It has been said that I am naive, Utopian, idealistic and unrealistic – well, I take that as a compliment.
I have total faith that the key to improving the world is education. I believe that access to quality education is a human right. I am convinced that quality education nurtures a whole person with an independent, inquisitive and critical mind. I am sure that through this education we can change the world for the better. Unfortunately, this is an education we are losing.
This year, whilst studying for an MSc Globalisation and Development, I have had the courage of my convictions pushed to the limit by discovering the realities of global education. Schools become businesses, students are human capital to be invested in the economy, knowledge is passed on like a commodity and not questioned, and those most in need are systematically excluded; especially girls. Education teaches that our value is measured by our grades, there are right and wrong answers, any failure or deviation is punished, and we are individuals responsible for our own success. This form of education creates inequality, suppresses learning and divides society.
But all is not lost! Along with this crippling critique of current global education, I discovered alternative education. What inspires me now, and gives me the courage of my convictions, is the pedagogy of Paulo Freire, the theatre of Augusto Boal, and belief in education for liberation and social change. Alternative educations that value agriculture as highly as algebra, where students ask questions rather than memorising answers, and where diversity and different abilities are celebrated, are educations that unite us in a community, rather than dividing us.
The work that, for example, Theatre for a Change does in education is not dictated by a curriculum, but created through participation, therefore it is relevant and useful to participants. Personally, I don’t remember the periodic table or all the kings of England. What I needed to be taught was how to register to vote, what my labour rights are and the nuances of mortgages and council tax. This is why participation is so important – when participants create their own curriculum, and learn in ways familiar to them they learn much more and are motivated to continue learning. By acting out scenarios, questioning the situations, understanding different perspectives and then physically rehearsing alternatives; the participants are more prepared to use these skills in their own lives. It is also a lot more fun than the periodic table (!)
I can’t escape the thought, however, that alternative education practices in rural communities in Brazil, Malawi or India are not going to combat the pervasive global education coming from the West. Unless we teach ourselves that we are not always right, that we are worth more than our economic output and that we are stronger together than we are apart, then inequality will persist throughout the world. Seeking alternatives to global education is a big challenge, but slow and steady wins the race.
“Never for the sake of peace and quiet deny your own experience or convictions”. – Dag Hammarskjold
Now I am heading back to the classroom, keen to meet naivety, to strive for utopia, cultivate idealism and achieve the unrealistic.