be achieved in any classroom context. In my opinion, the studying and teaching process need a healthy balance between the two styles, too much of one may lead to an imbalance in what the student may need to know and learn.

Although I have had the privilege of being taught by “problem-posing”, at least for a time, but not all students have that opportunity. In my opinion, the “banking” concept of education should not be eradicated entirely but rather used appropriately as needed and dictated by circumstances. After all, teachers attend a class to receive degrees in their chosen field and become experts in that sphere of knowledge. It is acceptable then that the teacher who is already the expert in a subject should be the one to import that knowledge to the students. But this should be done sparingly and at limited doses. I think the dilemma we face now is how do we find a balance between the “banking” education approach and other approaches and how do we change the way school teachers teach and how students learn. Students have become “’containers’ and ‘receptacles’ to be ‘filled’” by the oppressors who pose as teachers and who have never thought in the problem-posing way. Therefore, this has affected their philosophy of learning. Should these students become teachers or educators, they themselves will act as oppressors to their students. How do we go about proposing change? It is a more complex process than simply telling them to expand their minds. It is time consuming. Not only do the students have to think in a new way, but the teacher must teach in a new way. Their methods of teaching mimic the way they have been taught, therefore, they must now think and conduct their class in a new way.

The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.

-Abraham Lincoln

The roles of students and teachers are not necessarily what needs to be altered. The role of a teacher and a student will always remain; however, it is the distance between the roles and authority of the two which should change.

How can students be expected to think for themselves and come up with new ideas and reasoning if the teacher is held in a position of “know all”? I think it is essential that the teacher have a position and a role which is regarded with authority, yet must in some way be able to connect with the students. When the relationship between the teacher and the student grows closer, the movement away from the “banking” concept will grow simultaneously.

I believe that “Teaching is about Learning”. This means that to improve teaching I must focus on the learning needs of the future that will be shaped by today’s students. Learning is not something that can be defined as a procedure; learning is something that occurs in a rather unstructured and ad-hoc way. However learning can be built into structures and processes. As we make new connections between known concepts, add new strategies, link those new concepts to old concepts, then we begin to learn and our body of knowledge grows.



One thought on “Education by Design

  1. You have said, “Learning is not something that can be defined as a procedure; learning is something that occurs in a rather unstructured and ad-hoc way. However learning can be built into structures and processes. As we make new connections between known concepts, add new strategies, link those new concepts to old concepts, then we begin to learn and our body of knowledge grows.”

    At first, for me, the first two statements seem confusing. However, by looking at the context of the whole last paragraph, I understand that what you’re proposing is there should be continuous modifications or innovations or adjustments on all the learning materials, concepts, and strategies, in order to realize learning success and intellectual development not just for students, but also for teachers who should never stop learning.

    Education by design – what an excellent reflections and propositions you made.


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