The practice of critical pedagogy

Nivedita Vijay Bedadur

Mini Menon, a senior manager in a multi-national company, was having lunch with the external auditors. They were having a casual conversation. Curious about their experiences in other companies, she asked them what the other companies they had been auditing were doing about the losses incurred during the lockdown. “A company I know,’’ said one of them, “is planning to recruit a whole host of female employees. It is a novel idea to cut down losses and will gain them huge leverage in terms of being progressive.” I listened to this anecdote in silence wondering how female employees are going to cut down costs. Are they going to make them work longer? Or are they going to be contractual? “No,” Mini explained, “they are just going to be paid half of what their male counterparts earn!”

All over the world, women employees earn much less than their male counterparts in the same posts. Often, they work harder, knowing the cost of reaching the position that they enjoy. Although we are all aware of this, I was struck by the huge cost that girls and women all over the world are incurring in terms of effort, health and financial instability. Are the women unaware that they are being paid less or is it that they accept this situation without protest? Why don’t women protest?

One of the reasons for this, I surmise, is the gender schema that is built in the minds of children from the day they are born. We don’t see the unfair treatment. What is unfair seems fair. How can we set this right? Is there a way to do it? Is there at least a way to begin? The answer lies in all of us adopting critical pedagogy in our classrooms.

What is critical pedagogy: Critical philosophy is a progressive curriculum where children examine social inequalities and injustices. They create a discourse around them, leading to action.

It would require a whole social revolution to change society. But yes, we as teachers have the power of beginning it in the classroom, if not in the cradle. So here are a few things we as teachers can do!

Career development: Encourage girls and boys to dream of careers in professions which are challenging. Read books about women achievers in the classroom. Invite women achievers to talk to them, especially those who are part of the society around the school: women working in banks, as drivers, as entrepreneurs, as scientists, businesswomen, sports, art, music… create role models which they can follow.

Learning to question: The classroom should be a space for debate and discussion. The timetable should set aside an hour for reading and debate every week. The discussion should centre around both men and women, for critical pedagogy helps you become aware of inequalities and injustice. A debate on topics like, ‘House work should be paid work’. Research on how much women and men labourers are paid in the village and to correct the inequalities in payment. In my experience men are paid double the money than women. Do rural classrooms ever discuss this? Let children get their minds around this and maybe soon, things will change.

Start a school newspaper: Begin a newspaper which inspires children. It records both the happenings in the village and the world. Let it be by the children, of the children and for everyone. Keep a special space in the newspaper for achievements by village children, however small they are. Also keep a special space for issues: drinking, lack of work in the monsoons, failure of crops and exploitation by certain sections of society. Deal with the issues in a rational and balanced manner and suggest practical, humane, sensitive and sustainable solutions.

Street drama: Start a critical drama club in the school. Take up issues and sustainable solutions. Highlight the issues and write small plays about them. Let them be done in the streets of the village every few days. As we all know, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword.’ We will soon feel the change beginning to happen all around us.

Drawing and painting: Hold regular competitions of drawing and painting. Highlight issues like cleanliness, access to water, garbage disposal, use of plastic, health care in the village, etc. Questions that trouble people, livestock should be given priority.

Open a library: Begin small with a one-room library in school with a computer and internet access. Encourage children to read in whichever language they choose. Adolescent issues often need out-of-the-box solutions. Reading gives you a window to the world. It opens doors for children to widen their knowledge and develop perspectives.

Conclusion: The importance of critical pedagogy in the classroom cannot be undermined. School is not some esoteric space and knowledge is not some high priestess. The issues that children face in everyday life are real and the space of school cannot be divorced from the lives of children. It is our work to build bridges from children’s lives to school and make knowledge worthwhile for living. The school must respond to the world around it. And that is why critical pedagogy is the pedagogy of today, the need of the day.

The author retired as Assistant Professor at Azim Premji University. She is a prolific writer, and an educationist who works for the marginalised. She has been instrumental in designing a curriculum for ELT for CARE – Udaan, the flagship program of CARE for out-of-school girls. She has worked as Principal and PGT English in Kendriya Vidyalayas across the country and in Nepal. She is the recipient of the Incentive Award for teachers in 2004-05. She can be reached at

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