Tag Archives: Kimberly

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.

Gender Roles and Inequities in the Kuwumba Region of Malawi

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill)

Gender Roles and Inequalities in the Kuwumba region of MalawiThere is not inherent truth to what gender is. Gender is a socially constructed identity and its meaning, which is constantly in flux, is determined by the context in which it arises. Gender inequality in Africa was reinforced by colonialism. Marc Epprecht (1998) explains the way in which colonial rule reinforced the customary imperative to reproduce, as it became a necessity for upward social mobility. Having many wives was also helpful for economic gain, as it provided them with access to more fields. Thus, in this historical context, in order to flourish, it was almost necessary to be a heterosexual. Individuals internalized the social expectations of gender norms and they behaved accordingly; the men dominated and married several women for increased capital. This also helps to shed light in one of the reasons why homosexuality was denied in many parts of Africa, it stood outside these gender norms.

Amina Mama, (2001) states that, “gender in all of its diverse manifestations, has long been a central organizing principle of African societies, past and present” (p.69). The colonial era shaped African masculinity, which in turn shaped femininity. The colonizers emasculated African men by undermining their “ability to attain signifiers of social manhood” (Epprecht, 1998, p.641). Grown men were oppressed and treated like children. The objective for most was to become a “real man” by acquiring a submissive and fertile wife, getting land and supporting a growing family (Epprecht, 1998, p.641). Hence, directly shaping desired gender roles in African society. As a result, African men felt the need to overtly assert their masculinity. One way that they did this was by exercising power over women which was reflected in the increased number of rapes (Mismang, 2015).

It is important to note that many countries in Africa have been striving for gender equality since the colonial era. Today, there is an increased role of women in African politics. Ngoni Okonjo-Iweala became the first female finance minister in Nigeria; Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one of a handful of elected female heads of state in the world; the former president of Malawi, Joyce Banda was also a female. Pipits Nyong’o’s Oscar win and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s literary successes have brought attentions to the artistic triumphs of a younger generation of women (Mismang, 2015). Thus, when women use their agency they can defy gender norms and stereotypes.

Nonetheless, “the distance between this development and the reality of the overwhelming number of girls and women everywhere is vast and seemingly unbridgeable” (Kaplan, 2008, p.41). Still today, life for many women in African countries is extremely brutal (Kaplan, 2008, p.41).  In many places, “women still have no rights at all, they are legally considered to be minors, their lives in the hands of their husbands” (Kaplan, 2008, p.41).

Specifically, I have noticed that gender inequality still prevails in the Kuwumba region of Malawi. For instance, when I went to the Praxis Malawi Community Centre yesterday I ended up reading to a group of young children. When I asked them questions about the stories, the women would always put their heads down and let the men answer for them. Even when I specifically pointed to a young girl, said her name and asked her to answer, she did not (even though I knew that she had the ability to). This was reminiscent of the behavior that I had witnessed with certain adults from the surrounding communities during my last visit here.

During our visit at the Chilanga Elementary School, some of my colleagues witnessed something that confirmed the phenomena that I had observed. The students were asked to work in groups and they naturally divided themselves based on gender. The boys worked with the boys and the girls with the girls. When the professor was asked why they were divided this way, he explained that if they do not divide them this way, the girls will not participate. Systematically separating them in school makes it challenging to strive for equality. Another moment that I noticed that boys and girls were separated based on gender was when the children were playing soccer and the girls did not want to play soccer with the boys because they insisted that it was a “boys sport”. This was also the case when the boys were asked to play netball; they explained that it was a “girls sport”. The children are in the habit of separating themselves based on gender, thus it occurs naturally even outside of the classroom, which once again, makes it challenging to develop equal relationships amongst genders.

One of the local community members that I am working with on this project discussed the issue of gender inequality with me, she explained to me that women in this region tend to hold traditional gender roles; they stay at home, cook, clean, take care of the children, etc. She also explained that women are much more likely to drop out of school early because they must take on these various responsibilities at home. Another reason that they sometimes drop out of school early is because of early marriages. Men and women, young or old seem to take on dichotomized gender roles in the Kuwumba region of Malawi.

The curriculum that my colleagues and I are constructing during our time here is for a charter school, therefore it is my objective to empower women and break the gender norms that prevent them from full participation in society. We started working on the grade 3 curriculum today. In the first unit, we have included many conversations about democracy within the classroom. Specifically, how both boys and girls have an equal right to voice their opinions. Hopefully, the ideologies that children will develop in the classroom concerning this matter will later be transposed onto society as whole.

