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January 12, 2019

The corporatisation of education

Opinion

January 12, 2019

A major objective of education, which most schools of thought subscribe to, is to broaden mental horizons, ensure personal and societal development, and emancipate people from various constraints. The debate about the role of education came into sharp focus after 9/11 when madressah education was brought under direct scrutiny.

Needless to say, a large number of madressahs teach from archaic books in an atmosphere of extreme pedagogy. In some madressah, the style of teaching leaves limited space for reflection, independent evaluation, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence – values that are considered to be central to the spirit of Islam. There are only a few exceptions where the curriculum and pedagogy encourage a degree of scepticism and disagreement.

While on the topic of madressahs and the bigotry associated with them, many of us tend to overlook the often skewed tunnel-vision coaching at so-called elite schools that claim to impart modern education through the contemporary teaching apparatus. In the wake of neoliberalism, privatisation and corporatisation flourished rapidly and turned education into a profitable business.

Corporate education follows the assembly-line structure and, in the true spirit of neoliberalism, focuses on profit maximisation, mass production, and the exploitation of labour. However, a significant component of the mass-production model is the quality control of a product, which is conspicuous by its absence in our schools.

In most educational institutions, especially in school chains, efforts are made to produce students of a certain calibre. Some schools have made sure that students use similar notebooks, stationery, school bags and other items in addition to wearing a particular uniform.

At the level of pedagogy, an interesting development has been witnessed in the recent past: teachers are given copies of pre-designed lesson plans, which are prepared by the head office of the school. The practice is based on the melting-pot approach whereby pedagogy, which is decided by the school’s head office, leaves no room for diversity. Teachers are expected to dissolve their individual methodologies in the melting pot to merge with the command-centre approach.

The desire to make teachers act and behave in complete unison with the school’s head office is orchestrated by the ‘competent authority’, which denotes the centre of power that protects the interests of school-owners and acts according to their desires. In a corporatised model of education, the faculty is generally reduced to mechanical robots who work as they are instructed.

Ali Shariati, an Iranian scholar and sociologist, describes such a robotic worker in the following words: “He becomes an instrument, simply a piece of equipment for production and his effort is confined to a monotonous job which he must do day after day and in doing, suspends all the characteristics which makes up all his personality”.

Should teaching be made so mechanical that the personal freedom of creativity is compromised? Can teaching be sterilised to the extent that it becomes robotic, bereft of the element of personal reflection, so that anybody can qualify for it? In his seminal book ‘Education Lost’, David Solway writes that “real teaching is a mystery, a rite, a drama, whose purpose is to establish the conditions in which a kind of transformation can take place in the mind of the students: from monotony to interest, from ignorance to understanding, from rote to memory, from repetition to curiosity, from description to cohesion”.

But the other aspect is that they see themselves as helpless consumers of knowledge as their only role is to implement set guidelines. Unfortunately, such structured, routine teaching is unable to produce students with critical-thinking skills. Since teachers are discouraged to bring a sense of individuality to their teaching methods, they also expect students to think within strictly-drawn mental structures, making out-of-the-box thinking an unwelcome and unpardonable act.

These teachers promote a society that inhibits any difference of opinion, and discourages diversity, pluralism and creative initiatives. It was this form of education that was criticised in Ivan Illich’s book ‘Deschooling Society’ for failing to liberate minds, petrifying individuals and blinding them towards alternative possibilities.

And the worth of opposition or disagreement for constructive debate is devalued. In his book ‘Border Crossings’, Henry Giroux writes: “oppositional paradigms provide new languages through which it becomes possible to deconstruct and challenge dominant relations of power and knowledge legitimated in traditional forms of discourse”. It is the appreciation for this kind of an opposite viewpoint that is missing in the extreme versions of madressahs and elite education.

If we are interested in an education system that promotes critical thinking, reflection and tolerance for disagreement, and enables us to appreciate different viewpoints, we need to revisit restrictive pedagogical practices and give teachers more academic freedom to exercise their creativity. We need to realise that one-dimensional teaching is bound to produce students with rigid and skewed thinking.

The writer is an educationist.

Email: [email protected]

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