Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Students Who Want Banking Education and Related Challenges to Problem-Posing Education

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_108


In Pedagogy of the Oppressed and other works, Paulo Freire conceives education as a political act that takes place in contexts marked by unequal power relations. His elaborations of these views and their pedagogical implications have influenced generations of educators who have sought to liberate or empower their students to reconstruct and enhance society through teaching and learning processes. In particular, Freire’s concept of “banking” versus “problem-posing” education illustrates how ideology frames practices in schooling (Freire 1970/2000). According to this view, the banking educator spoon-feeds so-called objective, abstract knowledge to students, and the students are responsible only for memorizing and reiterating the educational “truth” back to instructors. On the other hand, the problem-posing educator works hand in hand with students more as equals, to collaboratively identify problems in society that matter to both parties and generate solutions to improve spiritual and material life for all members of society. Although Freire cautioned against the possibly uncritical export of his views to global contexts that might contrast significantly with the Brazilian settings, he himself primarily worked within (Freire 2005), this framing of education as a relationship of power between students and teachers can be seen to undergird contemporary pedagogical trends around the world, echoed in such discourses as experiential learning and student-centered and outcome-based education.

Given the popular interest in progressive education in philosophy of education worldwide, much recent research has explored how different aspects of Freire’s work can help enhance education in diverse cultural, political, and geographical contexts (see, for instance, Peters and Besley 2015). Outside of Freire’s Brazil, settings marked by colonialism and/or mass oppression and inequality of indigenous populations are particularly explored in such work, given that decolonization of society through empowerment of students and communities is one of Freire’s major themes. Yet in considering Freire’s work in such diverse environments, interesting counterexamples and complexities have been identified in implementing Freirean problem-posing education. In particular, recognizing students as equals and valuing their views and interests are essential to a Freirean approach to pedagogy. Yet some innovators have observed challenges in realizing these ideas in global classrooms, which are related to students’ expressed or apparent interests in passive transmission-style education, aimed at neutral facts and objective knowledge. This can lead a Freirean educator to ask what pedagogy “for the oppressed” entails in practice, where students claim to want a kind of banking education! In other contexts, the power relationship between teachers and students is more complex than that portrayed initially in the dichotomy of banking versus problem-posing education.

This entry focuses on challenges contemporary educators and philosophers of education have observed in implementing a kind of empowering student-centered, anti-banking education aligned with Freire’s thought. It also considers the role of hope in Freire’s work. The aim of this entry is not to suggest a singular resolution to conceptual and practical difficulties educators face today but to draw attention to complexities of Freirean themes and explore how a progressive Freirean educator might round out their critical understanding of Freire’s views and their educational implications in relation to some major predicaments in contemporary pedagogy and education.

The Paradox of Students Wanting Banking Education

Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire 1970/2000) elaborates how the inequality and oppression of students in authoring schooling experiences leads to their systematic disadvantage over time. Freire describes banking education on political, relational, and epistemological levels (1970/2000). First, banking education is politically aligned with the interests of the elite or privileged in society in Freire’s view. While students and the mass of disadvantaged members of society have little say regarding curricular content, pedagogy, or learning goals or outcomes, banking education reflects the will of powerful members of society, who wish to keep the status quo of inequity and oppression in place. In terms of relations, unequal power positions are embodied through the teaching-centered classroom environment. The teacher and his or her thoughts and views are at the center or the “front” of classroom focus, and thus that of student aspirations and labor, as Freire observes. Students face the teacher as individuals, and the teacher has a one-to-one relationship with each student, wherein the teacher assesses each student according to top-down standards. Students stand in relation to one another only as competitors in a material context in banking education. Knowledge, it follows, is used nearly as a tool against students, against their collective flourishing. Schooling does not normally empower them as a community, as Freire sees it, but serves to maintain the unequal political-economic status quo, although it is expressed as neutral and objective.

Student-centered, problem-posing education, or “pedagogy of the oppressed,” is the opposite: students should have an equal say in education’s goals and features, their experiences and values are the focus of practice, and their views, in acts of constructing meaningful collective understanding, are conceived as valuable knowledge. Though Pedagogy of the Oppressed has a clear Marxist sociopolitical orientation, focused on class conflict, that is not palatable across all contemporary contexts today, its student-centered educational perspective has resonated quite broadly with many theorists and teachers across diverse societies in recent decades. Its influence can be seen in student-centered statements on pedagogy, echoed in national- and international-level policy documents, that regard classrooms where students are active in social construction of knowledge and where their interests and background experiences are considered as more productive to enhance learning (Jackson 2015). Such statements reflect the recent popularity of the view that empowering learners entails listening to and considering them fully as humans, in contrast to traditional teacher-centered approaches that trace the banking-education classroom power relation.

