“Bad Teaching” in Brazil: Pedagogues of the Oppressed Described

I am concerned about the article No Longer at the Bottom of the Class by the Economist on Brazilian education. The article seems imbued with bias. The Economist is not a peer-reviewed education journal and I don’t get the sense that the analysis is very critical.

The article refers to “bad teachers” as the biggest problem in Brazil. What exactly is bad teaching? The journalist does not clarify what is meant by this. The discussion about how teachers receive 100% pension salary does not contextualise how this was achieved. Did the teachers support a particular party to get into government and were then rewarded with 100% pension? It would be helpful to understand the political history that led to this. And would a country want teachers to have terrible pensions so as to dissuade people from becoming teachers? Is that more desirable? And what is the problem with teachers having tenure and stability? Why would a population be so ready to “get rid of teachers”? So Brazil will start evaluating teachers and will become obsessive like Canada and the United States. What is the evidence that evaluating teachers enhances education? Evaluate what? Is evaluation meant to make sure that teachers are providing a good education or to make sure they are obedient with government policies? Or is it just a policing system to exert control, which might inhibit creativity and freedom of teachers, and have them focus on whatever the government of the day deems important? What about countries that do not evaluate teachers? What assessment is good assessment that is nurturing for teachers and students and everyone? Are the poor in Brazil really receiving horrific education? How do we know this? What kind of research determines that their teachers are so bad and are not making any effort? Why would teachers keep their jobs if they were not fulfilled and continue working in poor socioeconomic conditions?

The author states that teachers do not receive training in subject matter or teaching skills (I did not learn this in a Canadian teacher’s college either) but they are taught philosophy of education. I should hope they learn the philosophy of education since Paulo Freire was Brazilian. The article does not mention this philosopher of education, the author of The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and main thinker behind critical pedagogy. I find it bizarre that the article is so negative about teachers and even says that in few parts of the world do high achievers aspire to become teachers and that Latin American teachers are poorly educated. How exactly does the author determine that bad teachers are THE variable that cause poor performance on PISA rankings or poor performance generally? What about socioeconomic conditions, poverty, and the education levels of poor families? If the government is paying lower income families to keep their children in school longer and this measure has proven successful, then it seems that socioeconomic factors and poverty are related to poor performance. So maybe it is not entirely the bad teaching.

Paulo Freire was opposed to the idea of the “banking” concept of education whereby students receive objects of learning and merely adjust to the world without exercising their creative power. He opposed the culture of silence produced in dominant social relations that suppresses self-image. Learners must develop critical consciousness and recognise the culture of silence which oppresses them and then oppose it. A culture of silence can cause the dominated individuals to critically respond to the culture that is forced on them by a dominant culture. If teachers in Brazil are learning about Freire’s anti-colonial, anti-oppression educational philosophy meant to liberate people from dominant discourse, poverty, and racism, this could be very inspiring for teachers working with the poor. If teaching methodology is lacking in teacher training courses (although it is unclear how the author obtained this information and came to this conclusion), then perhaps a translation of Freire’s philosophy into pedagogical teaching and learning activities would be useful, but I am sure there must be radical pedagogues who are already working on that in Brazilian universities, at Pedagogy of the Oppressed Conferences, and at various Freire institutes.

Education in Brazil: No longer bottom of the class (December, 2010). The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/17679798