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Paulo Freire: “Pedagogy of the oppressed” and working class

His pedagogical proposals continue to revolutionise educational systems around the world. In Scotland, the effect can be felt through a variety of adult education projects.


Paulo Freire4Jordi Albacete


In 1968, protest movements such as May in Paris, the Prague Spring, the Mexican student movement and demonstrations against the Vietnam War illustrated rebellion against the current status quo: a colonialist economic and social model. In Brazil, 1969, a university professor, Paulo Freire (1921-1997), proposed a revolutionary educational theory: Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Freire suffered eight years of extreme poverty, a consequence of the 1929 crisis that struck North-East Brazil. Suffering extreme poverty as a child had a noticeable effect on Freire’s intellectual work. His aim of providing constructive, critical awareness to the working classes helped to strengthen worldwide movements fighting for social justice, particularly in Latin America.

The influence of this movement thrived globally, both in poor and rich countries with social inequalities. In Latin America, the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) and the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) developed Freirean principles in their educational systems. This resulted in the country’s poorest citizens gaining both individual and collective responsibility for their own education.

Paulo Freire_CuriosidadFreire stated that the apathy and resignation of the oppressed classes were tremendous assets to neoliberalism. In order to combat alienation of the oppressed classes, the Brazilian professor’s weapon of choice was to promote curiosity for learning, particularly the feeling of learning. As Freire ponders, “Neoliberalism teaches workers to be good mechanics, but not to discuss the aesthetics, politics and ideology behind learning. The student will not, for example, ask: who benefits from this piece you’re building?

Scotland, social justice and Freire

The influence of Paulo Freire in Scotland is no accident. This stateless nation has a long history of social struggle, especially around the metropolitan area of ​​Glasgow and the industrial area of Grangemouth, in the Scottish central belt.

Since the 18th Century, high levels of migration among the rural population in the mining and textile industries around Glasgow and Edinburgh have resulted in some of the most unequal social structures throughout the UK. Glasgow, Scotland’s most densely populated city (600,000 inhabitants), recorded 10,000 homeless people last year. Within this city lies the Calton district, known as one of the UK’s slums.

Scottish political culture can be broadly defined by a tradition of unions, international solidarity (Scotland was one of the countries which actively participated in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War), and an aversion towards the Tories.

Paulo Freire_edimburgoThe Scottish independence referendum (to be held on September 18th 2014) is generating an increasingly open debate in Scottish society, regarding a new model of social and environmental justice. Grass roots political movements, such as the “Radical Independence Campaign”, are calling for a new legal framework to eliminate noble privileges, in order to legitimise a territorial system of public ownership. At present, Scottish territory is the exclusive property of 364 noble families.

In the 1970s, one of the most important demands of social movements in Scotland was the struggle for gender equality. There were well established differences between men and women with regards to studies. In 1977, a group of women from the Gorgie Dalry area of Edinburgh decided to consult their neighbours about courses they wished to study at the community centre. A year later, the project leaders participated in a training course based on Freire’s ideas.

Freire’s critical principles, in particular, the need to foster class awareness, permeated deep within these educators, who decided to radically change the focus of the project.

Ancianos latinos 11Through an active dialogue with the residents, the new approach investigated the problems and real demands of the working class, in order to develop educational programmes which conformed to their social context.

In 1984, the application of Freire’s methods to boost awareness of “class” amongst the residents of the Gorgie Dalry area caught the attention of many educators in the UK. The project coordinators organised a conference, and numerous experts from across Great Britain (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) were in attendance.

In 1989, the first collaborative research was carried out with residents. It included Freire’s critical approach to the implementation of adult education projects (‘Adult Learning Project’, or ‘ALP’). Freire suggested that teachers should be “witnesses to students approaching subjects as researchers, producers of knowledge”.

From the 1990s up until the present day, plans for adult education in Scotland have incorporated Freire’s main principle.

Since 2013, a group of volunteers, of various ages, in conjunction with education-conscious individuals, have taken up the legacy of previous projects inspired by Paulo Freire, launching the “Tollcross Together” project.

Personas sin hogar5“Pedagogy of the Oppressed” is also based on collaborative research from residents of the Tollcross area. It aims to ask residents which educational needs are required, as well as ways in which to supplement these requests with courses, workshops, activities, and seminars.

The aforementioned volunteers knock on the residents’ doors and ask very simple questions: “What do you like about this neighbourhood?” “What don’t you like?” “What would you change?” “What would you really like to learn but can’t access in your neighbourhood?” The answers develop in dialogue with the interviewers, and gradually stimulate the participants’ curiosity to make ​​sense of why these questions have been asked. This can, for example, create a new vision regarding improvements to social interaction within the neighbourhood. It is a process of collective awareness.

Paulo Freire_blogOne of the attractions of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” is that solutions are not expected. Instead, they are created by groups which subsequently make proposals to institutions. This paradigm legitimises neighbourhood demands to close the cultural gap between the privileged classes and the oppressed.

Ultimately, as Freire said, the struggle for education for the working class is one which requires the structural commitment of all social and political actors. “You cannot change the education system if the global system of society does not also transform. Reforms can be introduced, but not radical changes. This would be naive of revolutionary groups.”


(Translated by Marie-Thérèse Slorach – Email:

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