However, many educators also observe today how pedagogical concerns can get split from curricular and measurement issues in contemporary education, maintaining schooling environments that are not entirely student-centered from a Freirean view, though they are described as student centered in reform discourse. They observe that content knowledge is, across a great variety of educational settings worldwide, rarely developed by students or teachers in local, as Freirean endorsed. Instead, across diverse setting standards are organized increasingly at an international level, to enhance educational accountability and transferability and mobility across systems (Rizvi and Lingard 2010; Berman et al. 2007). Furthermore, in so-called student-centered contexts, teachers can be seen as accountable and therefore as the key focus for scrutiny and intervention (such as through professional development processes), rather than students. Unlike the basic banking education framework which casts teachers as powerful and students as powerless, teachers also report feeling like pawns in this case! They are held to account, like their students, to higher-ups from this alternative standpoint. As their success or performance hinges in part on the work of students, some suggest that the assumed power relationship of teacher and student in the banking-education formula is inverted in contemporary student-centered education (Jackson 2015).

Furthermore, Freire’s own view of the teacher-student relationship in everyday educational spaces is less binary than the basic framing of the two in banking education initially suggests. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire notes that so-called oppressors are also victims of dehumanization, as the oppressed are, within oppressive systems. For the empowerment of both, the liberation of the oppressed is essential. Yet this liberation does not depend on liberation by oppressors but by their self-emancipation, as Freire contends. This liberation, authored by the oppressed (in a new harmony with former oppressors), has an empowering and humanizing impact on both. In later works (2005), Freire also observes that complicated and inverse power dynamics can be found in classrooms between middle-class teachers and elite students, reflecting a nuanced view of learning relations in education, rather than a simple binary approach.

Major challenges for practicing problem-posing education follow from the recognition that teachers are not all powerful in designing education and enhancing educational opportunities. In contexts where banking education has been commonly used, educators may struggle with balancing power relations. On the one hand, Freire’s theory suggests that one must strive to change him or herself through envisioning a new kind of classroom climate, as a teacher may not have experienced liberatory education as a student. A related situation is faced by Freirean professors and teacher educators, who may struggle to persuade teacher education students to see a student-centered practice as feasible (see Budge 2015; Neumann 2015). People tend to view as essential to education features from their own school experience. If a teacher experienced a teacher centered or banking model of education as a student, he or she may feel uncomfortable with implementing a different style in his or her own class. He or she may fear a new approach does not count as proper education, as has been seen among teachers facing various educational reforms generally. On the other hand, a framework where students are active in constructing knowledge and generating social problems and solutions also depends more on students’ willingness and ability to express their views. Thus, educational reformers in diverse contexts note that changing pedagogy in the course of an individual’s overall formal education can be met with (perhaps unwitting) resistance from the student. If students do not count their views as knowledge or valuable due to their past educational experiences, this may fuel resistance.

There are also situations where teachers have less power than students in the first place in the educational system, contrary to the view that banking education is the de facto state in schooling. Teachers may feel at the mercy of students as the latter’s achievement in standardized tests increasingly is used to measure their own work performance. Alternatively, there are cases where students may resist teacher authority and knowledge, having greater political or material power in society. The discourse of student-centered versus teacher-centered education (banking vs. problem-posing education) supposes that teachers are powerful within a society, but this does not hold true across societies worldwide nor within all segments of a society. In elite schools and in societies where many educators are relatively disadvantaged, teachers can face students refusing their knowledge, views, and/or pedagogies. As student-centered or problem-posing education is dependent upon active student participation, such students can reject problem-posing education in favor of banking education.

The United Arab Emirates has a context of empowered students who want banking education. In this society, local students are elites compared to migrant laborer teachers in schools (Jackson 2015). It is difficult to apply a Freirean framing here. When teachers are migrant laborers coming from outside the society, it is not straightforward that their particular pedagogies are aligned to appropriate visions of indigenous empowerment. Where cultural differences across host and sending countries are clear, local students may see it as in their interest to reject the influence of foreign or global interventions, in seeming alignment with a decolonization orientation as elaborated by Freire. In such a case, it would seem that banking education could be demanded by students who want to resist undue outside cultural influence on their lives, while a problem-posing education is a globalist incursion on students who may not clearly experience harmful oppression or inequity (Jackson 2015).

