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Last Updated: 06/02/2009The ‘Banking’ System of Teaching: Frowns and No Flowers
Jennifer Francesa Acio
One common adage that has remained permanently glued to my mind is that which goes, ‘We must practice what we preach’. I am writing from the humble perspective of the teacher that I am. With seven years of teaching experience, I could almost vouch that it is rather difficult, though not impossible, to practice the very tenets of our own dogmas. Why am I saying this? In the first place, we are all stakeholders of education, either as teachers or parents or guardians of school going children. Born and bred in ‘developing’ Uganda, I went through a 7-4-2 education system with a highly rigorous teaching and learning mechanism. I still vividly recall how we were always made to memorize arithmetic tables in primary school. Whenever we couldn’t recall, or if we mixed up the multiplications, we would get punished and embarrassed before our colleagues in class. This had a double impact on a great deal of the learners; for some it was an opportunity to exert their efforts at cramming to avoid falling culprit, while for many it was the time to feign one illness or another to avoid going though another embarrassment. This kind of pedagogy is poisonous and detrimental to the self-esteem of learners. It presents learning as an agonizing experience. From observation, to date school going children right from kindergarten go through the same pain of memorization and regurgitation of what they have been taught. This, I have come to realize, is the handiwork of a highly commercialized education system that places emphasis on grades at the expense of the holistic development of learners.
With a comparative approach between what I experienced as a Bachelor’s and Master’s student in two completely different worlds at different points in time, there are so many things that we yet have to rid ourselves of if we are to build the ideal, incredibly wonderful world that we all hope and pray for; a world full of free thinkers; a world where folks do not get punished for speaking out their minds. I am going to take a random line of thought in trying to dissect the hypothesis of practicing what we preach, with the romanticized and commercialized education system at the forefront of my thoughts.
In the context of schooling, we as teachers are encouraged to keep the ‘banking’ system of teaching at arm’s length. The paradoxical thing about this is that we (pardon the overgeneralization) are products of the banking system of education itself, and even as we know the repercussions associated with it, we still allow ourselves to be part of that system. In the context of a country that was colonized, and whose education system, like most other education systems in Africa, was designed by the colonialists mostly to suit their own interests and encourage blind obedience, it will take quite a while to get rid of some of these ideas that were deeply rooted in the political and social systems of the countries in question. I am specifically talking about the banking system in most, if not all, Ugandan schools. With an examination-oriented curriculum, and in school systems where the head of the institution insists on ‘good’ grades, getting rid of the banking system is just a farcical wish. This is reinforced by the commoditization of education, which presents university education as a towering pillar with a broad base. Most of those that manage to make it to the top are sons and daughters of affluent men and women. The rest are left at the periphery to scramble for the broad base. This kind of competition-driven education system encourages rote learning, and with testing and examinations, students are expected to regurgitate what they have learnt. This leads to cram work and theoretical knowledge without application. It limits imagination, inhibits curiosity and debars critical thinking and reasoning, as students memorize facts without understanding what the facts mean. Such students end up knowing but learning almost nothing. From experience as a student and a teacher, most teachers tend to deliver their lessons the very way they were taught. We may not entirely blame the teachers, or the students but the system. However, we all are stakeholders in ridding our systems of ‘rotten apples’ that are likely to spoil the good ones. There is need to be flexible and open to new ideas. We would make a whole world of difference if only we could allow our learners to take ownership of their own learning. One of the things that kill most education systems is the false assumption that the teacher is the sole owner of knowledge, and the learners passive recipients of information that has been predigested. The teacher simply transfers knowledge to the students who are considered, in most cases, blank slates. Learners who go through this kind of education system end up with limited intellectual freedom, because they have been socialized to receive information without sifting it. If only we could consider education as an institution where even the average student has something of value to offer to his/her peers, we would produce people who are aware that the world out there is not about how many ‘As’ or distinctions one has managed to amass over the years as they spent sleepless nights cramming volumes and volumes of academic materials. We should also focus on the holistic development of the children that we seek to co-educate. We need to be mindful of the fact that all human beings have more faculties than just the mental. We have to focus on the emotional and the spiritual as well. After all, when we become employers, we would not only be interested in hiring geniuses; we would also love to have employees who have high Emotional Intelligence.
As teachers, we have to consider ourselves edu-learners; as people who educate, and in so doing, learn from those that we educate. Learning should not be presented as a painful experience to the learners or as a kind of penitentiary where parents send their naughty children so that parents can have a vacation. Our creativity will help to make our routine classroom experiences adventurous and fun, even for the traditionally boring subjects. In this way, our products will be seasoned professionals who are capable of making rational decisions for themselves and the people and places that they are in charge of, and not naïve, half-baked academic clowns.
 The 7-4-2 education system of Uganda is where a learner spends seven years in elementary school, four in ordinary level (‘O’level) and 2 in high/Advanced level (‘A ‘level), after which they can go to university or any other Institute of Higher Education.
 The concept of poisonous pedagogy was used by Miller to describe that the rise of Nazism was based on the German family and education system, which emphasized absolute obedience of the child, and includes acts like physical abuse and humiliation, among others, to foster this obedience.
 Paulo Freire, a Brazilian adult educator, likened education system to a banking system where the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits, and the students are expected to passively receive, memorize and repeat. He believed that too much formalized and standardized education system is stale and is detrimental to the creativity of individuals, and hinders critical thinking.
 This alludes to John Locke’s philosophy that the human mind is, at birth a ‘blank slate’ or tabula rasa, without rules for processing data.
 Reardon, in his book, Comprehensive Peace Education (1988), talks about the need for educators to employ a paradigm shift, and begin to view themselves as educators who learn from their students in the process of teaching (edu-learners)
Jennifer Francesa Acio is a graduate teacher of English language and Literature, and currently a Master’s candidate of Gender and Peacebuilding at the UN-Mandated University for Peace