Thu. Sep 24th, 2020

Critical Education: Challenging Narratives and Building Consciousness In Cyberspace

By Abdul Wali Khan Yaftali
Senior Instructor
The Aga Khan University – Institute for Educational Development
Professional Development Center, Chitral

The neo-liberal and neo-conservative socio-economic restructuring of the world orders manifest themselves in wide-ranging ways across various spatial arrangements. Critical theorists, like Paulo Freire, Michael Apple and Henry Giroux, consider these neo-liberal tendencies as a systemic attempt to sustain and reproduce the centuries-old oppressive social structures and class-based socio-economic orders.  Among the chief makers and shakers of the public opinions of such hegemonic tendencies in the contemporary world is the virtual or cyber space. Excessive use of the cyber platforms for businesses, communication and education, during the current pandemic, has made their role even more prominent. Besides, this has also become a challenge for different segments of the society, especially for educators and learners.

Millions of animated and written materials are floated in the cyber spaces (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapps, Instragram, Podcasts etc.) ostensibly serving novel purposes like; entertainment, communication, business, political enlightenment  and education of various segments of the societies. However, experiences and critical analysis of these tendencies by scholars such as Noble (2018) and Giroux (2009) see these as platforms purportedly serving and promoting neo-liberal corporate and vested social agendas. Manipulation of public opinions for electoral and corporate interests, reinforcement of hegemonic tendencies like racism, patriarchy and other biases are some of the challenges posed by the said space. Netizens, especially the youth, not only buy these ideas, but also defend and disseminate them without understanding the broader forces at work. For example, borrowing of different stories more often concocted ones from the electronic and print media and floating them in cyber space is a general trend. The netizens browse, upload and disseminate these stories in the cyber space with their own version of the reality. The closure of educational institutions: schools, colleges and universities as an aftermath of the pandemic has further fueled these trends among the netizens. Moreover, both private and public organizations across the globe are trying to shift their teaching and learning processes to tech-enable distance mode of education. However, these transitions are not a walk in the part but come with numerous challenges for both learners and educators. Some of the most pressing challenges include searching, selecting, and administering authentic educational resources to learners and homeschoolers. The educational materials available in the social media are towed to political and corporate orientations at the back-end aimed at promoting consumerism and advocating political agendas and corporate interests. Selection and utilization of such corporate and politically-influenced educational materials for educational purposes may polarize societies, fuel social conflicts, disturb peaceful coexistence ultimately solidifying oppressive socio-economic contemporary orders.

Embracing critical educational philosophy may help communities, especially educational institutions to tackle the challenges posed by the cyber space. Critical education primarily enables both teachers and learners to examine and challenge power structures which perpetuate inequality by strengthening and sustaining oppressive social orders. Exposure of teachers and learners to critical literature theorized by the thinkers like Paulo Freire, Michael Apple, Peter Mclaren and Henry Giroux, replacing traditional pedagogies by critical pedagogies in contemporary social settings, especially in classrooms and introducing a course on critical media or cyber literacy are some of the ways to tackle the challenges that we persistently encounter in the virtual space.  Similarly, traditional pedagogies including lectures, chalk and talk provide learners minimal opportunities to examine world critically.  Replacing them with critical pedagogies like questioning, dialogue and inquiry, may offer the leaners the tools to see the bigger picture. Hence, experiences from the cyber space and the pandemic trigger us to rethink education as critical process that challenge oppressive orders rather reifying them, and a moral and ethical practice that challenges hegemonic tendencies instead of solidifying them.

Virtual or cyber spaces are gifts of science to humanity. Entertainment, information, education and expression of opinion have become accessible to people living in different parts of the world with minimum efforts due to the evolution of virtual world. However, with its enormous socio-economic benefits to humanity, it may also be used to polarize societies, manipulate public opinion, build false narratives, strengthen social stratification and serve corporate and political interests of certain privileged segments of the society. Critical education of various segments of the masses, especially teachers and learners, by exposing them to historical and contemporary critical theories and replacing traditional pedagogies by critical pedagogies are some of the ways suggested to tackle the challenges that netizens encounter in the virtual spaces. Without embracing the philosophy of critical education, especially in schools, understanding and handling alternative truths or narratives in the cyber space might well remain a distant dream for societies in the face of this ever-changing and complex world.

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