This situation also brings to mind how problem-posing education ultimately requires more of students, intellectually and emotionally. Problem posing can make individuals vulnerable to despair, as real-life problems are complicated and hard to resolve. Such realizations can lead one to feel bleak regarding the impossibility of resolving problems once and for all (Roberts 2016). Problem posing in the classroom can also bring out conflicts across students, who may not all face or experience problems in similar ways. This creates more complex classroom dynamics than those in the contrasting, presumed neutral, teacher-centered classroom, for both students and teachers.

From a Freirean perspective, such labor may be worthwhile, to change society for the empowerment of all. Yet as Freire notes, students may be socialized before entering the problem-posing classroom toward banking-education attitudes about schooling and society. In this case, a teacher meets with their “false understanding of the world” (Freire 1970/2000). This also presents a problem for a progressive educator: if empowerment requires the equality of the teacher and students, relying on a dialogue where both parties’ experiences, values, and interests are considered, is it reasonable or coherent for a Freirean educator to judge students’ views as false or naïve? Acts of authoritarian judgment of, and the desire to correct, false understanding risk retracing the traditional, banking view, wherein the teacher knows best. How an educator can encourage students, without exerting undue will, thus remains a challenge for many Freirean educators and philosophers of education in conceiving of and practicing problem-posing education.

Freire writes of these and other challenges without offering anything like a recipe to resolve them (1997). In light of such concerns, he does encourage educators to remain hopeful in the quest for education as a liberatory act of societal reconstruction. In Freire’s writings, hope can be seen as an essential element in the quest for humanization that he regarded as part of what it means to be a human, unfinished and not determined (Roberts 2016). Freire saw problem posing and human desire to resolve problems through increasing understanding as natural parts of what it means to be human. The processes of dialogue, accompanied by the ongoing practice of dialogic virtues of compassion and empathy, humility, open-mindedness, and honesty, always have as its purpose problem posing and problem exploration in Freire’s view. Starting a dialogue that aims to enhance mutual understanding is therefore more critical to humanization and mutual empowerment of educators and students from a Freirean perspective than alleviating false consciousness authoritatively.

Some, including Freire himself, have suggested that faith is implied in such processes. There is no guide or linear progression. Freire would assert that such a notion is contrary to problem posing within authentic contexts that is essential to pedagogy for liberation. Rather, there is a process of increasing mutual understanding around issues of social significance that leads to some exploration of what can be done in the future, as well as identification of further problems and challenges. When faced with the difficulties of implementing problem-posing education in tough circumstances, teachers pursuing dialogue for better understanding of the context at hand, including their students as individuals and their lives, may find that they need to rely on hope and faith. Such hope and faith are seen from a Freirean view as more human or natural alternatives to cynical reversion to banking education, for example, or giving in to student desires. Such “advice” (to have hope…) might not be seen as practical to the most proactive educational reformer or innovator, who wishes to turn things upside down in the classroom at a rapid pace. Yet Freire did not see reversing the status quo or token reaction as solutions to the challenges of education in society, in his work. As humanization and empowerment are relational, having hope and encouraging hope in others can be seen from a Freirean lens as more modest first steps toward an appropriately reconstructive form of education

Freire’s philosophy of education has inspired educators around the world, and his model of banking versus problem-posing education has had a particular impact, as the former model resonates with many people’s own educational experiences, while the latter symbolizes a conceivable educational utopia. Yet despite its attractiveness in the abstract, the model of pedagogy for the oppressed and problem-posing education can be quite difficult to implement in classrooms. It is not just a matter of educators handing over power in contemporary education but of both educators and students gaining greater power over their lives and labor. As a utopian vision, it can be challenging to implement a kind of education one has not experienced or to participate in it as a student with contrasting past experiences. Finally, students and educators may retain attraction to banking education for a host of pragmatic reasons: it is easier, more comfortable, less risky, and less emotionally and intellectually taxing. This raises a question of how educators can implement problem-posing education when students may express desire for banking education, which seems to paradoxically demand that teachers use banking education to respect students within a problem-posing orientation! Though Freire offers no recipes, the importance of hope in educational endeavors remains vital in such impasses, according to a Freirean view. As we are not finished beings but possess hope as essential to our quest for humanization, exploring possibilities relationally remains important despite such major challenges.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Hong KongHong KongChina