Essays on Education: 2. The gospel of dreaming

By Nosakhere Griffin-EL


How using dreams in the educational space can lead to a life of individual and social consequence.

In the public discourse, people like to talk about the structural issues contributing to the crisis in education in South Africa. They talk about the lack of textbooks, the shortage of qualified teachers, the poor quality of education and the desperate need for equipment, classrooms and funding. But they don’t talk much about inspiring young people to dream and helping them to rise above their circumstances by exploring their purpose in life.

To many, this might sound impractical and sentimental, a sort of pie-in-the-sky idealism that’s incompatible with the realities many schools face. These include overworked teachers in overcrowded classrooms full of children who come from disadvantaged, dysfunctional homes and may have a range of learning or behavioural problems. These are relevant issues, so some might offer the chicken-and-egg argument – in order to help students dream, all of the aforementioned problems have to be addressed first. But what if all these problems were addressed? Would it mean that dream creation and pursuit would be inevitable? No!

That’s why the learning experience we need to develop has to focus on encouraging students to create and pursue their dreams of individual and social consequence. And a relevant learning experience centered in dreams has to take into consideration the difference between schooling and education.

The purpose of schooling is to socialise students into a predetermined world. The teacher imparts knowledge and the pupil passively receives it. This process by its very nature creates little to no space for dream development. Schooling at its best seeks to prepare students for jobs, but not for achieving dreams. At its worst it prepare students for neither. In essence, this learning experience teaches students what to think and how to act based on the status quo.

The purpose of education, however, is to socialise students to be dreamers and builders of a world that doesn’t exist. Teacher and learner use self- reflection and dialogue to co-create new forms of knowledge based on their time, space and cultural context. Therefore – through the facilitation of an educator – education seeks to prepare students to be intellectually curious, with others and on their own. The aim of education is, therefore, for students to have the courage to become dreamers of individual and social consequence. How? Schools need to be revolutionised by 1) teaching students to be self-regulated learners and 2) creating space for dialogue in the classrooms.

  • First, learners need to see that learning is not a process where someone stands in front of the class and distributes knowledge. Rather, it’s a process where the students read what is asked of them, while relating it to their own individual dreams.
  • Second, educators have to create spaces where dialogue is possible. This means teachers cannot see themselves as the possessors of legitimate knowledge. They have to see themselves and students as possessors of knowledge that can aid in the creation of new knowledge, based on their social context. Creating dialogical spaces where learners can dream out loud will enable them to continue this process as adults.

In conclusion, the crisis in education is not only structural; it’s personal too. As an educator who has taught students from both socio-economically oppressed and affluent backgrounds, I believe there is a crisis of purpose in schools. The world is filled with too many adults who buried old dreams in the graveyards of their hearts – dreams that could have eradicated some of the social ills that have plagued humanity for centuries. Too many adults are left living lives that are socially safe out of fear of failure.

I believe that the development of a better world begins with understanding the essence of education and bringing out what is in the student already – a dream that, if pursued, could help transform the world. In addition to transforming the world, education should also teach students that their dreams will bring personal fulfillment. Thus, encouraging students to dream is not only vital to them as individuals, but it’s also crucial to the advancement of South Africa, the African continent and the world at large.

Essays on education

Three thinkers and educators share their ideas on teaching, learning, dreaming and textbooks.

  1. → Tana Paddock: The experience of school
  2. → Dr Nosakhere Griffin-EL: The gospel of dreaming
  3. → Mark Horner: Knowledge should be free

Inside | Nosakhere Griffin-EL

Nosakhere Griffin-EL

Dr Nosakhere Griffin-EL is a self-confessed dreamer and lecturer at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business. From a traditionally socially and economically oppressed background in America, he’s worked extensively with oppressed communities on realising their value and reaching their potential. All of this while caring for his eight-month old baby boy with his soulmate and fellow senior lecturer, Eliada W Griffin-EL.


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