Tag Archives: Freire

On the Topics of Wisdom and Patience

By Marten Sealy (Bishop’s)

marten 3This has been such a detour. I used to look at a thick book and wonder where the author found the fuel to fill many pages. I was an avid young reader, but I often worry that the time might come when I would be called upon to contribute back to the pool of knowledge from which I quenched my thirst. I was intimidated. I’m a perfectionist, which means that the nozzle controlling my flow of thought onto the page is slow. Some unseen power is confining me to a sad little leaking dribble. Give me a fire hose. Let me soak everything. It’s frustrating. Woe is me. I’m reflecting now, and realizing how silly that fear of authoring a big book really is. Have some humility, Marten.

The truth is, a “fire hose” would do me no good. What reservoir do I really have to pull from? I walk around, eyes wide open and head held high convinced that I see a lot, but I’m a little bit full of myself! Patience Marty, you’ll be an elder someday. Keep those eyes open, but don’t worry about preaching at the ripe age twenty. You’ve got to be young and dumb before you can ever hope to be old and wise. Perhaps someday I will organize myself and decide upon a collection of thoughts cohesive and important enough to be ‘book worthy’. For now, let me share what has perked my senses recently, coupled with some modest insights.


  1. The lackadaisical pace here is deceiving. The Malawians I’ve met tend to speak slowly and take frequent breaks, which frustrated me at first. Punctuality is a foreign concept here, and after they arrive, you still count on people to predict how long a job will take. Now, let’s put that into perspective…we’ve been here eleven days and a lot has been accomplished, jobs are done eventually. As much as I like using deadlines as a motivator, they cause stress, and I dislike stress. I am learning to embrace this culture that paces itself.
  2. North American athletes are spoiled. We’re three games into a six villages tournament, and the first two matches didn’t have lines on the pitch. The ‘pitch’ is dirt, with slightly crooked goal posts, and only half of the players wear shoes. There’s two (dangerous) stumps that still have to removed, and there’s no netting or backstop to keep the ball from flying in the deep grass (home to snakes and thorns). An entire village often shares a single ball, which costs an average week’s wage, and only lasts two to three months. Despite everything, the footballers here are easily on par with strong players from Canada. I can still wow them with my juggling tricks, but probably because I’ve had the opportunity to get touches on the ball alone. That privacy doesn’t come easily here. When a ball comes out, it is usually swarmed very quickly.
  3. At the football pitch yesterday, some young girls were selling ‘ ndas’ (Malawian bannock). I admired their entrepreneurial spirit, and attempted to purchase something to eat. I presented my 1000 Kwachas note (just over two dollars). The poor little girl frowned, and I realized that they were unable to make change for the 1000 Kwachas. When you order a beer in Chilanga, it’s upwards of 500 Kwachas, a Coca Cola is at least 160 Kwachas. I had to find someone that could break my one, one thousand note in half, and then someone else to split a five hundred note further. Finally I was able to do business with the girls, who are only asking 20 Kwachas for two pieces. Pennies.
  4. When passing by rural villages, people stop and stare. Babies often cry and hug their mothers. Children with more confidence might swarm you, and/or chant. ‘Asungu Asungu!’, which is basically a slur for white people or foreigners in general. It can feel like you are some sort of alien visiting a sheltered planet.
  5. It has become a fundamental objective of mine to share genuine interactions with the villagers. This is not as simple as learning local customs and talking about football. These topics are safe and comfortable, but meaningful conversations require a departure into the unknown. Have you ever really connected with someone who’s lived in a mud hut all their life? I don’t mean to discourage; it’s very possible. The dusty soil is perfect for scratching our illustrations. In Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he identified an inaptitude of many well-intentioned volunteer aid workers to truly trust and have confidence in the abilities of the oppressed. He writes: ‘to consider oneself the proprietor of revolutionary wisdom – which must then be given to (or imposed upon the people) – is to retain the old ways’. I’m doing my best.

Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

The Issues With the Banking Concept of Education

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill)

issues with bankingPaulo Freire (1970) proposes that liberation requires critical consciousness and creative thought (p.73). Unfortunately, this is something that is lacking in the Malawian education system and this was extremely apparent yesterday when working with some children in the After-school program. After having a long discussion about the six food groups included in the Malawian food guide and explaining the nutritional values of each, the students were asked to invent a fruit or vegetable that they had never seen before. They were also asked to draw it, name it and explain its nutritional values. When I saw that many of them were drawing fruits and vegetables that we had discussed, I reinforced the fact that I wanted them to use their imagination, however only 2 students actually invented and named items that did not already exist. Today, they also demonstrated that they struggle with using their imagination. For instance, when the students were asked to act out what a plant needs to grow, they all imitated the same thing that the first group did.

I discussed this phenomenon with my co-learner and he helped to elucidate what I had just observed. He explained to me that in the Malawian education system, most of the time, the students do not use their imagination to come up with things on their own because they are used to listening to the teacher and doing what they are told. Hence, the educational system in Malawi involves what Paulo Freire would call the “banking concept of education” (p.72). This system is based on the idea that the teacher is the source of knowledge and that they must deposit the “knowledge” in the student (p.72). The reason I write the word knowledge in quotation marks is because, in fact, as Freire has stated, I do not believe that authentic teaching and learning can take place in an “ivory tower of isolation but only in communication” (Freire, 1970, p.77). Thus, mutual activity and mutual exchange of knowledge is needed.

The banking concept of education makes students passive and it limits creativity. It is based on the idea of learning facts and memorizing them. However, to prepare students for today and tomorrow, “curriculum and instruction must change from traditional models based on coverage and rote memorization because this does not develop conceptual, creative and critical thinking which are essential for complex problem solving” (Erickson, 2008, p.7). The passivity that stems from the banking concept of education does not provide the students with the critical tools that are necessary to engage with the world.

