By Mukut Lochan Kalita
It was Paulo Frere who along with bringing into focus the issues involved in the education of the disadvantaged sections of the society, introduced terms like ‘pedagogy’, ‘oppressed’, etc into popular discourse. There are very few people involved in the education sector who have not seen or at least heard about his masterpiece ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’. For last three-four decades, it has become almost fashioble to talk about pedagogy and also to pay lip service to the education of margilized classes. It is tural too, as education of the disadvantaged classes - which forms the majority of the population in most of the developing as well as developed countries - is a major challenge and it demands a certain kind of pedagogy.
But the first question is - what is pedagogy? Simply put, pedagogy is the theory of education, i.e., how do people learn. Is it same for all? Or, can learning principles can be different for different contexts and different setting ? Though, since the time of Socrates, there has been many epistemological theories, i.e., hypotheses about how pupils learn, we would like to keep our discussions confined to the constructivist approach which our country supports (tiol Curricular Framework, 2005) and mostly use examples from our own working in the education sector in last two decades. It is essentially a learner-centered approach. Constructivists strongly feel and advocate that a learner mostly constructs his/her own knowledge through interaction with his/her surroundings which may include the teacher or the textbooks. Most importantly, it is not a teacher-centered or textbook-centered method of teaching. Learning, or education, here is a two-way process. Learning is the prerogative of the pupil as it happens inside the mind of the learner. The teacher doesn’t and can’t play the know-all, do-all role here. Nor, is it believed that the minds of the learners are empty receptacles to be filled in with the knowledge available in the books. The learning is more experiential in ture. The learner is encouraged to experience and reflect upon that experience to interlize that learning. Here, the role of the teacher is to provide the learner with appropriate learning experience or learning opportunity, i.e., to act as a facilitator of learning.
Currently, the intertiol community is advocating shifting the emphasis from ‘Right to Education’ to ‘Right to Learn’ as it is more of an understandable and achievable right. Right to learn is synonymous with learning experience or learning opportunity. The right that every child has is of the right to get appropriate and adequate learning opportunities. Every school, every teacher and every conscious parent has to ensure that.
Thus seen, the pedagogy of the disadvantaged child is no different from the pedagogy of any other child. He/she too requires appropriate and sufficient experiential learning opportunities. Can we ensure that the children from disadvantaged background get adequate learning experience? If so, how? Let us take some concrete example. What disadvantages a child may suffer from? Disadvantages can be in terms of economic vulnerability, social position or parents not being in a position to invest much time or money for the child. It can also manifest as lack of confidence or some other persolity traits negatively impacting ‘formal’ education. Let us consider a still more specific example – a girl child from a flood/erosion prone area, whose parents, who were once margilized farmers, are now forced labourers. Apart from the mental trauma that all the family members have undergone because of the changed circumstances, the parents themselves are leading a hand-to-mouth existence and can hardly spare much time for the children, for the girl or about her education. So what kind of education will work there? Unfortutely, in today’s society, this scerio is not very uncommon.
We believe, strange though it may seem, the child in this particular case, doesn’t suffer from any disadvantage pedagogically! And she doesn’t require any different pedagogy than we have discussed above. For her, the required learning opportunity is not necessarily in terms of books or other teaching learning materials. For the experiential learning to take place, the most important part is what experiences the learner has, and how the learner is encouraged to reflect upon that and apply that in some other context. Most of the learning is through interacting with one’s surroundings. So here, the teacher can encourage the child to observe his/her surrounding, make experiments, talk about them and alyze them. This will sharpen the learner’s basic learning tools.
The other curricular objectives of language, mathematics and environmental science can be introduced or explained using learning experience available to the child in that context. In fact, in such circumstances, the teachers and those involved in education in such circumstances are more at liberty - and hence more at advantage - to apply experiential learning principles. As learning, at later stages, is mostly about going through the cycles of experience - reflection and application again and again, soon the learner as well as the teacher/ education activist will gain much practical experience, insights and a certain degree of elegance in what they are involved in.
Such an approach, we believe, by teachers - both government and private - as well as educatiol activists and entrepreneurs can transform our society educatiolly quite radically yet within a short time. The government, too, may shift their attention towards such a pedagogy of the disadvantaged.
Last 20th of June, Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi who addressed a meeting in the State, emphasized upon the need to educate our deprived children who have been virtually robbed of their childhood. All the major stakeholders including the state and Central government reiterated their commitment to this cause. But, all involved in the field know the major barriers involved. Learning, after all, is persol and the problem is one of pedagogy.