Critical pedagogy

Critical pedagogy is a philosophy of education, underpinned by a belief in ‘the inter-relation between education and society’, and the commitment to enact ‘change in education and society to ensure greater social justice’ (McArthur, 2010, p. 495). It seeks to achieve its social vision through transformative and empowering learning.

The transformative objective is ‘conscientization’ (Freire, 1970) - more a transliteration than a translation of a concept which sees education as a process through which students achieve a critical consciousness of the world and of their own lives within it, and are thereby empowered to initiate change. A global perspective enables that critical consciousness to also embrace the lives of others in the world. Applied within an internationalising higher education, critical pedagogy ‘calls for efforts that work towards the establishment of global democracy and international social justice’ and is the ‘means to facilitate among students a sense of caring, as citizens of a globally interdependent society, whose goals would be to make the world a better place for all its citizens’ (Schoorman, 2000, p. 7). However, in higher education systems where curricula content, methodologies and values have been developed to replicate dominant social structures and practices, internationalisation risks becoming a colonising project through which globally diverse local priorities, perspectives and peoples are socialised into a ‘single story’. Such an education would see little value in building the kinds of intercultural relationships we envision here. From a critical pedagogy perspective, education cannot be neutral, it is ‘either for domestication or for freedom’ (da Veiga Coutinho, 1972, p. 9). Internationalisation, similarly, cannot be neutral. Understood as ‘internationalisation for freedom’, it seeks to liberate all students from limited, and limiting, ways of thinking and knowing. This is not simply a good in itself, but is ‘a necessary starting point for social change’ (Hunter, 2008, p. 100). We suggest that through meaningful intercultural relationship development, the broad objectives of critical pedagogy might be realised. In this process, globally diverse learners help each other escape the limits of culturally constrained ways of thinking, being and acting in the world. A significant challenge is how to approach this in ways which enhance rather than compromise everybody’s cultural integrity.

Problem posing

To facilitate the development of a critical consciousness, Freire advocates a three- stage process of problem posing:

  • • naming a problem
  • • analysing its causes through critical reflection
  • • applying solutions

As the central feature of critical pedagogy, problem posing ‘brings interactive participation and critical inquiry into the existing curriculum’, and expands its focus ‘to reflect the curriculum of the students’ lives’ (Wink, 2005, p. 46). ‘Reflecting the curriculum’ of globally diverse students’ lives requires, firstly, identifying problems that are relevant and accessible, and then approaching their resolution in ways which help students to develop more complex, critical and authentic understandings of themselves, their peers and their worlds. For globally diverse learners to engage successfully and equally in ‘interactive participation and critical inquiry’ necessarily engages them in challenging established ways of seeing themselves and others. This kind of vulnerability requires trusting relationships with their peers and their faculty.

Wink (Ibid.) also notes that problem solving ‘opens the door to ask questions and seek answers, not only of the visible curriculum, but also of the hidden curriculum’. As explored in Chapter 3, critical pedagogy, particularly for globally diverse students, cannot ignore the hidden or tacit curriculum. This informal curriculum is embodied in the academic, the administrator and the learning-support professional; it infests learning environments, policies and practices. It is found in campus statues and lecture theatre names, and is reflected in the demographics of who is seen in what roles across the campus. Through the norms it establishes, the informal curriculum can also inhibit successful relationship development because, typically, it validates the cultural capital of majority students, and it bolsters the power which they hold over others. To harness the informal curriculum requires that it be made visible, and is critiqued and reformed.

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