social justice education

Written by Iqra Abid 7:03 pm Opinion, Published Content

Calling for Social Justice in Classrooms

There is apparent social injustice in education, which is marked by inadequate efforts made towards minorities’ education, disparities in girls’ education, and the culturally irresponsive pedagogy widening racial segregation in Pakistan. Iqra Abid believes that for an education system to be socially just, it must be built on inclusion, activism, reciprocal community relationships, and ethnographic narrative.
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About the Author(s)
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Ms Iqra Abid is an independent researcher and educator. She graduated with a degree in Education from Forman Christian College. She is currently working as an education coordinator at Shehri Pakistan.


The term social justice is often claimed in schools’ mission statements and objectives of education campaigns; from achieving a practicum of educational philosophy to leaving no child behind. The difficulty to define social justice for educators is that it does not have a single essential meaning. When an idea can refer to almost anything, it loses its analytical purchase.

While claiming the orientation of social justice, educators draw upon various discourses including critical pedagogy, cultural studies, folk pedagogy, anti-oppressive education, feminism, multiculturalism, and critical race theory. The definition of social justice is embedded within these discourses to tease out the progressive vision to challenge unjust movements in education.

Indigenous Language

In the classroom, culturally responsive strategies are needed to steer the development of cultural capital; concepts in the indigenous language, characters, satires, and relatable examples to achieve a sense of belonging.

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“Without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle” – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

In practice, in Southern Punjab, almost all primary schools execute their pedagogies in the Saraiki language because they claim that effective teaching occurs when the objective is ‘learning for all’ regardless of the medium of instruction. Be it Saraiki, Sindhi, Balochi, Punjabi, Pashto, or any other regional language, the wired-in concepts of mathematics and science are retained due to ease of learning.

The classroom automatically shifts from an authoritarian to an indulgent style as the particulars of responses of the students change from a laconic ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to the foreground of discussion to form their voice at the initial stage.

Pedagogies influenced by indigenous languages are perceived as unprincipled under the taught curriculum which upholds ‘one nation, one curriculum’ in a multicultural Pakistan. This situation is nothing different than the anti-oppressive folk pedagogy claimed by Paulo Freire in the ‘banking concept of education,’ projecting an absolute ignorance onto others.

A Space for Minorities

“The classroom remains the most racial space of possibility in the academy” – Bell Hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

To instill social consciousness in students to translate their compromised existence and victimization of discrimination in a pluralist society forms the next category. Bell Hooks in her three books, Teaching to Transgress (1994), Teaching Community (2003), and Teaching Critical Thinking (2010) shared her experience as a black woman working to empower students to transgress classism, racism, and sexism to attain freedom and justice.

In Pakistan, the sufferings of Baloch students are intensified and nationalized through biased educational and social policies. In several universities, Baloch students and teachers go missing after minor trouble in the country. Moreover, their peaceful protests and sit-ins against enforced disappearances and racial profiling are mishandled in the event of making arrests of protesters, harassing Baloch women, and detaining Baloch students at educational institutions in Pakistan.

Subtractive learning and assimilation policies contribute to the underachievement of minorities’ education in Pakistan. Minority students, especially Christian students, undergo threats and forceful conversion in schools. The systemic issue of biased curricula against minority students inhibits their learning and results in social exclusion.

In 2020, alternatives to studying Islamiat were offered to minority students in the Single National Curriculum for five religious groups: Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Baha’i, and Kalash. The Federal Ministry of Education decided to add Buddhism and Zoroastrianism to the existing five minorities to be studied. There is no such textbook in schools or the market thus far.

Nonetheless, minority students fret about Islamic content in other compulsory subjects such as English, Urdu, general knowledge, and social studies. Given the fact that Article 22 of the constitution maintains that “No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, ceremony or worship related to a religion other than his own.”

Girls’ Education

Factors that affect parents’ attitudes towards girls’ education in Pakistan are often influenced by culturally-fulfilling prophecies that educating girls will result in losing face. Other factors include poverty, harassment, lack of separate sanitation during menstruation, violence, migration, and absence of schools in their proximity.

A feminist educator, Carolyn Shrewsbury, described feminist pedagogy, as “A vision of what education might be like but frequently is not.” Disparities in girls’ education in Pakistan could be minimized by decentering power in the classroom, creating new standards of teaching, and learning beyond the school and society.

Rejecting a normative classroom, feminist pedagogy coupled with critical pedagogy encourages students to take control of their learning and deconstruct socio-economic stereotypes through its elements: knowledge co-creation, community, empowerment, voice/experience, and reflection.

The Right Educational Philosophy

In the sociology of education, conflict theorists criticize assessments and evaluations, stating that standardized tests are culturally biased and perpetuate inequality among schools and society.

Educational philosophies have restricted the notion of justice in their following applications. Aristotelian essentialism lacks an active role of the student in a classroom because merely discipline does not meet the criteria for learning. The one-dimensional approach to behaviorism fails to produce reflective educators with culturally responsive instructions. Reconstructionists identify the dismays of society through education but propose reforms for the creation of a utopian society.

A just school and a socially just education in Pakistan need to be built on four principles: inclusion and equity, activism, reciprocal community relationships, and ethnographic narrative to re-seed culturally responsive education. The resuscitation of a socially-just pedagogy is possible by curtailing the ‘sage on the stage’ teaching practicum as it is often alienating and seemingly tangential to the social predilection of teachers.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.

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