Anne Hope


By Anne Hope in "TfT in Practice"

Training for Transformation is often associated with Paulo Freire’s work. This Brazilian educator struck a chord in the minds of many practitioners in the fields of adult education and community development when his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed was published Freire’s work and life has been documented extensively.

He studied law and that the law was written for the wealthy and powerful. He read extensively on the structures that set up local and global economies and systems of government. He was influenced by Antonio Gramsci and Frantz Fanon. Through trial and error, he developed an approach to adult education which in Portuguese is called ‘conscientization’.

Freire’s key principles of conscientization [or transformation] include:
• The human vocation to transform our world is based on the hope that it is possible to change our world towards a more just society. Freire emphasised that the aim of education was radical transformation towards justice. Radical means going to the roots. To transform society, he suggests that we need to tap into deeper values of cooperation, justice, and concern for the common good. These values are at the base of almost all faiths, and it is a challenge to all of us to live out these values. This is why transformative education is essentially a spiritual process.

• Education must be relevant, based on generative themes that move a community to take action and claim their own power. Most education systems have been set up around what the elite in the society thought is relevant. But who decides what is relevant in a particular community or sector of our society? Freire recognized that emotions play a crucial role in transformation. By starting with the ‘generative’ [or life-giving] themes of a community, people move from apathy to energy. Emotions are linked to motivation.

• Dialogue is crucial in every aspect of participatory learning, and in the whole process of transformation. For years, traditional education, development and public policies have relied on ‘experts’ or a ‘person who knows’. The consultants, experts, teachers come from their own context and limited experiences. On a great many issues, the so-called ‘experts’ have been wrong with profound consequences. An example in point, from the 1990s to 2008, mainstream economists had convinced most global leaders that they could rely on growth to create jobs that would trickle down to the poor. The economic recession that followed has led to greater global poverty and political upheavals.

Freire’s emphasis on dialogue recognised that both “social” knowledge - that we all have - and “scientific” knowledge - that ‘experts’ may have - need to be blended together to arrive at “transformative” knowledge.

• Freire believed that ‘problem-posing’ rather than ‘banking’ education was needed to change the dynamics of learning. Traditional education strives to pour knowledge into the heads of the learners [seen as empty vessels]. Freire called this ‘banking education’, and believed this needed to be turned upside down, starting with a common search for the causes of the problems that concern a community and helping them to search for solutions.

• The cycle of reflection and action [or praxis] is central. Freire believed in the on-going process of community transformation. Nobody has all the answers to most problems, so facilitators and learners are involved in a common search. Classes are seen as ‘learning circles’, and programmes are “learning organisations”. Sustainable change requires on-going reflection and evaluation as events and circumstances change. New facts, more research, and on-going dialogue with communities add to the knowledge within communities.

• No education is neutral. This is a critical component of Freire’s thinking. Does education “domesticate” people to fit obediently into the roles required of them by the dominant culture, or to claim their rights and responsibilities? To what extent do our programmes liberate people to be critical, creative, free, active and responsible members of their society?

One of the key elements in this approach is to continually ask “why”. We saw how effectively this was used by David Werner in his book, “Where there is no doctor”. Werner showed how asking, “but why?’ “but why?” “but why” helped to unlock insights into the structures that hold people in poverty. Thelma Awori, one of the co-founders of the Training for Transformation work and later deputy director of UNIFEM and Assistant Secretary General and Director of the Africa Bureau of the United Nations Development Programme, translated this ‘but why’ approach as, “what is the thing behind the thing, that is the thing?”.

Freire developed this methodology working with the Movement for Basic Education in Brazil. This was a massive literacy programmes with a new approach that enabled thousands of ‘learners’ to become activists. Using generative themes from communities and asking why their situation was as it was, and planning actions together, groups were mobilized to start thinking and acting for themselves. The literacy aspect of his work is fascinating in itself. [Refer to Education for Critical Consciousness, 1974]