Most of the fundamental theoretical assumptions underlying contemporary pedagogical approaches are grounded in humanism, and its numerous permutations. They have hitherto formed the basis of the majority of educational policies and teaching methodologies. To understand the widespread impact of humanism as an ideology, it is necessary to look at its historical and political context, its origin and modifications.
Originating in continental Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the philosophical grounding of these approaches are thus at least four hundred years old. In the ensuing centuries, these assumptions have undergone tremendous changes in the light of the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the rise of capitalism. With the Enlightenment, humanism further emphasized the overarching importance of rationalism, empiricism, and (what it defined as) the ‘scientific method’, based on objectivism and experimentalism. The Industrial Revolution and the consequent rise of capital in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries perpetuated the dominance of reason, which was subjugated to the profit motif. Specialized and hierarchical labour was seen to be of paramount importance, and education became one of the means by which capitalism could ensure the reproduction of its existing conditions of production and distribution of resources. In its broadest sense, therefore, humanist pedagogy has always privileged the following approaches to education:
- Reason over Emotions: Emotions were perceived as an impediment to knowledge. The avowed objective of education was perceived to be the production of ‘reasonable minds’.
- Strictly Stipulated Time Divisions: A strict division between work and play, between education and entertainment was promoted. The educational ‘routine’ or ‘timetable’ operated on this basic division.
- Rigid Boundaries between Disciplines: Educational policies worked on the fundamental premise that knowledge can be divided into watertight compartments. The division of students into Science, Commerce, and Humanities after tenth grade in India (altered recently by the New Education Policy, 2020) can be cited as an example of this approach.
- Presence over Absence: The cornerstone of humanist philosophy is the privileging of presence over absence. In the context of education, this implies a preference for in-situ learning. The classroom was erected as the strictly defined geographical space for physical presence of students, distinctly separated from the home.
These assumptions, however, were subject to radical changes in the twenty-first century as a result of the rise of the cyberspace. The exponential development of the internet and web resources created a digital space which threw into jeopardy most of the fundamental premises on which humanism (and by extension humanist pedagogy) operated. As Professor N. Katherine Hayles points out, the cyberspace complicates and dissolves the ‘present/ absent’ binary on which humanism functions, for, in the digital world, one is simultaneously present and absent since one can explore all corners of the globe from one’s home. These monumental changes, already set in motion by revolutionary developments in cybernetics, were accelerated in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a global effort to control the spread of the coronavirus, countries all around the world were forced to implement extended periods of lockdown, nearly bringing the world economy to a grinding halt. The wheels of the system, however, cannot stay still forever, and experts all over the globe were forced to formulate and implement alternative approaches to work and education. Consequently, work and education were taken out of the office and the classroom (spaces where the contagious virus can spread rapidly) and brought into the relatively safer confines of the home. In the sphere of education, this resulted in a paradigm shift in teaching tools, approaches and methodologies, leading to the emergence of what educationist and researcher Annouchka Bayley delineates as a distinctly posthuman pedagogy. Some of the characteristic features of this radically different pedagogical approach include:
- Holistic Development: Posthuman pedagogy strives to dispense with the rigid division between reason and emotions. It perceives the student as an integral human being, and emphasises the need for psychological counseling and mentoring.
- Integration of Work and Play: Since COVID-19 forces students to stay indoors, a posthumanist pedagogical framework does away with the strict separation of work and play. The development and implementation of infotainment systems of knowledge is encouraged with the objective of ensuring that students study while being entertained in a positive, robust way. This allows the student to proceed with his/ her education with an optimistic and positive state of mind.
- Implementation of an Interdisciplinary Approach: Posthuman pedagogy advocates for a versatile and dynamic interdisciplinary approach to education. It suggests that rigid boundaries between disciplines be done away with and efforts be made for the creation and perpetuation of an interconnected web of knowledge. This enables the students to utilise the tools and techniques of one subject in their study of another subject from a different discipline, resulting in a multidisciplinary vigorousness. The emerging subjects of data ethics and algorithmic fairness can be cited as examples of such a holistic approach to knowledge.
- The World in the Home and the Home in the World: Posthuman pedagogy emphasises the indelible interconnectedness of the domestic and the political. As Professor Ira Shor and Professor Paulo Freire point out, “what we do in the classroom is not an isolated moment separate from the ‘real world’. It is entirely connected to the real world… the world is in the classroom”, and in the wake of online education, the world can be said to have descended into the home. Such a coalescence of hitherto disparates spaces facilitates the dynamic development of real-life skills, allowing the student to perceive the world in a holistic and integrated way. Further, with the improvement of data coverage, global education can be brought to the remote and lesser developed parts of the world.
It can therefore be concluded that the development of posthumanist and digital approaches to pedagogy, accelerated in response to the COVID-19 crisis, can bring about positive changes in the sphere of education. In the Indian context, factors such as the stark digital divide, and the inadequate and unreliable bandwidth coverage act as challenges to the large-scale implementation of the digital revolution. However, with systematic effort, unified action, and a positive frame of mind, these impediments can be surmounted, and the education of tomorrow can be implemented today.
- Bayley, Annouchka. Posthuman Pedagogies in Practice: Arts Based Approaches for Developing Participatory Futures.
- Hayleys, Katherine N. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics.
- Shor, I., & Freire, P. A Pedagogy for Liberation: Dialogues for Transforming Education.
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