Perhaps the most influential thinker about education in the late twentieth century, Paulo Freire has been influential within and outside of the field of education, with his emphasis on dialogue and his concern for the oppressed.

His Pedagogy of the Oppressed is currently one of the most quoted educational texts (especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia). In it, Freire was able to draw upon, and weave together, a number of strands of thinking about educational practice and liberation.

Paulo Freire was born in 1921 in Recife, Brazil. In 1947, he began work with adult illiterates in North-East Brazil and gradually evolved a method of work with which the word conscientization has been associated. Until 1964 he was Professor of History and Philosophy of Education in the University of Recife and in the 1960s he was involved with a popular education movement to deal with massive illiteracy. From 1962 there were widespread experiments with his method and the movement was extended under the patronage of the federal government. In 1963-4 there were courses for coordinators in all Brazilian states and a plan was drawn up for the establishment of 2000 cultural circles to reach 2,000,000 illiterate people.

Freire was imprisoned following the 1964 coup d’etat for what the new regime considered to be subversive elements in his teaching. He next appeared in exile in Chile where his method was used and the UN School of Political Sciences held seminars on his work. In 1969-70 he was Visiting Professor at the Centre for the Study of Development and Social Change at Harvard University.

He then went to the World Council of Churches in Geneva where, in 1970, he took up a post as special consultant in the Office of Education. Over the next nine years in that post he advised on education reform and initiated popular education activities with a range of groups.

Paulo Freire was able to return to Brazil by 1979. Freire joined the Workers’ Party in Sao Paulo and headed up its adult literacy project for six years. When the party took control of Sao Paulo municipality, following elections in 1988, Paulo Freire was appointed as Sao Paulo’s Secretary of Education.

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