By Jack Bara, GLOBUS Correspondent
A fundamental aspect of development is education, both in one’s personal growth, as well as the progression of society. Many individuals and cultures even revere it. However, in such an abstract form, education is vulnerable to never get questioned, nor thoroughly critiqued. This can lead to ‘modern’ schooling becoming restrictive and out-of-touch.
The Banking Concept of Education
The predominant educational framework is based on the “banking concept of education” (Freire, 1968) wherein knowledge is prioritised, atomised, and “deposited” into children. This information is often divorced from any lived experiences. For example, students will often rote learn kings of England. However, they will fail to be educated on how the British parliamentary system works. This method presumes the superiority of some knowledge over others – historical kings over contemporary politics – and the necessarily passive role of the student as a receptacle; “the more meekly [they] permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are” (Freire, 1968). This concludes in the idea that knowledge is to be known, and not used, as students are left with decontextualized packets of knowledge which bear no immediate or existential relevance.
Personally, as a person of colour (PoC) and first-generation immigrant, I have always felt a disconnect between my identity and my education; from the authors in GCSE English and the World Wars of history, to even to my undergraduate degree in physics. For example, few schools teach empire extensively. Often, they merely parrot packets of information, without critically analysing its impacts and oppression of colonial subjects. There are then further issues of structural and individual racism that permeate universities and schools (Weale, Batty and Obordo, 2019), which can leave PoCs feeling alienated, unwelcome and actively discouraged from pursuing their goals.
Furthermore, we are taught to value certain forms and productive modes of knowledge over others. At university, this may materialise as only learning a certain canon of authors and sources. This may include, for example, covering only European and American scholars in Philosophy without exploring philosophers in Asia and South America. Even more, however, we are taught from school to value only formal academic sources – essays, books, articles – and to undervalue many informal sources of knowledge – local communities, oral traditions, lived-experiences and art. The banking method thus bestows not only disconnected silos of information, but also a rigid and singular perspective of knowledge.
For example, as I researched this article, I unwittingly only looked for newspaper articles and academic papers, almost forgetting one of my favourite albums, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998). It explores the ways in which Lauryn, a then young and new mother, learns about love and motherhood, but not through formal schools, rather through her own lived experiences. The album further offers possibilities of what schooling could be, through snippets of classroom discussions on love. My own mother has taught me so much about community, activism and education, and continues to be an integral part of my identity and being.
However, we can see how schools and universities are becoming results-driven. For example, the National Student Survey has been heavily criticised and boycotted across the country for acting as a tool in the further marketisation of higher education. Moreover, there have been an increasing number of schools expelling students falling below ‘adequate performance’, in response for greater emphasis on league tables. Hence, the banking method presents an easy metric of success. In essence, they produce ‘good’ exam results, or produce ‘good’ employees. How we define ‘good’, can be susceptible to politicisation, which can culminate in factory schooling.
Across many indigenous regions, there exists an intense pressure to develop and compete in the global economy. ‘Good’ and ‘success’ are here measured as economic development, and as conformity to a dominant culture. The latter historically stems from, and continues to exist through historic, hegemonic imperialism. To facilitate this, factory schools are formed as residential schools that forcibly take indigenous children from their homes and inundate them with an oppressive, degrading and transformative ‘education’.
At these schools, students are housed in poorly supervised hostels, with unsanitary living conditions, malnutrition, high disease rates and gross neglect. This can include various forms of mental and physical trauma from their educators; from violent and sexual abuse, to racist narratives intended to dehumanise them, such as “kill the Indian… and save the man”, asserted by Richard Pratt, founder of the USA’s first factory school, Carlisle Indian Industrial School. This can culminate in repeated attempts at escape, or even death (Survival International, 2019).
In 2019 Survival International released a landmark report on the phenomenon, detailing the historic and contemporary effects on indigenous children. They found that factory schools ‘aim to “reprogram” tribal and indigenous children to fit the dominant society’. In other words, factory schools take in children as raw resources and mould them into model citizens, cheap labourers, pliant consumers (Black, 2010) – as well as blind patriots.
