Most teachers and tutors would be familiar with
the term “constructivism”, which describes the
theory that knowledge and meaning are not
found or received but “constructed” by learners.
Constructivism has been and continues to be highly
popular, including in Education Studies. Teacher trainees
are still taught to value the varied pedagogies based on
They learn, for instance, that learners learn from the
experience of failure, and that making mistakes along the
way is actually a good sign.
They also learn that teachers should not teach in the
conventional sense of pouring knowledge into learners’ minds,
and that they should instead facilitate learners’ discovery of
principles, concepts and facts related to given subjects.
The constructivist belief here is that knowledge and
meaning cannot be transmitted; they can only be acquired
when learners put them together through active exploration
and engagement with the objects of study.
We might believe in all this but do we always practice
our belief? Can we, as tutors, maximize the benefits of
constructivist pedagogies for our learners if we do not also
believe in the tenets of poststructuralism and act on them?
Constructivism and poststructuralism share the same
fundamental premise. They hold that knowledge, meaning,
and even reality do not exist out there, independent of us; and
that they exist only as constructs created out of discourse.
As Michel Foucault puts it: “Knowledge is a matter of the
social, historical, and political conditions under which, for
example, statements come to count as true or false.”
Based on this understanding of the terms, can we - to return
to the question - help our learners construct knowledge
and meaning in the constructivist sense if we disagree that
knowledge and meaning are contingent constructs to be
critiqued and challenged?
Can we claim to be pedagogic constructivists if we
encourage learners to challenge knowledge but disapprove when learners respectfully challenge the position we take
in relation to given issues under study?
Would we be facilitating learning if, instead of encouraging,
we discourage learners who express interest in exploring
ways of developing and measuring child creativity because
we believe it has been established for all perpetuity that
creativity can neither be nurtured nor measured until the
child’s psychomotor skills are developed?
Would we be doing our learners service if, instead of
encouraging them to explore novel interdisciplinary ways
of thinking through a problem, we expect them to conform
unbendingly to strict mono-disciplinary protocols?
Experience shows that many learners, even adult ones,
look to tutors as a key source of authority, someone with
whom they can check if their learning is on track.
In this sense alone, tutors carry a heavy responsibility, for we
not only guide learners in content knowledge acquisition,
we also influence their attitude towards knowledge and
scholarship through our own attitude towards the same.
The latter will remain with them long after they have
forgotten the content knowledge they learnt.