Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Dear readers

Do you ever have those days at work where you just feel like, "WOW, this is really where I want to be. I am doing the right thing with my life, and I am making a difference." Well, Ilhamdullilah, I am having one of those days.I read Paolo Freire's book Pedagogy of the Oppressed when I was in college, and it changed my life. Today, I saw someone teach it on the streets.

I went to a faculty conference about the Community-Based Learning Program at the John D. Gerhart Center  for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at AUC today. A group of faculty sat around and thought of ways through which we could improve interaction between students and the community in Cairo and in Egypt through our classes.

One faculty member really impressed me. His name is Yahia Shawkat. He is an architect. He is teaching a class in the Performing and Visual arts department entitled Architecture: Art or Engineering? As part of this class, he asks the students to go find a "client," who the students can assist with their design skills. The students picked clients who were street vendors, security guards, tea salesman, and others at the bottom of Egypt's elaborate, and punishing social hierarchy.

So, Dr. Yahia's students then offered their design skills to these vendors. They helped them redesign their guard booths, their tea stands, their food trucks. The students worked on everything from raising the tea tables off the ground with cleverly made triangular shaped rests, to getting pillows for lumbar support, to enhancing the shade around the stand.

Dr. Yahia instructed them that the cost must be proportionate to the business cost, i.e. less than 100 pounds, or 20 dollars. He also instructed the students not to give the money themselves, they are not in the charity business, they are in the empowerment through design business. The students got feedback from the vendors themselves about what they needed, and often the vendors knew exactly what they needed, but not exactly how to do it. Finally, the students' were instructed to make the designs such that it optimized the work conditions, and helped the vendors to maximize their economic productivity of their business.

I could not believe it. Dr. Yahia perfectly integrated community action, teaching design, sustainability, and empowering the poor all at the same time! His work is radical, it is righteous, and it is revolutionary. Sign me up!

Now that is teaching with a purpose! Kudos! Bravo! Somebody give this guy tenure!


  1. It's true. As a student I always complain that I would benefit more from the courses if it was more practical. Linking the information with real life will lead to motivation. Making something new or something the students are interested in would probably affect their performance positively

  2. Hi!! I guess it is really important to link between practical life and what we have learned in the schools or even in the universities. This Professor is very smart as he knows how to assist his students in understanding his subject very well. I do have bad experience regarding the education system here in Egypt as we get used to memorizes not to understand that complicate our life. I remember once when I asked my professor why we were taking this part (something in accounting) he said that it is written in the book we should take everything in the book. When I asked my uncle whether they still using this in their job or not, he said "no". I was shocked, how we spent long hours learning something that would not help us in practical life, really sad!! I hope will be able to link everything we learn to practical life and drop all the old techniques in learning

  3. Initiative, creativity, and vision are the most noticeable aspects of Dr.'s Yahia assignment to the students. I guess that in these times this is a kind of mentality that will make difference in Egypt. Because everyone won with a little gesture, community-based learning is a way to make interaction among society and to improve self ability and knowledge. I pretty much appreciate the idea of Dr. Yahia. It seems as multilateral problems, one solution. It should be kept.

  4. This is a brilliant initiative that should be adopted by all departments at AUC; especially the Public Policy department since we’re essentially concerned with the public. I also agree that the courses should have more practical work so that the students can learn hands-on and not just theories in books. It would be great if we could work with NGOs or youth centers in an attempt to apply what we’ve learned at school.

  5. Hi Amira. It is a great initiative. I just talked to the CBL, and I am changing one of my assignments for you guys to write your blog about a local leader in your community.


  6. Really I got impressed by Dr. Shawkat's idea as he encouraged his students to get engaged with the real life and to practice what they take in the course. Also, I think that this is a motivative way of learning; I hope that it could be applied in most of AUC departments, if not all of them because it is very important to apply what we have learnt in class on the real life.

  7. Yes i agree with Dr Shawkat. It is time to stop stuffing our minds, put all the info. in a piece of paper to get a certificate without even understand what we are readying.

    Amira , this is a great idea . By the way , what makes me continue in LEADERSHIP course the idea that there are no exams and it all depend on our practical work

  8. Rabab, I hope that you feel our small leadership project is a bit practical. The one we have discussed in class. Yours, WMB