Our understanding of education is flawed

Dear Editor,

Too often we find ourselves blindly supporting endeavors when we have no real understanding of the implications of such. Last letter, I drew attention to the national high school diploma and the national average. This week, I think it necessary to further elaborate on what is happening in our classrooms: the banking concept.

While a student at the College of The Bahamas, I remember advocating against this atrocity daily. Almost a decade later, I am now guilty of engaging in that which I detested so much.

The teaching and learning experience is often characterized by boredom, disinterest and apathy. It is not uncommon to hear the remarks of students highlighting the disdain and purposelessness of their classes, but where is the lie?

The banking concept, according to Paulo Freire, is characterized by the following:

• The teacher teaches and the students are taught;

• The teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;

• The teacher thinks and the students are thought about;

• The teacher talks and the students listen meekly;

• The teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;

• The teacher chooses and enforces his/her choice, and the students comply;

• The teacher acts and the students have the illusion of action through the action of the teacher;

• The teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it;

• The teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional authority, which he or she set in the opposition to the freedom of the students; and

• The teacher is the subject of the learning process while the pupils are mere objects.

If we were to think in terms of colonialism, it is quite clear that the teacher occupies the role of the oppressor and the student the oppressed. This system of education allows teachers to control the actions, thoughts and the realities of our students.

Almost every single class is taught with the goal to pass an exam. We ingrain the idea of BJC or BGCSE so deeply into the minds of our youths that they are unable to comprehend that they can take control of their own lives by simply thinking critically.

It’s funny that education is supposed to be the process of teaching and learning, a mutual sharing of information, yet oftentimes, students aren’t allowed to question, and when they do, it complies with the limited, prepared content we are told they need to be successful.

This concept is aptly titled the banking concept because education has become an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. From grades seven to nine, students receive daily deposits of information to pass their BJC subjects; from grades 10 to 11, when they don’t pass, they get more deposits of BJC information. Then in grade 12, they are basically scrambling to receive enough deposits to pass the BGCSE. What is alarming, the deposits gain no interest. There is no building on what is taught. Students are not seeing the value beyond the next sitting of the national exam. Once the information is withdrawn during the sitting, the account is empty. The student is left with nothing of value.

A student of mine describes school as a “thief of creativity and a destroyer of self-expression”. He referred to the teaching experience as students are “choked full of assignments that involves information they’d instantaneously forget after doing it”. The icing on the cake was his metaphor that school is “just a Windows XP operating system, outdated and unable to cope with this quickly changing technologically advanced world”. When I read his words, no doubt was I proud.

We talk about using education as a vehicle for social change, but our understanding of education is flawed. We see it in terms of examination passes and awards instead of developing a person. The Ministry of Education claims, “The specific focus of the Department of Education is to prepare young people to become active, globally competitive, caring and compassionate citizens with the capacity to continuously improve the quality of life for themselves and others.”

At the same time, the standard of success is set below the mark of any level of critical knowledge. It is all a farce. You can use as much pretty words as possible to describe what your ministry is doing, but the reality is as ugly as can be imagined.

School has become the home of many disgruntled students, complacent teachers and a curriculum devoid of any useful information for developing a child holistically. Another student of mine asked how is it possible that the content we’re teaching today is the same his older sister learned 17 years ago. I didn’t know how to answer that question. We are obviously the pawns in a bigger picture that completely disregards the fundamental purpose of education.

At some point we must abandon the educational goal of deposit-making and replace it with a goal to develop critical thinking skills. Unless we are looking to produce clones, I fail to see how a system as this will ever produce critical thinkers, educated citizens or nation builders.

Olive Green

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