A transactional classroom, from Freire’s pedagogy

I’ve heard about Paulo Freire and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed back in my undergraduate program, during the orientation for our Literacy Training Service (NSTP-LTS). I knew it was about teaching but I have not understood it better until it was discussed again in my graduate course, Nonformal Education (NFE).

NFE has always been competing with formal education. It becomes more special because of the challenges NFE learners have to face in terms of identifying with the professional world, and the benefits it gives the learners. NFE has always been associated with out-of-school-youths and those who cannot afford to go beyond the basic reading and writing skills. It was surprising to learn that although many NFE learners came from poor economic backgrounds, the top reason for students’ high dropout rate was not poverty, but lack of interest.

What would make a student uninterested to learn? From my experiences as a student, school becomes boring when I do not understand what my teacher’s lecture. This is when my teacher would just keep on talking, occasionally ask for questions or opinions, then ends the discussion with a homework. Class hours become monotonous. For Freire, a dialogical setup of a classroom works. In communication arts, we call this transactional communication — “I speak, you listen; you speak, I listen.” Learning becomes two-way, thus, unlocking knowledge that each party may have not yet encountered. Also, in a dialogical or transactional method of teaching, the teacher would only act as a facilitator. The discussions on a particular topic becomes a common field of experience, especially when the learning is authentic. The teacher speaks not a dominant language, which draws a line of hierarchy between the teacher and the learners, but the common language of the learners. For example, requiring the students to speak English even if the subject is too hard to understand in English. It doesn’t mean that we should not learn oral fluency in a second (or third) language, but as a student, if I cannot express myself well in English, does it mean the teacher has to fail me?

The most common example where our teachers today implement the use of common language is through the use of mother tongue in class lectures. In a few public lectures and seminars I’ve attended, it was reported that classes who speak in mother tongue or native language are more active and cooperative. In fact, according to studies presented, teacher-facilitators in these kind of classes were able to generate ideas that they did not expect to hear from their students.

Now, why are there students who fail in class? It’s not because they are not smart enough, but maybe because they are not able to express themselves in the way their teacher always expects them to do. The students become like machines — they just do what they are told to do because traditionally, that’s what we expect from students but learning may not occur. And then I ask myself, “What kind of teacher will I be in the future?”

After reading Freire, I want to teach myself, or rather, learn not to become an oppressor in the eyes of my future students by only giving them what I want. There should be interaction and free expression of ideas, as long as it is about the lesson. Of course, as a teacher we should still implement discipline, but when we talk about teaching knowledge, it must be shared — from both the teacher and the learners.

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