Power, Democracy and Problem-Based Learning

Xiangyun Du, Diana Stentoft, Mona-Lisa Dahms

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/conference proceedingArticle in proceedingResearchpeer-review



Problem Based Learning (PBL) as an educational approach has been increasingly applied in educational settings around the world. Given that PBL - as well as any other educational approach - is rooted in a given cultural context and thus carries the ‘fingerprint' of the specific context, an interesting question is: To which extent is PBL a universally applicable approach to teaching and learning, i.e. an approach which can be implemented successfully to all times and in all societies, independent of differences in social, cultural, political and economic contexts?

With this question as a starting point, an online course titled ‘Intercultural Learning' has been developed. The course is offered as a part of a faculty training programme, Master in Problem Based Learning in Engineering and Science (MPBL) (For more information about the MPBL programme, see Du et. al. 2007). Course and program participants are teachers involved in technical education, who have an interest in initiating changes towards PBL in their institutions and/or in their educational practices. The participants are located in various parts of the world and thus bring diverse experiences to the course and the MPBL programme and create an intercultural teaching and learning environment. One of the course sessions is titled ‘Education, Power and Democracy' and the contributions from participants to the discussion in the course forum have been an exciting inspiration for this paper.

The first section of the paper is this introduction, laying out the background and the context for the paper. The second section of the paper discusses relations between politics and education at different levels, including at a global level in a discussion of the so called ‘Global Knowledge Society'. The third section discusses ‘democracy' and introduces the concept of multicultural democracy. In the fourth section a few cases of implementing problem based learning in different societies around the world are described. In the fifth section the cases described are related to a more theoretically based discussion of democracy and education, specifically PBL, at various levels. With the discussion we do not intend to provide ready-made guidelines to the implementation of PBL, rather to raise some important questions for consideration. Finally, the last section provides an answer to the introductory question about the universality of PBL as an educational approach and draws the conclusion that PBL can be a powerful tool for development and for democratising a society from the bottom up by educating people to become democratic citizens.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Problem-Based Learning Symposium, 7-9 March 2007, Symposium Proceedings : Re-inventing PBL
Number of pages13
PublisherCentre for Educational Development, Republic Polytechnic, Singapore
Publication date2007
ISBN (Print)9789810577186
Publication statusPublished - 2007
EventInternational Problem-Based Learning Symposium, 7-9 March 2007 - Singapore, Singapore
Duration: 7 Mar 20079 Mar 2007
Conference number: 1


ConferenceInternational Problem-Based Learning Symposium, 7-9 March 2007


  • PBL
  • multiculture
  • democracy
  • power
  • VIOL
  • UCPBL Chair


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