 

References

Mismang (2015). The backlash against African women.

Mama, Amina. Challenging subject: Gender and power in Africa contexts. Africa sociological review, 5. (2) 2001.

Epprecht, Marc. The unsaying of indigenous homosexualities in Zimbabwe: Mapping African masculinity. 1998.

Caplan, Kaplan. (2008). The betrayal of Africa.

Experiencing Culture Shock in the Castle

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill)

A moment of reflection

A moment of reflection

I thought that I knew what to except when arriving in Malawi for my second year in a row, however I was wrong. I knew that I would experience culture shock despite having been here before but I thought that I would go through each stage as described by Pederson (1995) swiftly and with ease. As it turns out, I have completely skipped the honeymoon stage and have gone straight to the disintegration stage. Perhaps this was brought upon by my colleagues’ explicit euphoria from their new surroundings. On our drive to the hostel they were so amazed by everything, ironically they were even astonished by things like cows, chickens and goats which are not uncommon in Canada; a clear characteristic of the honeymoon stage. Another moment that drove me straight to the disintegration stage was when I saw the new location as it was even more prestigious than the last. It was a little mansion; the entrance had rounded stairs, the kind that is reminiscent of Mediterranean architecture. It had tall ceilings, and the rooms were enormous, much bigger than the rooms that you would find in most middle class Canadian homes. The beds had brand new mattresses with thick warm sheets for colder nights. Seeing this place invaded me with a sense of guilt because we had just driven from the airport where the majority of homes we saw were disheveled huts made of straw and mud. The only thing that brought me comfort was the fact that I knew this hostel would one day be used for students who want to study in the area. Thus, it was not a castle built exclusively for what was clearly the “white privileged people”.

I am concerned that living in this place creates barriers between us and the local community. Paulo Freire (1970) says “solidarity requires that one enter into a situation of those with whom one is solidary” (p.49). Living here prevents us from experiencing how most Malawians live and it reinforces the power inequities. In fact, I am living an even more privileged lifestyle than I would at home. There are people who cook for us and they have been cooking us the kind of meals that you would eat at a five star hotel. Meanwhile, many people here wonder if they will even be able to provide some sort of starch based meal for them and their family. Furthermore, there are even people who clean for us. I am aware that this is a way to provide direct economic relief, however there are certainly repercussions to this. Freire (1970) proposes that “the resolution for the oppressor –oppressed contradiction involves the disappearance of the oppressors as a dominant class” (p.56). There is already a clear dichotomy between the Malawian people and us Canadian students; did this have to be further reinforced by our living conditions? Do these power dynamics prevent us from building true reciprocity?

I fear that this upper class lifestyle will distract or even blind people from the entrenched poverty that surrounds us and in turn this lack of consciousness will contribute to less meaningful work in the field. It makes it too easy to return to the safe nest and forget the atrocities of the outside world and forgetting will not bring about the critical reflection that is needed when working on a project like this.

References

Pederson, P. (1995). The five Stages of culture shock: critical incidents around the world. Westport, C.T: Greenwood Press.

Freire, P. (1970). The pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury: New York.

Introducing the 2015 Group: McGill University

Kimberly Gregory

Kimberly Gregory

My name is Kimberly Gregory and I am 23 years old. I am currently doing my Bachelor in Kindergarten and Elementary Education at McGill University. I was born and raised on the south shore of Montreal, in a small town called St-Lambert. I am someone who is very athletic, which is in large part due to my 13 years of experience as a high level gymnast. Gymnastics has taught me that with discipline and hard work you can accomplish almost anything. This is a quality that I believe is essential when taking part in an experiential learning opportunity, especially in a developing country like Malawi, where facing unfamiliar obstacles is a daily normality.

In 2008, I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa, as well as Zimbabwe. It was the most memorable voyage of my life. The natural beauty and wildlife that surrounds this part of the world is astounding. Nonetheless, what really left an imprint on my psyche was the extreme poverty that entrenches some of the areas I visited. Although I was aware that extreme poverty like this existed, I never realized the scale of the problem before seeing it first hand. As a result of this, I was determined to join the Praxis Malawi endeavor in 2014, in order to attempt to alleviate human suffering in the Kasungu region of Malawi.

