Image: Shutterstock

Happy birthday Paulo Freire!

Politically divisive, but undisputedly one of the most influential voices for adult education: this is how Paulo Freire’s achievements for pedagogy and andragogy could best be described. Sunday 19 September is 100th anniversary of Paulo Freire’s birth.

Born shortly after the First World War, into a world in which not only nations but also values and ideologies were completely shattered, Paulo Freire’s childhood and adolescence in Brazil were marked by poverty and political instability. His own experiences influenced his later dedication to working with the poor as well as his philosophical and pedagogical approaches, which were strongly based on Marxist ideas of the time. However, his scientific and political work was abruptly interrupted by his imprisonment as a traitor, after the 1964 coup d’état, when the military junta took over the Brazilian government.

After his release, he went into exile and eventually published his first book Education as the Practice of Freedom, and, shortly afterwards, his seminal work Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire later continued his scientific and educational work at Harvard University in the USA, and in Geneva, among other places, before moving back to Brazil in 1980. There, he continued his work in literacy projects for adults. After a career in academia, pedagogics and andragogy, and politics, he died in Sao Paulo on 2 May 1997.

At the centre of Freire’s pedagogical work, he embraces the self-liberation of the oppressed. In this, education must always take circumstances into account to be emancipative and not reproduce power relations in society. The act of teaching and learning is, therefore, never neutral, but a political act. Learners are, in Freire’s view, the most important agents in education. They bring a wealth of experience, knowledge and prior learning that can and should be built upon, rather than assuming a tabula rasa and pouring new knowledge and skills into the learners.

Paulo Freire’s legacy is reflected in modern approaches to transformative (or change-oriented) adult learning and education (ALE), namely positioning the learner at the centre of the process and using the dialogue as a key principle in education. The personal environment as well as the learning environment of adults play an essential role in learning. This is especially true when it comes to outreach and the development of low-threshold educational opportunities. ALE is also increasingly taking into account skills and knowledge from prior informal and non-formal learning and has developed procedures for their validation. Citizenship education – as part of non-formal adult learning and education – aims to help learners to emancipate themselves and actively participate in and shape political and social life.

Freire’s thinking has been an inspiration for many EAEA members and has directly influenced EAEA’s work. The most visible legacy of Freire’s philosophy can be found in some EAEA projects, namely OED and ImplOED. More recently, the Life Skills for Europe project embraced the concept of putting learners’ needs and personal environment at the centre of course design, and the FuturelabAE project promoted emancipatory learning and change-oriented education.

Text: Raffaela Kihrer


EAEA’s partner NORRAG has published an archival video on Paulo Freire, taking part in panel discussion at the University of Zurich in 1988

To learn more about Freire’s work, see Freire Institute website

11.08.2022 EAEA members

Learning and employment opportunities in a society of equals: meet Learning and Work Institute

“Our vision is for a prosperous and fair society in which learning and work provide opportunities for everyone to realise their potential and ambitions throughout life”, says Alex Stevenson, Head of Essential and Life Skills at the Learning and Work Institute. In interview with EAEA, Stevenson gives insight into the work of the institute. This article is part of EAEA’s campaign introducing our members to the wider adult education community.

09.08.2022 disabled

Brave New Words: Creating learning pathways for special learning disorders

“Critical thinking and autonomy are core values of transformative learning”, says Sonia Nicoforo Project Manager of CEIPES. Brave New Words, the winning project of Grundtvig Awards in the Transnational Category focuses on cultivating innovative learning through 3D Printing and Augmented Reality in the field of Special Education.

20.07.2022 EAEA members

Harnessing the power of knowledge for employment and personal development: meet Odyssea

Recently, Odyssea became an associate member of EAEA. Odyssea is a non-profit organisation based in Athens, Greece, that supports young vulnerable people in gaining access to employment opportunities in society. Programme Manager Thodoris Kostoulas gives insight into the main activities of the organisation and its future plans.