Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator is one of the most challenging philosophers of education of our time. His work on the Pedagogy of the Oppressed published by 1968 has guided the education approach in many countries, particularly poor countries with a high rate of illiteracy (Beckett, 2018). Freire was able to articulate an educational approach rooted in the need, idiosyncrasy, and culture of learners. As Roberts suggests, one of the most significant contributions of Freire was his articulated conceptualization of education as a political enterprise (Roberts, 2016).
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His development as a teacher responded to a politically unstable environment and a traditional education system in Brazil that motivated him to develop his model of banking of education. This approach was experiential promoting a genuine interaction between teachers and students (Myers, Pippin, Carvalhaes, & De Anda, 2019). Experiential education is a comprehensive way to promote autonomy during the learning process (Moncure, & Francis, 2011). According to Freire, the banking of the education approach was a controlling process that takes away the freedom of students to learn appropriately. Knowledge under this system of education was like the mechanic of depositing money into a bank account because teachers used to deposit information into passive students like a financial transaction (Beckett, 2018).
Paulo Freire’s pedagogy transcended Brazil and impacted developing countries of the globe. The objective of this brief essay is to explore the impact that the pedagogical approach of Paulo Freire had in the education systems of two nations: Mexico, Latin America, and Guinea Bissau, West Africa. This article will consider the elements of the education philosophy of Freire that sustained or hindered the education process and achievements in these two countries.
Education as a Key Element to Develop a Country
The education model of Freire is beyond a cognitive experience. It is a social experience of liberation because the approach of the traditional system was a violation of the culture of the people (Finkel & Arney, 1995). By the time Freire developed his theory, millions of people lived in poverty and the rate for illiteracy was extremely high. The fact that economics and education are closed related, did not contribute to the improvement of the education system. Poor countries, with high national debts, suffer from low-quality education.
The situation of education in many countries around the world was a reason for the World Declaration on Education for All: Meeting Basic Needs in 1990. This declaration was adopted by the World Conference on Education in Jomtien, Thailand. This important document was instrumental in strengthening Freire’s theory around the world (Moralez-Gómez &Torres, 1995). As affirmed in the declaration, social and economic conditions of the world at that historical moment, demanded a radical transformation of the education systems in the developing countries. In 1995, Fernando Reimers in his article Education for All in Latin America in the XXI Century and the Challenges of External Indebtedness, (p. 27); points out that the World Bank expressed:
“…the world faces daunting problems: notably mounting debt burdens, the threat of economic stagnation and decline, rapid population growth, widening economic disparities among and within nations, war, occupation, civil strife, violent crime, the preventable death of million children and widespread environmental degradation…
These problems have led to major set-backs in basic education in many of the least developed countries. In some other countries, economic growth has been available to finance education expansion, but even so, many millions remain in poverty and unschooled or illiterate. In certain industrialized countries too, cut-backs in government expenditure over the 1980s have led to the deterioration of education” (World Bank, 1990, p.1).
The low quality alongside with detriment financial and social environment made of the pedagogical approach of Freire a good ground for his revolutionary educational model to grow, especially when has been affirmed that education for Freire was an instrument of transformation and empowerment which must move people to action and not conform people to their environment (Bingham, 2016).
It is important to consider that in Freire’s approach, education has an active role because it is a means of power to achieve equity. As Finkel and Arney suggest, Freire conducted his pedagogy with illiterate adults that were not part of the dominant groups (Finkel & Arney, 1995). In principle, the Declaration on Education for All suggested the educational methodology of Freire a reasonable option for the transformation of not only the educational systems but the social conditions of the developing countries as well. Torres points out that Freire believed that global partnership and quality of education are the main factors to eliminate the social paralysis that allows debt’s problems and inefficient education systems to exist (Torres, 1995).
Paulo Freire and Guinea Bissau, West Africa
The case Guinea Bissau in West Africa illustrates the concept of learning as a bilateral process. According to Freire, people can learn by working with other persons through genuine social interaction (Moncure & Francis, 2011). After its independence from Portugal, this country invited Paulo Freire to help them reduce adult illiteracy. Freire believed in education as a way of empowering people (Beckett, 2018).
