David Pearson: Politics, education and progress
I read with great interest the article titled 'PNP by default' in The Gleaner of Thursday, February 11, 2016.
The article discusses the findings of a study done by Dr Herbert Gayle which suggests that there is a great possibility that the ruling PNP will be returned to power in this month's general election, largely because of high levels of disinterest by voters in the political process. A sizable portion is fed up with the Government, but do not believe that the Opposition presents a viable option, thus, they have decided to stay away, since nothing will really change.
I find this alarming, since this seems to be the mentality that has gripped so many other areas of our national consciousness. Run-down communities will remain that way, because nothing is going to change. Many have given up on seeking employment (or even making themselves more employable), because nothing is going to change. Violence will continue at high levels, because nothing can change it.
God forbid, but we won't seek medical attention for the cancer that ails us, because it's not going to change. Sadly, what accompanies this mentality is the idea that once our basic needs are met and we can enjoy ourselves, we will be all right. Hence, there seem to be shrinking numbers of success stories of people overcoming the difficulties of life to achieve big things for themselves, their families and communities. Might I suggest that this is a sure sign of a continued failure of education at all levels?
Brazilian educator Paulo Freire has declared that the education of colonised persons is conducted from the standpoint of a banking concept, where the teacher is the font of all knowledge, and the student is an empty receptacle waiting to be filled. So the teacher deposits his/her knowledge into the empty head (bank vault) of her students, and at the appropriate time, the student merely needs to reproduce that which was deposited in order to demonstrate mastery of a particular subject. This is one sure way of preparing people for employment in the establishment, but it does nothing to help them change their social realities, in the main.
Instead, Freire posits the concept of dialogical education, where through problem-posing and collective problem-solving, students are made to question every piece of knowledge in an attempt to arrive at workable solutions to the social situations. This process, called conscientisation, helps people to name their reality as it exists and then change it for the better.
As I look at images of political rallies on TV, visit our classrooms at various levels, and attend various churches, I see where our concept of education is that of "telling". Certainly, we have prepared more persons willing to accept the status quo than to change situations for the better. Anecdotally, this seems like the very reason there is no serious education taking place in many places in our country, since what exists benefits those in power. Teachers, preachers and politicians alike seem very reluctant to have their charges question what they say, and so they resort to "telling", as though they are the only ones with workable solutions.
Here is news for everyone - those solutions have largely not worked.
Going forward, we need a more robust education practice that helps our people to be more socially aware problem-solvers. At the tertiary level, we are seeing more and more students who are capable of not much more than recall of information, and not even this they do well. Too many of our lettered people are educated dunces when it comes on to the dynamics I lamented above. Why should we expect any better from the rest of our people?
It is in light of the foregoing that I challenge all our educators to rethink their practice, for the good of Jamaica's development in our neo-colonial reality. What do the theorists say about the way things should work? What explanations do they give? Do these explanations provide workable models for us in our own experiences? Would we adapt them or propose other solutions? Why?
I bet if we did all our education this way, we would have a more engaged populace, willing to do more for themselves and their country. Instead of waiting for handouts from politicians or pastors, or stand on the byways of life with upturned palms, more persons would be engaged in finding solutions, and Jamaica would begin to see a turnaround in our fortunes.
And therein lies the challenge: Are the powers that be willing to lead our people into this process that will make it harder to drop a box of beer, or "$5,000 and a box of food", to make up numbers to swing elections? Are they willing to give up the blind loyalty of mass consciousness that produces only short-term results that lead to the worsening of our homeland?
David Pearson is acting academic dean at the Jamaica Theological Seminary.