Factory schools are created with particular political goals in mind. For example, as in the case of Brazil, indigenous peoples have always been seen as obstacles to extractive industries. Indigenous people play a critical role in caring for, and defending, the environment (Jordan 2019), with 50% of the world’s land held by indigenous peoples, and 24% of climate-warming carbon stored in collectively held tropical rainforests (Veit and Reytar, 2017). By separating and removing the ties to their heritage and culture, states can divorce peoples from the lands and the environment, thus opening it up for exploitative business.
Factory schools are also used to instil a sense of nationalism, through indoctrination, to suppress critics of the state. In West Papua, the westernmost region of Indonesia, Papuans have resisted Indonesian colonialism. In order to suppress this resistance, Papuan children are sent thousands of miles to radical Islamic schools in Jakarta, to be trained as future missionaries (Survival International, 2019).
These assertions of control and dominance are all done under the guise of education, development and aid. Admittedly, there are many cases when the educator does not explicitly intend to control and dominate. These can often be well-intentioned missionaries, tourists, and Westerners, who ‘fell in love with the people and culture’ and want to help ‘improve’ their lives.
However, there is hope. For the West, this means challenging our educational institutions on what is deemed ‘good’ and ‘successful’. This means fighting for a curriculum which is more congruent with lived experiences, and promotes creativity and critical thought.
For those beyond our borders, the most radical and fundamental way to resist oppression through schooling is to leave indigenous education in indigenous hands. This means reclaiming their languages in education, allowing for self-determination, and respecting the rights and cultures of their people. This means states must actually abide by the UN Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), that promises land-autonomy and control of indigenous education.
If you are interested in learning more about the role of colonialism in education in the developing world watch Carol Black’s hour-long documentary Schooling the World, available online, which focuses on the case of Ladakh, India.
Black, C. (Director). (2010). Schooling the World[Documentary]. Available at:https://youtu.be/oDxYWspiN-8 [Accessed 18 Oct. 2019].
Freire, P. (1968) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Translated by M.B. Ramos, 2017. London: Penguin Classics, pp.44-59, 98-140.
Hill, L. (1998). The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. [CD]. New York: Columbia Records.
Historymatters.gmu.edu. (2019). “Kill the Indian, and Save the Man”: Capt. Richard H. Pratt on the Education of Native Americans. Available at: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/4929 [Accessed 26 Oct. 2019].
Jordan, L. (2019). The Escazú Agreement: Protecting Latin America’s Environmental Defenders. GLOBUS. [online] Available at: https://globuswarwick.com/2019/10/17/overcoming-impunity-environmental-defenders-in-latin-america/ [Accessed 26 Oct. 2019].
Survival International (2019), Factory Schools: Erasing indigenous identity. Available at: https://assets.survivalinternational.org/documents/1810/factory-schools-full-report.pdf [Accessed 17 Oct. 2019].
UN General Assembly. (2007). UN Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples. New York. Available at: https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf [Accessed 26 Oct. 2019].
Veit, P. and Reytar, K. (2017). By the Numbers: Indigenous and Community Land Rights. [Blog] World Resources Institute. Available at: https://www.wri.org/blog/2017/03/numbers-indigenous-and-community-land-rights [Accessed 26 Oct. 2019].
Vieru, S. (2017). ‘Students: boycott survey to stop cynical plan to raise fees’. The Guardian. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jan/05/students-boycott-survey-to-stop-cynical-plan-to-raise-fees [Accessed 26 Oct. 2019].
Weale, S. and Adams, R. (2018). Inquiry condemns school that barred A-level pupils. The Guardian. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jul/10/london-grammar-school-st-olavest-eated-students-like-collateral-damage [Accessed 20 Oct. 2019].
Weale, S., Batty, D. and Obordo, R. (2019). ‘A demeaning environment’: stories of racism in UK universities. The Guardian. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/jul/05/a-demeaning-environment-stories-of-racism-in-uk-universities [Accessed 24 Oct. 2019].