One of his objectives was to help students distinguish the Portuguese language from their cultural native language. The school system under Portugal’s government had the mission of de-Africanize and separate students from their national identity (Chianca & Ceccon, 2017). Another purpose was to apply a new political-pedagogical experience as an action to re-invent new processes, in this case for Guinea Bissau’s students, which helped them to discover their own social reality (Myers, Pippin, Carvalhaes, & De Anda, 2019).
It was a learning experience beyond gathering, transmission, and accumulation of information (Chianca & Ceccon, 2017). Freire’s pedagogical philosophy application in Guinea Bissau demonstrated that models of education cannot be transplanted from context to context (Chianca & Ceccon, 2017). It is necessary to adapt the educational approach to a specific culture in order to be successful. The experience showed that the application of Freire’s model requires critical evaluation of economic, social, cultural and political aspects of the country under the educational process.
The experience with the people of Guinea Bissau offered the opportunity to empower them by giving them a loud voice in the educational process (Moncure & Francis, 2011). This educational process made the people the center of the experience because it applied dialogue as the main tool to creatively integrate knowledge in a respectful environment (Toh & Floresca-Cawagas, 1997).
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At the conclusion of this educational experience, Freire’s teaching performance in Guinea Bissau was successful in terms of the application of several important characteristics of his pedagogical elements. However, it was frustrating, because, in the end, political difficulties hindered the follow-up of the learning process (Chianca & Ceccon, 2017). The final experience of Guinea Bissau with Freire’s pedagogy reaffirms the position of Glassman and Patton that democratic governments sometimes are not reformers or proactive in regards to education (Glassman & Patton, 2014).
Paulo Freire and the Education in Mexico
How does Freire’s pedagogy apply to Mexican education? Freire’s pedagogy has influenced education in Mexico. There are several factors that directly increased the application of the educational philosophy in this country. Mexico has developed a good pre-school system for poor children. However, the experience with illiterate adults has been completely different. The adult education has been a difficult task. This condition worsened because Mexican culture for many years has promoted male domination and the disadvantage of the position of women have increased illiteracy (Torres,1995).
Another factor that adversely affected the literacy in the adult population is the role that the government plays in its strategy to diversify resources in order to reduce illiteracy in this marginalized group. Ratico and Bangura postulate that in Freire’s theoretical context, education, culture, and politics are closed related (Ratico & Bangura, 2012). This relationship has been evident in the education system in Mexico. As Roberts affirms, Freire rejected social injustices and always pursued the elimination of discrimination throughout his pedagogical model (Roberts, 2016).
Also, the problem of inequality was aggravated by the marginalization of the indigenous communities because they have resisted acculturation from the dominant sector. These conditions alongside the increment of national debt limited allocation of funds for an educational strategy to solve illiteracy problems. How did these conditions in Mexico become a good ground for Freire’s pedagogy model? Hernández and Dunbar consider that the social situation of Mexico provided a perfect framework for the application of Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed (Hernández & Dunbar, 2006).
One example of this consideration is the implementation of a curriculum in the social work field to raise grass-roots movements in order to enhance political awareness to transform the illiteracy condition and social situation of marginalized groups. Definitely, Paulo Freire has been instrumental in the educational process in Mexico. However, as Torres proposes, it is essential to evaluate the efforts that tried to reduce illiteracy in the past. It is necessary to provide better salaries and training to teachers as a way to improve quality of education and effectively fulfill the challenge that the implementation of Freire’s model represents (Torres, 1995).
Opposition to Freire’s Pedagogical Model
Even though that Freire considered himself socialist, he was criticized by political opponents regarding his pedagogical dialogue. Liberals resisted his position in terms of revolutionary actions. On the other hand, Marxists and Maoists considered that Freire’s pedagogical approach was too tolerant in its objective of achieving social changes through education (Roberts, 2016).
Neumann considers that the concept of conscientization as the means to eliminate oppression is unrealistic (Neumann, 2016). Roberts rejects the suggestion of Neumann that the approach of the pedagogical model of Freire is laissez-faire in its relationship to learners (Roberts, 2016).
Paulo Freire’s theoretical education approach transformed the traditional way of teaching. His model was not perfect, but it strengthened the participation, respect, and values of teachers and students in the educational setting. At the same time, it made the society aware of the damaging effects of social inequality and discrimination to achieve quality and transforming education.
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