Power of letters, strength of education
A book written in 1970 in Portuguese by Paulo Freire: a Brazilian priest (an exceptional name of in the field of education), raised huge response in the world. English name of the book is Pedagogue of the Oppressed, theory of education of the oppressed. This year is the golden jubilee year of publication of that historical book and beginning of centenary of Paulo's birth. This book is considered revolutionary because it uprooted a century old idea about education and introduced a new way of thinking.
In ancient time education was thought as a matter of gift. The teacher delivers or distributes education sitting on a high alter and students sitting below, bending their heads, carried piece of knowledge silently to fill up their empty pot of knowledge. In ancient India, students had to take lessons in Gurugriha (house of the teacher). A residential school called Gurukul (house or ashram of the guru) was run by a Guru. These ashrams or gurugrihas worked as educational institutions. In every ashram one or more gurus taught the students science, mathematics, politics, literature, grammar, martial arts etc.
Students resided there, acquired knowledge and return to their respective places after a certain period. Words of these Gurus (teachers) were considered accurate. Slandering a guru was considered as a sin. The Vedas were thought to be beyond doubt and certain. Smriti (the scripture of memory) was to be followed mandatorily. Instructions given by gurus were beyond questioning. Even after the glow and flow of knowledge during renaissance, philosophers like John Locke believed that at the time of birth mind is a tabula rasa (blank slate) and human beings fill it with ideas as they gain experience.
Disowning such idea Paulo said that knowledge is never a matter of gift of distribution. New flame of knowledge arises out of conversation among students and teachers, through question, answer and counter question. He termed traditional form of education a banking system and in opposition to it he introduced conversational or dialogical method. Keeping Socrates in mind he marched more forward and tried to explain that education does not mean to preserve lump of knowledge as capital. Rather, it is blooming of conscience and to grasp a piece of the world through every word. His another book Literacy, Reading the Word and World was published in 1987.
Paulo started working with using a word or code. For example--flavella (meaning slum in English) is a code. Breaking the code through conversation rooms in slums, their components, lifestyle of sum dwellers, their sources of earning, mutual relationship, health hazards, unhealthy sanitation system, community life and other related matters came forward. Every time conversation begins with new words and syllabus is automatically developed. Words here are not simply combination of letters and not confined to literal meanings but indications of practical matters and hard realities of life. Applying this process Paulo made all inhabitants of a village in Portugal literate within 50 days.
For another instance, if conversation begins with the word brick, after some time it no longer remains confined to a mere lump of burn rectangular mud. It runs from brick to brickfield, then to labour, from labour to male and female, then to their range of work and amount of wages, discrimination of wages between male and female labours etc. Gradually serious matters like exploitation of owner, deprivation of labours, unhealthy working condition, lack of arrangement for recreation, no provision for treatment, environment pollution, are included within conversation. At one stage labourers sighed that they build bricks but they can't live in brick-built houses.
In spite of such success autocratic rulers of Brazil expelled him and he had to pass 15 years in exile. During this period he worked with the urban and rural poor in different countries of Latin America. He used to say, "Jesus has sent me to the poor and they have transferred me to Marx." Inspired by Marx, in different articles Paulo has said that education means improving conscience and acquiring the power to realise. Through this process the poor will find out the reasons of their deprivation and the ways of emancipation. Education, the Practice of Freedom, his another famous book was published in 1976.
Such a different method of teaching is never liked by ruling class. State or establishment normally dislikes or doubts any new idea. Simply for introducing non-traditional method of teaching Socrates had to die. Idea of education of Rabindranth and Gandhiji was neither appreciated nor accepted in independent India. Even Shantiniketan (now known as Viswabharati), established by Rabindranath, is far away from his idea (learning from life) of teaching. English translation of Pedagogue of the Oppressed was published by Penguin in 1972. Since then it created huge response and till 1982 new edition was published in every year. Paulo was being invited from different countries. His method was followed in some places of Europe and America. Like Socrates he also believed that dialogue is the most fruitful factor towards learning. Through conversation teachers and students can proceed towards changing and developing themselves.
During exile Paulo came to India. Gandhist educationist J P Nayar was highly inspired by Paulo's thinking. Some small organisations worked with Paulo's idea in different corners of India. Once conversation began with the word ghar (literally a room). Slum children of Kolkata painted a roof, a sheet of pink or blue polythene from their experience. To them ghar means jhupri (small room made of bamboo, tree leafs earthen tile on roof etc.) where they were born and brought up. To prevent rain, a polythene sheet on roof is a luxury for them. On the other hand, rural children told that not only they, ducks and cocks also reside with them in their rooms. Even their pet cattle need an accommodation. To some aged women idea of ghar is quite different. It carries broader sense and includes more things like family, husband, children etc. The word ghar made the eyes of the poor widows and divorced women wet. Tearfully they informed that once they had ghar but there is no way to return there.
The writer is a former Commissioner of Taxes