Teacher and student engagement is critical in the
classroom because it has the power to define whose
knowledge will become a part of school-related
knowledge and whose voices will shape it. Students
are not just young people for whom adults should
devise solutions. They are critical observers of their
own conditions and needs, and should be participants
in discussions and problem solving related to their
education and future opportunities. Hence children need
to be aware that their experiences and perceptions are
important and should be encouraged to develop the
mental skills needed to think and reason independently
and have the courage to dissent. What children learn
out of school — their capacities, learning abilities, and
knowledge base — and bring to school is important
to further enhance the learning process. This is all the
more critical for children from underprivileged
backgrounds, especially girls, as the worlds they inhabit
and their realities are under represented in school
Participatory learning and teaching, emotion and
experience need to have a definite and valued place in
the classroom. While class participation is a powerful
strategy, it loses its pedagogic edge when it is ritualised,
or merely becomes an instrument to enable teachers to
meet their own ends. True participation starts from the
experiences of both students and teachers.
When children and teachers share and reflect on
their individual and collective experiences without fear
of judgement, it gives them opportunities to learn
about others who may not be a part of their own
social reality. This enables them to understand and relate
to differences instead of fearing them. If children’s
social experiences are to be brought into the classroom,
it is inevitable that issues of conflict will need to be
addressed. Conflict is an inescapable par t of children’s
lives. They constantly encounter situations that call for
moral assessment and action, whether in relation to
subjective experiences of conflict involving the self,
family and society, or in dealing with exposure to violent
conflict in the contemporary world. To use conflict as
a pedagogic strategy is to enable children to deal with
conflict and facilitate awareness of its nature and its
role in their lives.
Learning to question received knowledge critically,
whether it is found in a ‘biased’ textbook, or other
literary sources in their own environments, can be built
by encouraging learners to comment, compare and
think about elements that exist in their own
environment. Women and dalit activists have used songs
as a powerful medium for discussion, comment and
analysis. Repositories of knowledge exist in different
mediums, hence all these forms, whether television
programme, advertisements, songs, paintings, etc., need
to be brought into create a dynamic interaction among
learners themselves.
A pedagogy that is sensitive to gender, class, caste
and global inequalities is one that does not merely affirm
different individual and collective experiences but also
locates these within larger structures of power and raises
questions such as, who is allowed to speak for whom?
Whose knowledge is most valued? This requires
evolving different strategies for different learners. For
example, encouraging speaking up in class may be
important for some children, while for others it may
be learning to listen to others.
The role of teachers is to provide a safe space
for children to express themselves, and simultaneously
to build in certain forms of interactions. They need to
step out of the role of ‘moral authority’ and learn to
listen with empathy and without judgement, and to
enable children to listen to each other. While
consolidating and constructively stretching the limits
of the learner\’s understanding, they need to be
conscious of how differences are expressed. An
atmosphere of trust would make the classroom a safe
space, where children can share experiences, where
conflict can be acknowledged and constructively
questioned, and where resolutions, however tentative,
can be mutually worked out. In particular, for girls
and children from under-privileged social groups,
schools and classrooms should be spaces for discussing
processes of decision making, for questioning the basis
of their decisions, and for making informed choices.
Critical pedagogy provides an opportunity to reflect
critically on issues in terms of their political, social,
economic and moral aspects. It entails the acceptance of
multiple views on social issues and a commitment to
democratic forms of interaction. This is important in
view of the multiple contexts in which our schools
function. A critical framework helps children to see social
issues from different perspectives and understand how
such issues are connected to their lives. For instance,
understanding of democracy as a way of life can be
chartered through a path where children reflect on how
they regard others (e.g. friends, neighbours, the opposite
sex, elders, etc.), how they make choices (e.g. activities,
play, friends, career, etc.), and how they cultivate the
ability to make decisions. Likewise, issues related to
human rights, caste, religion and gender can be critically
reflected on by children in order to see how these issues
are connected to their everyday experiences, and also
how different forms of inequalities become compounded
and are perpetuated. Critical pedagogy facilitates
collective decision making through open discussion and
by encouraging and recognising multiple views.
Why should stereotypes persist?
A matter of serious concern is the persistence of
stereotypes regarding children from marginalised groups,
including SC and ST, who traditionally have not had
access to schooling or learning. Some learners have
been historically viewed as uneducable, less educable,
slow to learn, and even scared of learning. There is a
similar stereotype regarding girls, which encourages the
belief that they are not interested in playing games, or
in mathematics and science. Yet another set of stereotypes
is applied to children with disabilities, per petuating
the notion that they cannot be taught along with other
children. These perceptions are grounded in the notion
that inferiority and inequality are inherent in gender,
caste and physical and intellectual disability. There
are a few success stories, but much larger are the
numbers of learners who fail and thus internalise a
sense of inadequacy. Realising the constitutional values
of equality is possible only if we prepare teachers to
treat all children equally. We need to train teachers to
help them cultivate an understanding of the cultural
and socio-economic diversity that children bring with
them to school.
Many of our schools now have large numbers of firstgeneration
school goers. Pedagogy must be reoriented
when the child’s home provides any direct suppor t to
formal schooling. First-generation school goers, for
example, would be completely dependent on the school
for inculcating reading and writing skills and fostering
a taste for reading , and for familiarising them with
the language and culture of the school, especially when
the home language is different from the language of
school. Indeed they need all the assistance they can get.
Many such children are also vulnerable to conditions
prevailing at home, which might make them prone to
lack of punctuality, ir regularity and inattentiveness in
the classroom. Mobilising intersectoral support for freeing
children from such constraints, and for designing a
curriculum sensitive to these circumstances, therefore is