Blog Post 5: Is the “Banking” Model of Education All Bad?

For this blog post, I read about Paulo Freire’s “Banking” concept. This is basically where students are viewed as receptacles that teachers fill with knowledge. The students are expected to listen to the teacher and absorb all of the information the teacher gives them, and the teacher is expected to “deposit” this information. Freire views this as incorrect and advocates for “Problem-Posing Education” where students and teachers think critically about problems and learn together as they work towards solutions.  To me, this is similar to Problem-Based Learning in that the teacher’s role is more to facilitate good conversation and thought on real issues rather than providing the “correct” solutions to the students. While I understand what Freire is going for, I feel that there are certain times where the “Banking” model of education is still necessary.

Freire seems to think that the “Banking” model is all bad, calling for its rejection in entirety. However, there are certain subjects I do not think his “Problem-Posing Education” would work for, or at least not efficiently. Take certain topics in higher level math for example. One could argue that math has been learned throughout history through a large-scale example of “Problem-Posing Education”. The mathematical concepts we know today were learned as a result of countless people’s problem solving throughout history. Mathematicians worked at figuring out these concepts through trial and error, and other mathematicians built on their work, and so on throughout history to get to where we are today. This discovery essentially is “Problem-Posing Education”, just at a large scale. So, obviously people can learn mathematics this way. However, it took years upon years and the efforts of many different people to develop those mathematical principles. If we were to try to teach mathematics to everyone solely through problem-posing trial and error approaches, no one would ever learn higher level maths, because everyone would have to figure out all of these complicated subjects over and over again for themselves.

While this is an extreme and simplistic example, it is nonetheless true. There are certain subjects that have correct solutions that have been learned from others, and the best way to learn those fundamentals is basically by using the Banking model. Teaching students the basics through this form of teaching allows them to benefit from the trial and error of countless people before them, so they can “get up to speed” in an efficient manner. This then allows them to use problem-posing approaches to explore subjects that are less concrete or known. This is how our current state of knowledge was developed, not from everyone starting from scratch every time.

Thus, I think this distinction needs to be made when applying these concepts to our teaching. Using Forestry as an example since that is my field, if I were to teach an introductory course to field measurements, I would not lead students out into the woods, tell them we need to know the diameter and height of all the trees on the tract, and leave them to figure out for themselves how to do that. Sure, they could figure out ways of doing it eventually. Someone could climb each tree and drop a tape down from the top, hopefully not falling out and getting killed in the process. Someone else may decide the best way to measure the diameters of the trees would be to cut them all down, then measure the bases of the trees. Someone else might put two and two together and realize they could measure both the diameter and the height easier with the trees on the ground. But obviously, this is not the most efficient or practical way of learning these concepts. Rather, the best way for them to learn would be for me to teach them how to use a diameter tape and clinometer to measure and calculate the diameter and height of the trees (with them still standing), allowing them to learn the process and complete the inventory in all of an hour or so.

If I were teaching a graduate level forest management class, however, the students may be better served by employing more of a problem-based learning method. For example, instead of lecturing constantly on the “best” management practices in various situations, I could provide examples of different situations they may encounter in the future, and allow them to arrive at the “best” management plan through thoughtful discussion amongst the class. This would allow them to examine the complexities of the situations in depth, and expose them to working with others towards a common goal. In other words, it would teach them to think critically to find innovative and unique solutions to their problems.

Though these examples are simplistic and seem obvious, they help make the point that both methods of teaching are necessary in a student’s education. The fundamentals are best taught through more traditional methods, where the teacher informs the students on what is currently considered to be the best solution for the problem. Without this form of teaching, students would be bogged down in the basics for too long and never get to move on to higher-level material. However, once the students have learned the basics, it is best to use problem-based approaches to allow the students to implement their knowledge, think critically, and come up with new and exciting developments of their own. Without the problem-based learning practices, the students would basically be kept at the same state of knowledge as those before them, and no progress would be made. Thus, a mix of both approaches is best to provide a complete education to students in the most efficient manner possible.

4 Replies to “Blog Post 5: Is the “Banking” Model of Education All Bad?”

  1. Thanks for sharing Austin! I like the points you make and I agree with you. I also do think that certain topics, especially the more technical ones are better taught through the banking system to provide students with the basic knowledge to go through the other phases of education like questioning and discussing. And I think that what Freire was trying to propagate, an environment of discussion and interaction between teacher and students. Even in these very technical topics with limited maneuver, students should always be encouraged to ask and doubt and that what builds the critical thinkers we need today.

  2. Austin, thank you for this post. I agree with you. There are times when I think it is appropriate to lecture on certain material that is not authoritarian or short-circuiting student’s autonomy. I think math is an interesting example as you say since it was perhaps the ‘problem-based’ approach that encourages greater experimentation, which leads to great theoretical innovations. I think there is a need for balance. Or, put differently, I think being aware of the banking concept allows us to be aware of this balance in such a way that we do not approach students as objects to be filled with information, and that it is necessary to cultivate their critical intuition.

  3. Austin, thanks for your post. Your perspective is refreshing, logically coherent and well-argued. I agree that Freire’s suggestion to eliminate the banking system entirely in order to liberate the students from the oppression of the teachers is wrong and illogical. It is true that students need some freedom to be creative and to innovate; however, if they don’t have the fundamental tools they need to function in their field, their creativity and innovation will likely not produce any meaningful change. Your math example is a good one. Students who don’t know the basics can’t engage in higher level mathematics. In the same way, structural engineers who don’t understand how to perform load-bearing calculations will never be able to innovate and create new ways of designing more efficient and safe structures. I think the main problem with Freire’s argument is that he views students as individuals who don’t need formative instruction. Yet, this contradicts the very purpose of education. Thanks again for your post.

  4. Austin– thanks for your post! I understand where you’re coming from regarding there being some basics that may be better taught using the banking system and I agree that basics are definitely very important and that they are needed to have a strong foundation higher level concepts. However, I don’t think Freire is arguing that nothing can be taught this way, but rather encouraging an environment where students are allowed and encouraged to ask questions. For example, a student should be allowed to ask why you measure the diameter and height of a tree that way as opposed to other methods, and there should be a dialogue around that if the question is asked. I think in teaching more technical skills, it’s easy to just say “do it and don’t ask questions”–which was often my experience as an engineer– but I really think that Freire is arguing that there should be openness to students asking why something is done a certain way and maybe exploring other options.

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