Paulo Freire (1970) states that this type of education system suits the oppressors’ interests as it “adapts people to the role as dominated and passive” (p.74). In other words, it does not provide them with the tools they need for their liberation. The teacher-student relationship in the banking concept places students in an inferior position; it requires them to turn to the teacher to acquire knowledge. As a result, they have been conditioned to distrust themselves (Freire, 1970, p.64). They lack the confidence to try and figure things out on their own and this was evident in the After-school program. Freire (1970) goes as far as to say that “ any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence” (p.85). This is evident when exploring the way in which it keeps the local people in the oppressive situation that they are in today.

During my time here, I was to implement and construct a curriculum that continuously engages students in critical thinking. I do not want “content to be an end product, but merely a tool to lead students to deeper thought” (p.12). The more they engage in critical thinking, the better prepared they will to struggle for freedom and self-affirmation (Freire, 1970, p.64). Furthermore, I do not want the students to be subservient to the teacher, but rather create a teacher-student partnership in which both contribute knowledge to the classroom. This type of education has the power to change the current state of violent poverty in Malawi.

Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Praxis Malawi: Where it All Began

By Dr. Christopher Darius Stonebanks

“(S)ome may think that to affirm dialogue – the encounter of women and men in the world in order to transform the world – is naively and subjectively idealistic. There is nothing, however, more real or concrete than people in the world and with the world, than humans with other humans”

(Freire, c2005, p. 129)

Praxis Malawi 2010

Praxis Malawi 2010

Praxis Malawi began with that simple student belief – that collaborative efforts between Canadian university students and community members of Malawi would result in mutual learning and positive, tangible outcomes. A simple statement, but one that has proven to be very difficult to enact. Apart from specific philosophical foundations, like a Freirian model, experiential learning itself seems like a simple enough endeavour as well. The recipe reads: Take three parts foreign context, two parts challenging content, one part motivated learner and mix thoroughly. Add words like “emancipation”, “social justice” and “transformative nature of education” to taste. After an extended period in the field, the learner will have developed a rich and new understanding of the context, plus will have discovered cooperative solutions for thought-provoking subject matter. … Unfortunately, after five years of extended stays in the field, the recipe does not always produce cookie cutter results. Each year, we challenge our students to engage in research over a five to six week period that requires them to consider their academic discipline(s) in relation to local needs as indicated by community members. They are required to live in a rural Malawian village, with all too common conditions of no running water or electricity, which is quite typical for Malawi and for many foreign-based experiential learning projects or study abroad options. The residence arrangements have nothing to do with a “living like a native” experience, rather reflect our commitment to stimulate local economies and the overwhelming realities of day to day life in this region. Moreover, I think we are at the point in cross border endeavours where most of us understand the absurdity of the idea that “living like the locals” is in itself a form of tourism. Years ago I remember overhearing an American woman in Mexico asking a tour guide if he knew of an excursion that would allow her to, as she put it, “not do the typical tourist stuff, but to really be with the people, you know?”. The tour guide nodded his head in agreement and promptly told her, “Yes, that’s possible. But it will cost you an extra $50”.  Are there elements of our experiential learning that lends itself to tourist like activities? Absolutely. Still, keep in mind that even academics and activists going to a conference on Marxist theory in Greece (for example), will go see the Acropolis and buy perhaps a Coke. However, In comparison to any kind of tourist endeavour, our experience is messy, it’s a struggle and it’s a long term commitment. It’s certainly a lived experience and not for those who can’t accept that their work is a part of the process, built upon those who have preceded them and those who will follow.

So, how did we get to this point? How did we get here? The truncated story began about six years ago when the Principal of my university invited a group of us to his home to discuss the opportunity for experiential learning in Tanzania. An unfunded endeavour, I was a free agent to inspect the proposed location in Tanzania and come to an uninfluenced conclusion and had the luxury to even compare countries, and I did. A colleague of mine, when he heard I was considering Tanzania, offered to drive me through Tanzania and Malawi, if I agreed to give the location he was working with a fair chance for a possible experiential learning opportunities. Landing in Malawi, we drove up and down this tiny land locked sub-Saharan country and north into southern Tanzania. After about a month and a half, the decision was clear. Although Tanzania’s projects were worthy, Malawi’s needs were clearly greater. Malawi also had many elements to it that would facilitate a five to seven week experiential learning project. Namely, for better or for worse, English was the language of instruction and commerce, and would therefore reduce students’ barriers for carrying out research. And, another important reason, Malawi truly lives up to its reputation as “the warm heart of Africa”.

I am often asked, why Malawi for an experiential learning project? Although my father was born and raised in North Africa, I have no romanticized connections with Africa in any way. The land does not speak to me in a way that it apparently does to others. I was playfully warned by others who had worked on various not-for-profits, volunteer or NGOs that once Africa got under your skin, you always longed to return. I have to admit, my only motivation to commit to Malawi is on a human level. The geography, the weather, all of that is beautiful, but the mystical connection that many talk about is lost on me. It’s the human connection that is the drive of this project and the need is painfully clear. It’s the human connection that, in the end, captures the transformative hopes of both the Canadian students and the local people with which they collaboratively work. Again, it is by no means a recipe like project. It’s messy and, often, it can be emotionally painful. But the students are committed (especially the pre-service teachers) and we have seen some of them, like Kristy, David and Sophie, return to Malawi to continue their work.  I speculate that they don’t return for scenery, rather it’s the relationships that they began that is their ultimate motivator. After all, as Freire states, “There is nothing, however, more real or concrete than people in the world and with the world, than humans with other humans”.

In my next blog post, I will continue with the dangers of romanticizing the study abroad experience.