Humanizing pedagogy for social transformation

Published On: June 23, 2020 01:00 PM NPT By: Laxmi Prasad Ojha and Janak Raj Pant

Laxmi Prasad Ojha and Janak Raj Pant

Laxmi Prasad Ojha and Janak Raj Pant

Ojha is a lecturer at Tribhuvan University and is pursuing PhD at Michigan State University. Pant is working as an Education Advisor for Asia Pacific Region in an international NGO

Including incidents such as Rukum massacre in the school curriculum is important to help students know how different forms of discrimination, including racism and casteism, have become a part of our society.

In his seminal book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” the famous Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire states that education should be a means to "the practice of freedom”, suggesting that those engaged in education—both educators and students—should find critical and creative ways to participate in the process of transformation of their society. Although published more than 50 years ago, Freire’s ideas on the role of education and educators are equally relevant at present.

The recent incident of the ruthless killing of six youths in western Rukum has badly visualized the role our education system is playing towards critical thinking and humanization. This coincided with the time when the rest of the world is also fighting against racial discrimination after the killing of George Floyd, a black man, in the US. While there is an intense discussion in the Western world regarding the need to educate both children and adults on racial issues, Nepali educators continue keeping mum instead of addressing the issue of caste-based discrimination through education.

If taken seriously, educators can take this unfortunate incident as an opportunity to reflect and improve their pedagogy to free our society from injustice and discrimination in the future. For this, education should be used as a tool to help individuals become good humans, realize the values of their existence and be capable of contributing to justice. We need to humanize our pedagogy.

Humanizing pedagogy is about using education as a tool to transform society by developing awareness about the inequalities prevalent in society. It helps students understand that every individual is equally worthy regardless of their personal background, capabilities, or anything else and inspires them to act accordingly.

In this piece, we discuss the role of three major stakeholders in humanizing pedagogy for social transformation.

What teacher educators can do

Teacher educators can play an instrumental role in humanizing pedagogy. They can help teachers be better equipped with the skills to engage learners in the classroom activities that consistently support them to challenge unequal societal structures and systems which reinforce social inequalities.

It is equally important to provide the right information, tools, strategies, resources and meta-language to the pre-service and in-service teachers enrolled in teacher education programs. Thus, teacher educators can expose classroom teachers to the readings that examine historical roots of racial and caste-based discrimination.

Teacher educators need to encourage teacher education colleges to promote diversity and ensure that people from the lowest socio-economic groups such as Dalits and Madhesis have a fair share in both the enrolment and classroom participation.

How teachers can act

Teachers are considered the harbingers of social change and they have done so several times in Nepal, especially to bring political changes. It’s time they take responsibility to lead the social transformation to make our societies free of racial and caste-based discrimination. Teachers should have the courage, motivation and pedagogical tools to help minimize the structural inequalities existing in the country.

Teachers teaching in American schools have been sharing their curriculum, resources and reading lists that they use to teach about racism to their children after the Black Lives Matter movement started last month. Unfortunately, teachers have failed to come up with such resources in Nepal.

Is it because we have not realized our power to transform society through education? Or is it simply because we do not have a sense of responsibility towards that direction? In any case, it is too dangerous for our society if the educators do not come up with progressive pedagogy to transform the minds of the children and youths through education.

As teachers we should understand that including incidents such as Rukum massacre in the school curriculum is important to help students know how different forms of discrimination, including racism and casteism, have become a part of our society. This will help students know and critically reflect on the social history of their country.

As a teacher, you can contribute by designing a humanistic pedagogy. For this, you can form groups in your class that are composed of students from diverse families so that students learn to embrace people who have different social and cultural backgrounds. As part of co-curricular activities, you can also engage students in different community awareness projects.

Teachers can support children to overcome the stereotypes related to caste and ethnicity. Similarly, if they see any student showing a discriminatory attitude towards another kid from a different ethnic group, they can provide close counselling and continue to monitor the changes in their attitude and behaviour. Providing counselling service to the kids traumatized by the racial and caste-based discrimination is another way to support this process.

As an educator, you can include reading materials that discuss the social inequalities and caste-based discrimination. For example, teachers teaching literature can include novels or stories written on the theme of racial or caste-based discrimination. You can arrange to dedicate a section in the school library on pertinent social issues, especially those related to racial and caste-based discrimination and its consequence.

Raising anti-racist children

Equity and non-discrimination is non-negotiable and before Nepal grapples with acts of hatred and antagonism for the people from the minority community, especially the Madhesi Dalit, ethnic minority community, Nepali society has to act promptly on the issues of different forms of discrimination.

For this, parents can play a pivotal role by raising their children in the right way. As the family is the greatest source of most of the (discriminatory) values that are instilled in young minds, positive parenting can have a tremendous impact on this social movement.

As a general practice, parents from non-Dalit and non-Madhesi caste groups are very unlikely to discuss the issues of racial and caste-based discrimination with their children in Nepal. Even if they do, they talk about how they belong to the superior social caste groups and some other groups are inferior to them.

This needs to be changed immediately.

First, parents should educate themselves about the issues of racial and caste-based discrimination. After that, you can help your children grow with a healthy ethnic and cultural identity without developing a feeling of superiority or inferiority. Help your kids develop positive self-awareness and anti-racist identity. Rather than hiding the topics related to social exclusion from your children, discuss them openly with your kids.

Encourage the kids to speak up and speak out to take positive actions to end the discrimination. Do not forget to teach love, kindness, compassion, tolerance as basic human traits to the young minds.

A long battle

Caste-based discrimination is an age-long problem in Nepali society. Although there is some progress towards minimizing this evil practice, it is a long battle before we can eradicate its roots. Simply mourning and condemning the murder of the Dalits and any other victims of racial and caste-based discrimination is not enough. It’s time for us as educators to step in and contribute to the fight against this injustice that is deeply rooted in our society.

If we do not talk about racism and caste-based discrimination as a part of our curriculum and everyday practice now, these malpractices will always be a part of our society. A society that does not treat its members based on their merits but discriminates based on their birth can never be considered a civilized society.

There is so much work to be done to dismantle the systematic racism and caste-based discrimination in Nepal to create such a society. But if we can focus on adopting appropriate approaches to educate our kids to shape their young minds, we can ensure that we are in the right direction to bring social harmony and create an equitable society.

It is imperative that our education system is thoroughly reimagined and restructured for social justice and equity. American writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde has rightly said “revolution is not a one-time event”. We need to work continuously to bring much needed social transformation.

Creating an inclusive society guided by justice is a monumental task. Education, no doubt, is the only means to achieve that in the long run. Educators and parents can collectively work to reform our communities to value and protect the lives of people that are vulnerable.

Ojha is a lecturer at Tribhuvan University and is pursuing PhD at Michigan State University. Pant is working as an Education Advisor for Asia Pacific Region in an international NGO


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