What Is Popular Education? Concept And Practical Applications

We analyze a theoretical-practical proposal devised by the Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire.

Popular education

The philosophy and work of the Brazilian Paulo Freire have left a very extensive mark both in pedagogy and in the social sciences because they have allowed establishing dialogues and reflections on the development of educational practice in different contexts, especially in Latin America.

Below we will describe in an introductory way one of the key concepts of his work: Popular Education.

Education beyond school

The antecedents of pedagogy can be located from the first stages of western philosophical thought. However, school and education as institutions whose objective is the socialization of the youngest is mainly based on the values ​​of the modern age.

In Latin America, modern educational institutions and practices were consolidated at the end of the 19th century along with other economic and political systems that had many consequences, some of them conflictive and even painful for the oppressed populations and groups.

From there, different strategies were proposed, among which were the school and public education. But his response was soon insufficient, with which other alternatives were also developed in the field of social sciences, which to a large extent were promoted from the thought of the Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire.

What is Popular Education?

Popular Education is a current of thought and action, that is, a theoretical and methodological orientation within the area of ​​social sciences (although its strongest application has been in pedagogy and in social and community work), which has been very important for the development of programs for the “popular” sector.

The word “popular” arises from the opposition between “the popular” and “the official”, where “the popular” refers to a practice or thought that is opposite to the official one. For its part, “the official” is a practice or a thought that is accepted by a majority, although it has generally been imposed and not consensual.

In more practical terms, the concept of Popular Education has been useful to exert resistance to the dominant models, not only educational but also political and social.

In this sense, it is a practice that seeks to create fairer and more humane societies in defense of human rights, identities, gender, the environment, (among other phenomena that express social problems), trying to modify the role of the actors who are little considered or who are normally considered as passive in official models.

Where does it come from? Some background

Popular Education is nourished by cultural and community theories and is characterized by being a comprehensive proposal with political and ethical commitments. It is based on participation, dialogue and recognition of different knowledge during educational practice, which is understood to occur not only within the school, but also in different spaces.

It is developed from the philosophy and proposals of Paulo Freire, who had made a long journey through places in Latin America, whose main characteristic was political oppression.

Freire had been linked with different movements and participatory organizations and from there he became interested in systematizing some of their experiences. He had recognized the need to strengthen social actors, and to promote environments for participation and changes in mentalities through cultural and social production.

Some of these organizational projects are, for example, the Popular Culture Movement of Recife where Freire coordinated the Reeducation for Adults project. Likewise, the current of Popular Education is influenced by different social and political phenomena that gave rise to the development of theories such as liberation theology, the theory of marginality or popular promotion, especially in the 1960s.

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Education as a practice of freedom

The intention of Popular Education is to develop strategies to strengthen and preserve the community; more specifically the communication and political organization of historically oppressed popular sectors (understanding that these strategies should not be imposed, as had traditionally occurred in Latin American territory).

In other words, it understands pedagogy as a communicative action that has effects on the construction of the person and the collective.

From there, Popular Education reflects on the role of the educator and allows us to go beyond the position of authority or to conceive it as the only bearer of valid knowledge; rather, it understands the educator as a mediator in the educational space.

This allows us to consider the contradictions that educational practice itself generates in the educator, who constantly finds himself in the need to decide between opening up to diversity or using the logic of imposition.

For this current, education is not a purely mechanical process, but rather a process that must take into account the subject of education, that is, their culture, their knowledge, their history, their expectations and their possibilities to project a future . In other words, it tries to recognize the other as a subject of knowledge, and not as a passive subject.

One of the problems that Popular Education currently faces is that it has often been equated with training, projects or programs developed by NGOs but that once again leave social actors as liabilities. For this reason, it has been a project in constant construction and debate and that has inspired numerous social movements, not only in Latin America but around the world.

Related works

Other popular works of Paulo Freire and relate significantly to the Popular Education are the Pedagogy of indignation, Pedagogy of dialogue and conflict, Politics and Education, Popular culture, popular education, cultural action for freedom and other writings ; and perhaps the two most famous are the Pedagogy of the oppressed and Education as a practice of freedom.

Bibliographic references:

  • Santos, M. (2008). Philosophical ideas that underpin the pedagogy of Paulo Freire. Ibero-American Journal of Education, 46: 155-173
  • Rodríguez, L., Marín, C., Moreno, S., et al. (2007). Paulo Freire: a pedagogy from Latin America. Science, teaching and technology, 34: 129-171.
  • Núñez, C. (2005). Popular education: an overview. I decide. Technological and Higher Studies Institute of the West. Paulo Freire Chair / Guadalajara Mexico. Retrieved April 13, 2018.Available at http://www.infodf.org.mx/escuela/curso_capacitadores/educacion_popular/decisio10_saber1.pdf

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