The banking model of education is an approach that sees students as containers into which knowledge is deposited by teachers.
It was a metaphor developed by progressive education advocate Paulo Freire. Friere believes Western education tends to see the teacher as the dictator and the student as the passive observer.
On page 73 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Friere, 2017, p. 73), Friere outlines the 10 defining features of the banking model of education:
- The teacher teaches while the students are taught.
- The teacher knows everything while the students are ignorant.
- The teacher thinks while the students are thought about.
- The teacher narrates and the students listen.
- The teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined.
- The teacher chooses and the students comply.
- The teacher acts and the students observe.
- The teacher sets the curriculum and the students adapt to it.
- The teacher claims authority to oppress the students.
- The teacher is the subject while the students are objects. (Friere, 1970, p. 73)
As an alternative, Friere advocates for liberatory or problem-posing education where teachers and students learn with and from each other in problem-oriented classes.
The banking concept of education is a metaphor created by Paolo Friere for a teaching style where teachers ‘deposit’ knowledge into students’ minds like they are piggy banks. Friere claimed this approach, which was common in the 20th Century, sees students as passive learners who are given no scope for creative freedom or critical thinking.
This model is also encouraged by standardized testing, which forces teachers into ‘banking’ test knowledge into students’ minds and doesn’t give them the freedom to explore and come up with their own answers to questions they have.
Friere’s Alternatives to the Banking Model
The key pillars of Friere’s perspective (which is the opposite of the banking model) are outlined below.
1. Marxist Critical Pedagogy
Friere approached education from a Marxist perspective. He saw educators as oppressors and students as the oppressed who are taught to conform to those in power.
Friere uses the Marxist concept of the oppressor-oppressed distinction that has been at the core of Marxist and Hegelian critiques of capitalism. For Friere, this distinction between oppressor and oppressed is also evident in education:
- The teacher as the oppressor teaches the students to accept their position as the oppressed.
- Students as the oppressed learn their place in a social hierarchy and come to accept they will become workers serving the needs of capitalists in adulthood. School is their time to learn to become compliant workers.
2. Knowledge Transmission harms Students
The key pedagogical strategy used to achieve the oppression of students is behaviorist or ‘transmission style’ teaching. Transmission style teaching involves:
- Teacher Narration: The teacher directly narrates facts to students for them to memorize.
- Students’ Passive Repetition: Students are passive learners who must repeat facts to teachers without using their critical thinking skills to filter, critique or interpret the knowledge being presented. Friere argues that in this transition model “The students are not called upon to know, but to memorize the contents narrated by the teacher” (Friere, 1970, p. 80)
- Ignorance of Prior Knowledge: Any prior knowledge students may once have had is ignored by the teacher, who cares not for the student’s beliefs or opinions. The teacher assumes he is the all-knowing authority. They are tabula rasa (latin for ‘blank slates’).
- Whole Group Teaching: Differences in opinions, abilities and interests between students in a class are ignored by the teacher who creates a rigid curriculum that students must adapt to.
3. Teachers should aim to become Co-Learners
Friere advocates for teachers to become revolutionary educators who liberate themselves and their students from the oppressive forces of education. To achieve this, teachers must use the following teaching strategies:
- Change the Role of the Teacher: Friere argues that teachers should challenge the existing roles of teacher and student. Instead of the teacher being the holder of knowledge, the teacher should learn with the students. Friere argues: “The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students” (Friere, 1970, p. 80)
- Focus on “Problem Posing Education”: Today we might use the phrase problem based education for a very similar concept. Friere argued that teachers should not tell students facts but rather pose problems and ask students to use their intelligence to come up with answers for themselves.
- Learning should be Practical: Students should not be taught more theory. Instead, students should learn by engaging with the world around them. This would make learning relevant and meaningful to their lives. Friere argues: “people develop their power to perceive critically […when they interact with the world…] in which they find themselves” (Friere, 1970, p. 82).
Advantages and Disadvantages of Friere’s Philosophy
While it is obvious that Friere was strongly opposed to the banking model, it may still have some advantages. Those advantages are listed below, followed by some major disadvantages of this approach.
Advantages of the banking approach include:
- Teacher Control: Even though most people consider the banking approach to be pedagogically bad practice, many teachers may find it beneficial for helping control poorly behaved classes. In this model, the teacher is the ultimate authority figure and heavily manages her class by preventing cross-talk or dissent.
- Reproduction of Values and Culture: Traditional and time-tested values that should not be questioned may be taught through this approach, where very clear and unquestionable wisdom is transmitted from teacher to student without room for changing of traditions.
- Direct Instruction is Necessary: There are some instances in which direct instruction or ‘telling students the way it is’ is necessary. Fire and workplace safety, for example, are not topics that can be learned through contemporary trial-and-error approaches.
- Some Students appreciate Structure: If we are to believe that different students have different learning styles, then perhaps some may in fact prefer learning through transmission. People may prefer to get their information straight and clear without ambiguity.
Disadvantages of the banking approach include:
- Lack of Critical Thinking: When teachers expect students to accept their word as unquestionable truth, there is no scope for use of cognitive skills to critique of the information presented. Students are denied the opportunity to exercise the critical thinking skills required in 21st Century knowledge economy jobs.
- Lack of Creativity: When students are denied the opportunity to think for themselves they will never develop creative thinking and problem solving skills. As Friere argues: “banking education anesthetizes and inhibits creative power” (Friere, 1970, p. 80).
- Power Imbalances are Reproduced: In the banking model, power remains in the hands of the teacher and students are given no chance to question authority. Friere argues students in working class schools are taught to accept their low position in the world.
Quotes from Pedagogy of the Oppressed
The second chapter of Friere’s book Pedagogy of the Oppressed outlines the banking model. Here are some quotes from that chapter:
- On problem posing education: “The teacher presents the material to the students for their consideration, and re-considers her earlier considerations as the students express their own.” (Friere, 1970, p. 81)
- On alternatives to banking education: “Those truly committed to liberation must reject the banking concept in its entirety […] and replace it with […] “Problem-posing” education” (Friere, 1970, p. 79)
- On the banking metaphor: “Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. (Friere, 1970, p. 72)
- Another definition from Friere: “Narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated content. Worse yet, it turns them into “containers,” into “receptacles” to be “filled” by the teacher.” (Friere, 1970, pp. 71-72)
Who was Paolo Friere?
Paolo Friere was a Brazilian educator, christian socialist, political activist and scholar. He was born in 1921 and died in 1997.
Friere’s family fell into poverty when he was young after his father died. He struggled in school and later started that his struggles to learn in poverty shaped his Marxist political beliefs.
He went to Law school in Recife and studied philosophy and languages during his time at college. After college, he chose to become a teacher rather than continue to pursue law.
He rose to become a director of Education at a university in Recife where he worked on education for the Brazilian poor.
The right-wing coup in 1964 saw a government hostile to Friere’s teaching. The new government imprisoned him for 70 days, after which he fled the country. He spent the rest of his career overseas where he wrote several books, including his most famous text, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
For more detail and information on the banking concept, I would encourage you to go straight to the source and read his book. Read it online for free here (pdf from external site) .
Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Shor, I. (1987). Freire for the classroom: A sourcebook for liberatory teaching. New Hampshire: Heinemann Educational Books.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.