Education, Development, and Change
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Can Schools Do It Alone?

By Shahid Siddiqui
Monday, 09 Nov, 2009

The promise of democracy is present at best in a project of resistance and possibility, one that is propelled by both a dream and a collective practice that makes justice, equality and freedom operational for all members of a democratic social order.
— Henry Giroux

THE process of socialisation owes its existence, strength, validation and perpetuation to a number of social institutions like family, schools, religion, the judiciary, media, etc.

In the past when the media was not that powerful and schools used to occupy the centre point in the process of socialisation, the processing of reality was largely done in schools.

In those times schools and families didn’t have distinct boundaries to divide them. Similarly there was not a divide between religious and secular subjects. Consequently schools used to enjoy the extra power lent to them by families and religion. All these functions — the shaping of minds, the construction of realities, the validation of ideas, and the certification of knowledge — were performed by schools.

A number of rulers and imperial powers used education and schools to attain and maintain control over the masses by turning them into academic drones. A more familiar example can be found in British India when Thomas Macaulay, in his well-known educational document called the Minute (1835), used all his efforts to advocate that English is the best language and English literature is the best literature in the world and that Indian people must be exposed to them instead of Sanskrit and Arabic.

The insistence on the introduction of English language and literature and undermining and ridiculing Sanskrit and Arabic was not just a linguistic issue. Macaulay was aware that language is a strong identity marker of individuals and nations and it is crucial to replace indigenous languages with English language and literature in schools in order to “attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.” This challenging task could only be achieved through schools on two counts: a) the school as an institution was very powerful during those times and b) the outer realities were favouring the British.

Things have changed drastically in the last three decades. On the one hand the schools’ capacity of construction, validation and perpetuation of knowledge is dwarfed by the overarching impact of the media that has an advantage over schools in terms of perpetuating its message in less time to more people and in a far more interesting manner.

The construction of reality that used to be the main domain of schools is now being successfully carried out by the media, like television and cellular phones. The process of learning is much more swift, engaging and effective as the children sit before a TV set where ‘realities’ are exposed to them in a subtle, innocent, but consistent manner.

This change of significance in social institutions has a direct implication for teachers, teacher educators and researchers as most of them are still expecting too much from school and teachers to bring social change in society. We need to realise that reform in the small circle of education can only be effective if the outer realities are not dominant. Progressive writers realised that the process of resistance would be ineffective if we are unable to realise the complex nature of the pressure of the outer socio-political realities.

The process of resistance needs a more diverse approach to take up the challenge of social change where different social institutions need to be involved and utilised. Keeping in view the enormity of the challenge and relatively limited position of schools, it is asking too much from schools to bring social change.

Since schools cannot do it alone the older strategy for resistance and social change needs to be revisited in the light of the changing times, changing realities and changing roles of social institutions. There is a need for diverse and inter-disciplinary pedagogies to communicate the message. These pedagogies need to make use of the media and diverse informal sources of education. This would also mean that we need to have a greater and more meaningful linkage with the other mediums, disciplines and communities to attain the socio-political objectives of education, i.e. development, equality, freedom, justice and critical citizenship.

The writer is Director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

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