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

Education and Media

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui
Monday, 01 Feb, 2010
“…[W]ithout a political project, there can be no ground on which to engage questions of power, domination, human suffering and the possibilities of human struggle.” —Henry Giroux

IN the tradition of the critical paradigm in education, Giroux, like Paulo Freire, considers education to be a political act that has an interactive relationship with society.

Educationists, in this paradigm, believe that education is not an inert and passive medium at the mercy of societal preferences. Education, in its formal mode, has been a potent force that has been the property of schools which in the past acted as a strong social institution.

In the eastern tradition schools were used as maktabs where religious education was part of the curriculum. Thus the strength of schools owed to their multifaceted use and their close liaison with two other social institutions, i.e. religion and family. With the passage of time, however, mainstream schools lost the support of these institutions. The result was that schools that had a powerful role in shaping society found their efficacy and scope reduced. The parallel change that was taking place was the emergence of the print and electronic media.

In a relatively short time, the media turned into a powerful force impacting the process of socialisation and social change with much more efficiency and speed as was expected from schools. The media had three distinct attributes in terms of communication. It could get across a message in less time, to a wider audience, beyond specific physical boundaries, and in a far more entertaining way. On the other hand most of our mainstream schools and their classrooms are boring places, lacking in the much-needed elements of motivation and interest.

Some educationists realise the gradually limiting role of educational institutions and the rapidly enhancing one of the media in bringing change at the societal level. Consequently there are calls from some renowned scholars like Henry Giroux, Michael Apple, etc., to extend the pedagogies by making links between schools and out-of-school sources, like the media, for effective and positive results. There is now public realisation of the potential role of the media as an aid to the goal of achieving educational objectives.

It is this holistic approach to education that can take on the enormous challenge of social improvement. How can we use electronic media programmes for promoting and improving? In Pakistan we see programmes offered by a couple of universities on distance education. On the whole these prgrammes are devoid of any interest and motivation. They have very low viewer ratings.

Now let us look at some positive examples where there is a blend of education and fun. One good example is the National Geographic channel which also has programmes for children. Another example worth mentioning is Sesame Street. Similarly MAD, shown on an Indian channel, is an interesting and informative programme for children.

How is our electronic media faring as far as educational issues are concerned? The majority of talk shows in Pakistan focus on national politics. There is a meaningless race for programme ratings and no or little space is left for discussion of educational issues. Similarly TV plays are stuck in melodrama mode. Films in Pakistan have fallen prey to stereotypical themes.The practice to stick to the routine recipe emerged from a sense of insecurity and a laidback style. The medium of film has rich potential to be used to raise some important educational issues. A recent example is Indian star Amir Khan’s movie 3 Idiots that challenges the robotic teaching-learning practices, recall-based assessment system, the imposition of parental choices on students, enhanced and stifling academic pressures on campus, and questions the aims of education. All this is done in an indirect way. The movie must have agitated a number of viewers over some fundamental questions about the educational systems in most developing countries that are producing students in factory model mode.

The challenge of social change is so enormous that it cannot be tackled through the schools that are engaged in promoting power structures. The role of the electronic media becomes more crucial in South Asian societies. For the innovative educational use of media a renewed strategy is needed that includes a more creative, systematic and holistic use of the media, especially the electronic media, to raise, discuss and debate educational issues and create social awareness. This would need a conscious plan to set aside time for programmes for the promotion of education. It is through this holistic approach that we can expect positive changes in our educational system and society.

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

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