Robert Jjuuko is a Ugandan Researcher, Educationist and Development Consultant.
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Here I make good use of one of Martin Luther King’s catchphrases – let freedom ring, to implore educators in the world to use their privileged vocation and role to harness active citizenship. In my view, educators of whatever level are one of the most advantaged individuals who can significantly contribute to changing the world. Why? Every single day in their working lives, educators constantly strive to influence thinkings, doings and relating capabilities of their learners!
Unfortunately, thousands if not millions plunder this special calling. Yes, they do! In my adult education work as a village literacy tutor, community educator but also as a lecturer at a public university, I notice and regret the unfortunate occasions when I failed in my duty to create democratic learning spaces for the learners in my responsibility. I am sure; I am not alone in this reflexive intellectual enterprise.
As I address fellow educators, it is befitting to challenge the myriad state and non-state actors who are running all sorts of teacher training and professional development schemes in the world to audit their faithfulness to the notion of ‘education and freedom’. Are these schemes supporting educators to proclaim freedom in the classrooms, in the lecturer rooms, in the science laboratories, and in the vocational placements?
If, in the last century, we ignored John Dewey, Paulo Freire and similar thought leaders in their plausible thesis on democracy and education, this is no option in this moment in human history. The exponential social, ecological and technological changes are steadily disrupting routines, be they in schools, families, workplaces or community life. The agentic role of students in tackling local and global injustices, inequality and all forms of undemocratic behaviour is now. The only civil choice at the hands of 21st century educators is to harness and nurture students agency.
The paradigm of preparing students for the future is obsolete; preparation for the future is desirable but the capabilities to deal with the present is essential. The world needs more of transformational resistance by young people to promote peaceful, inclusive and sustainable societies. The activism by the young Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thurnberg, is a vivid source of inspiration to embrace global citizenship education ideals in all curriculum decisions and activities.
Educators have a frontline duty to democratise learning spaces for young people to practice democracy while learning; and to exercise the freedom to think and act on local and global challenges. Of course, to democratise education processes, educators have a burden of dealing with confining policy and institutional structures. We know worldwide, educators’ agency, authority and professional autonomy is under attack. However, this should never be an excuse for unleashing autocratic pedagogical regimes in schools, colleges and universities.
Freedom-laden education is mutually beneficial to all actors – students and educators alike. The empowering effect of democratised learning spaces lead to intergenerational social solidarity, responsibility and collective agency for social change. Promoting our students’ transformational resistance is to sow seeds of real social transformation.
In our special position in contributing towards active global citizenship, we must be prepared to resist teaching-learning tokenism that often comes with the superficial enlargement of curriculum vocabulary with themes such as participation, learner-centeredness and education for sustainable development. Adding these on cover pages of curriculum documents as well as inserting lines of text in learning materials is mere mockery if we refuse to change our pedagogical lenses and actions.
Against all odds, educators need to strive to create empowering education processes. We should seek to substitute routine monologues and lecture with dialogic encounters. We must redefine the relationships with our students. We must co-own and co-manage the processes and actions for knowledge production. With goodwill based on sound epistemological and ideological considerations, it is possible to make a difference. For instance, I find one of the vows in the checklist of active global citizenship learning materials by The Finnish Global Education Network something I can personally try out: I will encourage students to engage in active and respectful dialogue and take responsibility within the boundaries of freedom of expression.
I fully acknowledge the huge impediments to democratising education process in many countries particularly those with very hierarchical social relations and power imbalances. I think it is of imperative that, as educators, we re-orient ourselves; search for knowledge and skills to pronounce and proclaim freedom in all our pedagogical decisions and actions.