The Influence of Paulo Freire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau on Education in T&T

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Education can be defined as a process which one undergoes to obtain knowledge, skills and values along with other traits. Education is said to begin at the home where our first teachers are our parents, this is referred to as informal education. On the other hand, formal education usually takes place in schools or educational facilities where a curriculum and syllabus is followed closely as a guide to help educate students in a timely manner. In Trinidad and Tobago there are many known influencers on our educational curriculum. Through the eyes of two greatly recognized philosophers of education, we look at Paulo Freire (1921-1997) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and their varied perspectives of education and the influence they have had on Trinidad and Tobago’s educational system. We begin with Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who’s views on education were taken from his writings: ‘Emile or On Education’ (1762) and ‘The Social Contract' (1762). “Everything is good as it comes from the hands of the maker of the world, but degenerates once it gets into the hands of man.” (Rousseau, 1762) Rousseau’s philosophy of education is termed, “Naturalism” as he believes in the goodness of humanity and finds it unnatural for students to be seated in a classroom to learn from an authority figure, for example: a teacher. In other words he did not believe in the methods used in traditional schools to educate students, where education is teacher-centered.

His theory suggests that education should be child-centered, that children should be allowed to be educated naturally and freely. He said, “Let the sense always be the guides, let there be no text books but the world and no other instruction than facts. The child who reads, does not think---he merely reads; he is not receiving instruction, but learning words.” This can be interpreted for instance, when a child reads something he/she may not necessarily understand or think about what is being read, rather he/she learns it as it is with no understanding or it having no greater meaning to the child. For a child to learn effectively it takes more than just words for them to understand, hence according to Rousseau’s view, education should not be limited to a classroom. His influence on Trinidad and Tobago’s curriculum can be seen and is implemented through physical education, field trips, in class demonstrations and projects. From my own personal experience an example of this is, in form 5 my Geography SBA was based on the ASA Wright Nature Center. Instead of leaning about it from books or the internet, my Geography class was taken to the Center where we were given a tour. We were able to see and learn first-hand, by being able to interact with nature and explore any questions we had. I was able to write and learn based from my own personal experience instead of someone else’s. It is not what is being taught (subject matter), but rather who is being taught (student). Therefore, the learning experience should be made real to the individual.

Next there’s Paulo Freire (1921-1997), who’s views on education were taken from his writings: ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ (1973) and ‘Pedagogy of Hope’ (1995). Freire’s philosophy of education is termed, “Reconstructionism” as it crucially criticizes what is known as, “banking education.” This is where teachers or educators are seen as sages, and “deposit” knowledge into the students as though they are empty vessels. Freire is against this teaching method as it does not encourage students to think for themselves, promote creativity, or question what is being taught; students must take what is being taught as it is and ask no questions. Freire states that education should create a partnership between a teacher and a student, therefore he introduced the dialogical method which promotes equality, team work, cohesion and relationship building strategies.

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With this method, Freire wanted to liberate students from oppression, so that they are able to feel comfortable asking questions freely. Lastly, he implied that as teachers we should influence and provide the opportunities and environment for students to liberate themselves from their circumstances and change their world. “We can legitimately say that in the process of oppression, someone oppresses someone else, we cannot legitimately say that in the process of revolution, someone liberates someone else, nor yet that that someone liberates himself, but rather that men in communion liberate each other.” (Freire, 1993) Freire’s impact on the educational system in Trinidad and Tobago can be seen through teachers engaging in various teaching strategies such as role play, teacher-student discussions, peer learning, group activities and research projects. An example of this is, in Integrated Science students are requires to complete labs. In these labs students are able to test theories and arrive at a conclusion through experiencing and investigating for themselves. The philosophers Paulo Freire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau shared common ground but their ideas were different.

First there is the unschooling of society; Rousseau (Naturalism) saw it unnatural for students to be seated in a classroom to learn with an authority figure, while Freire (Reconstructionism) replaced the banking method with the dialogue method. In my opinion, both philosophers made a valid point. As I think that students should not be learning, confined in a classroom; for one to truly learn value of the subject must be made to individual. The dialogue method in my view has its positives, as it enables a child to question what is being taught, as well encouraging peer learning, but what happens when the child questions the teacher’s role?

Secondly, Rousseau (Naturalism) saw education as being child-centered instead of teacher-centered; however Freire (Reconstruction) encouraged a teacher-student relationship. From my point of view, this can be a positive as we move away from the autocratic type of teaching methods.

Thirdly, both philosophers promoted the freedom of students; Rousseau (Naturalism) implied that students should not be bounded by books and confined to a classroom; rather they should be educated naturally and freely. On the other hand, Freire (Reconstruction) wanted to free students from oppression. Though both philosophers had different views on what they wanted to free students from. I think even though Rousseau implied that students should not be bounded by books; that books still hold lots of knowledge that can help widen a child’s view as he/she is able to gain other perspectives and still have their own.

Lastly, we look at the perspectives of the philosophers and freedom. Rousseau (Naturalism) said, “Let the sense always be the guides, let there be no text books but the world and no other instruction than facts,” here we can see that Rousseau considers freedom can be granted through the use of senses and not within a book. On the other hand, Freire (Reconstructionism) said, “…but rather that men in communion liberate each other,” here we can see that Freire believes that persons can liberate each other, which I believe to be true. As Rousseau believed in the good of mankind, I too believe in it, along with Freire’s point of view and my own I think we can stand together and uplift each other, putting all our differences aside. But with humans and our ego, can we make it happen?

To conclude, Paulo Freire (1921-1997) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) had their similarities and their differences, which both greatly influenced the educational system in Trinidad and Tobago. This was done through: allowing students to be educated naturally and freely, child-centered education, the dialogue method, building of relationships between teachers and students, the unschooling of society and the promotion of freedom for students. These impacts can have its positives, which are: equality in the classroom, students being able to question what is being taught, the use of different teaching methods to aid the learning process (curriculum based as well), freedom from oppression and encouragement of creativity. Some of these positives can also have a negative effect as well, for instance with this newly found freedom, when students are expressing their permissiveness he/she can or may cause harm to himself or other students; a teacher steps in to correct his/her behavior and the student questions the teacher’s authority. Here lies the question, “Is there a thin line between the freedom granted (permissiveness), what is considered ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ and the guidance of a teacher?”

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