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Paulo Freire (1921-1997) was a Brazilian educationalist who worked for a long time helping dispossessed people in his country develop their own voice. His main concern was to build a 'pedagogy of the oppressed' or a 'pedagogy of hope' (Freire 1972 p.3).

He was arrested and then exiled in 1964 as a result of his work being considered a threat to social order. It was in prison that he wrote his first book, Education as the Practice of Freedom (Williams 1999).

He continued to work with the poor while living in Chile. He pursued his interests further in his post as a professor at Harvard’s Centre for Studies in Education and Development.

In 1970 he published his first work in English, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This work outlined the foundation of his principles and remains the work most closely associated with Freire. In it he first expressed his ideas about how humans interact with and transform the world. He articulated how important dialogical encounters with others are in order to allow people to deal critically with reality.

In 1979 Freire was allowed to return to Brazil where he eventually became the Minister of Education for Sao Paulo in 1988 (Williams 1999).

Paulo Freire has been particularly popular with informal educators with his emphasis on dialogue, his concern for the oppressed and his insistence on situating educational activity in the lived experience of participants. His work is especially popular in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Freire made a number of important theoretical innovations that have had a considerable impact on the development of educational practice. He introduced the term ‘Banking’: a concept of education in which the educator makes ‘deposits’ in the student (Smith 1997). Freire wanted to initiate a much more active, horizontally structured relationship between educator and student through dialogic work. He insisted that dialogue involves respect. It should involve people working with each other.

‘Indeed, studying is a difficult task that requires a systematic critical attitude and intellectual discipline acquired only through practice. This critical attitude is precisely what “banking education” does not engender.’ (Friere 1985 p.2)

Freire was concerned with praxis: informed action which is linked to certain values. Dialogue wasn't just about deepening understanding, but was part of making a difference in the world. He was concerned with ‘conscientization’ (Smith1997) and wanted to develop consciousness imbued with the power to transform reality. Educators should ‘…“problematise situations, present the challenge of reality that the learners confront everyday.’ (Freire 1985 p.22)


Some critics point out that Freire tends to argue in a binary way. We are either with the oppressed or against them. This may be an interesting starting point for teaching, but taken too literally it makes for rather simplistic political analysis.

The educational encounters he explores remain formal and his approach is still curriculum-based, meaning that he is perhaps more orthodox than is sometimes represented. (Smith 1997) This can work against the notion of dialogue, as curriculum implies a predefined set of concerns and activities. It has also been claimed (Street 1983 p.14) that his model of literacy remains rooted in assumptions about cognitive development that are incorrect and too closely linked to the ‘autonomous model’.


Freire, P. (1985) The Politics of Edication, Massachusetts: Bergin & Garvey Publishers.
A collection of Freire’s writings on controversial and significant elements of his educational thinking.

Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, London: Penguin.
In this, his most famous book, Freire attempts to justify a pedagogy of the oppressed and explores the relationship of oppressors and the oppressed. He describes concept of ‘banking’ education and his proposal to replace it with a ‘problem-posing’ concept. Dialogics is presented as the essence of education as the practice for freedom and the subject-object relationship is explored. He also explores ways in which to awaken critical consciousness through education.

Freire, P. (1995) Pedagogy of Hope. Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: Continuum.
This book began as a new preface to his classic work, but grew into a book. Freire reflects on how the text was received and on trends in policy and practice that occurred after publication of the earlier book.

Mackie, R (ed) (1980) Literacy and Revolution: the Pedagogy of Paulo Freire, London: Pluto Press Limited.
A number of authors outline and critique some of Freire’s most important educational concepts.

Smith, Mark. K. (1997) Paulo Freire, infed website. (Visited 5-July-05)
This article offers an overview of Freire. It assesses the claim that his ideas had considerable influence on informal education and popular education in the twentieth century and critiques his work.

Williams, L. (1999) Paulo Freire, Rage and Hope website. (Visited 5-July-05)
This site comments on Freire’s work and how it relates to critical theory in general.

Useful Links

Martin Buber’s focus on dialogue and community mean that he shares many of Freire’s concerns. (Visited 5-July-05)

John Dewey’s belief that education must engage with and enlarge experience and his concern with interaction and environments for learning mean that his ideas are of interest to students researching Freire. (Visited 5-July-05)

Facundo, B, 1984, Facundo on Friere
A critique of Freire’s ideas and a description of her experiences of using his ideas. (Visited 5-July-05)

The Institute of Paulo Freire in Sao Paulo
Includes an English version. (Visited 5-July-05)

Daniel Schugurensky
Includes reviews of Freire’s writings and links to other useful sites. (Visited 5-July-05)