I am returning to Malawi this year as it was the most enriching experience of my life. I learned a lot academically, but I also learned a tremendous amount about myself. The issues that you confront while you are there truly allow you to grow as an individual. It also permits you to see life in general, from a new and clearer perspective. Malawi is known as the “warm heart of Africa” and I think that there is no better way to describe it as the people are hospitable, kind. and find joy in their lives despite the horrifying conditions that they live in. I am very excited to see the campus come alive this year as the members of Praxis Malawi, as well as the local community have been working extremely hard to develop ways to support sustainable independence of local cultures. I hope that my experience from the previous year will allow me to use my time more wisely, in order to accomplish short-term goals, which will yield long-term benefits.

 

Taylor Lowery

Taylor Lowery

People who know me best would say that I am a creative, sensitive and levelheaded individual that is always looking for ways to make life and learning more fun.   I am a self-appointed, full-time advocate for enthusiastic participation in whatever life throws my way. But when life throws me a day of downhill skiing, followed by a night of board games and watching movies, I couldn’t be happier. I believe that attitude is everything and with this outlook, life becomes less about learning how to weather the storm and more about learning how to dance in the rain. I am eager to start this adventure and as always ready to learn, listen and gain new perspectives. Oh and laugh. Because life is better when you are laughing.

It May Take Us a While

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill)

Every step we take is worth it

Every step we take is worth it

The more that time goes by, the more I am starting to understand how truly enriching this whole experience has been. I have been living in close quarters with a diverse group of students for three weeks now. During my time here, these students have taught me so many things from step dancing to helping me understand the complex relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor. I have also started thinking more critically about the world around me. I find myself questioning things that in the past, I might not have. I think that I have taken in more knowledge in the past three weeks than I have in the last year. Furthermore, being around students from different disciplines has definitely broadened my view of the world. I find myself analyzing situations from new and more informed perspectives.

My favorite moments of this trip have been when I have engaged intellectual conversations with some of my colleagues. This kind of dialogue often occurs when there are only a few people around, usually early in the morning or late at night. It tends to begin with one person expressing a concern in regards to actions that were posed by the local residents, which do not concur with our beliefs and/or values. I enjoy hearing everyone’s point of view as we try and find the root of the problem together. Most of the time we do not come to a concrete conclusion because the issues that we are faced with here are very complex and multi-faceted. Nonetheless, I think that this kind of dialogue is crucial in order to try and make sense of everything that is going on around us. This collaborative knowledge also greatly influences the work we do here because it helps us better understand the local residents, which in turn, enables us to find more appropriate ways of serving their immediate and long-term needs.

In general, I have found that the roots of the issues involve both: a lack of communication and trust, which essentially go hand in hand. The lack of trust could be explained by the fact that “we in the West are deeply complicit in every crisis bedeviling Africa, that we’re up to our collective necks in retrograde practices, and that we’ve been virtually co-conspirators with certain African leaders in underdeveloping the continent” (Caplan, 2008). Keeping this in mind, who says that they should trust us?  I probably wouldn’t if the same people who were claiming to help, had in fact, betrayed them so many times in the past and continue to act in ways that are exploitative of the continent. The effects of this kind of behavior are intergenerational. We must work diligently to gain their trust back.

One way to develop trusting relationships within the community is to constantly engage in good and honest conversations. One component that is essential in developing this is time. We need to show them over and over again that they can trust us. We need to show them that when we say we will do something, we do it. We must not make promises that we cannot keep. This is one of the main problems with some of the other organizations as they work in a certain region for a small period of time and then leave. There is a lack of communication and therefore, there is no trust. Due to this, these organizations usually end up imposing their ideas on the specific communities. It makes it impossible to develop reciprocal relationships. They rationalize by telling themselves that they made a “difference” when in reality most of these organizations only help to serve specific short-term needs by donating money or building a school or helping people grow food. There are usually no long-term benefits that come out of this kind of work thus, the cycle of poverty continues. By this, I do not mean to say that what they are doing is bad. However, time, trust and communication are fundamental to long lasting change. Praxis Malawi, tries to develop this by making this project over a longer time span (approximately 15 years).

Over the years, the communication and trust has gotten better among local residents and the Praxis Malawi group. Nonetheless, we need to keep working on this. Too many issues still arise due to a fear of expressing honest opinions on both sides. A few of the many reasons that could explain this are: language barriers, differences in epistemologies, the ingrained fear of corruption on their part due to their history of colonialism and of course as was aforementioned, the way the West has betrayed them so many times in the past. We need to continually strive towards building reciprocal relationships. I look forward to seeing progress in this area in the future as I think we are on the route towards positive change.

Caplan, G. (2008). The betrayal of Africa. Toronto: Berkeley.