The Freirean Approach to Adult literacy Education

Term Paper, 2009

38 Pages, Grade: A


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The key features of the Freirean approach

3. The Role of Culture in Literacy

4. Incorporating Culture into Adult Literacy Classrooms
4.1 Freirean approaches
4.2 Participatory literacy education

5. English as a Second Language in Adult Education (ESL)

6. Global Contexts for ESL in Adult Education
6.1 Australia
6.2 Canada
6.3 Great Britain
6.4 New Zealand
6.5 United States

7. Adult Education and African Development in the Context of Globalization
7.1 Development

8. Globalization

9. Key Development Challenges in Africa

10. Adult Education and Development

11. Lessons Learned from Practical Experiences of Adult Education Policies in Africa

12. African Development Bank and Adult Education

13. Change in Adult Education in Nigeria

14. Adult and Non-formal Education in Nigeria

15. Elements of Change in Adult Education in Nigeria

16. Innovations in Adult Education Programs in Nigeria

17. Adult Education ESL Teachers Guide

18. Conclusions/Summary


1. Introduction

The Freirean approach to adult literacy education centre on learners' cultural and personal experiences. Freirean was the name for Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, the approach is also referred to as the problem-posing approach (Auerbach & Wallerstein, 1987;Wallerstein, 1983), the psycho-social approach (Hope, Timmel, & Hodzi, 1984; Fargo, 1981), the learner-centered approach (Anorve, 1989), the liberatory approach (Shor & Freire, 1987; Facundo, 1984), and the participatory approach (Jurmo, 1987). It has been used in the developing world in successful native and second language literacy projects sponsored by governments and international voluntary organizations in both rural and urban settings. In the United States, many community-based organizations have used the approach in their nonformal educational programs for developing basic literacy in English, native languages other than English, and English as a second language. Because the Freirean approach goes by a number of different names and Freire's ideas have had such an impact on adult education internationally, there are many literacy educators in the United States who have incorporated elements of the approach into their teaching without realizing that they have been influenced by Paulo Freire. In Freirean terms, culture "includes how people labor, create, and make life choices" (Wallerstein, 1983, p. 5). Culture is not a static set of customs, religious beliefs, social attitudes, forms of address and attire, and foods; rather, it is a dynamic process of transformation and change laden with conflicts to resolve and choices to be made both individually and as a community. Jurmo (1987) categorizes Freire as an exponent of "literacy for social change" because Freire argues that unjust social conditions are the cause of illiteracy and that the purpose of adult basic education is to enable learners to participate actively in liberating themselves from the conditions that oppress them. This liberatory aspect of Freire's philosophy is important for program management as well as for learning. Many programs following the Freirean approach have adopted management structures that give students significant control over the direction of present and future educational activities (Jurmo, 1987; Collins, Balmuth, & Jean, 1989).

2. The key features of the Freirean approach

The two most distinctive features of the Freirean Approach are dialogue and problem-posing. Freire describes dialogue as an "I-thou relationship between two subjects" in which both parties confront each other as knowledgeable equals in a situation of genuine two-way communication (Freire, 1973, p. 52). Teachers possess knowledge of reading and writing; students possess knowledge of the concrete reality of their culture. As with advocates of other humanistic teaching approaches, Freirean educators vehemently reject what Freire has termed "the banking concept of education," where the teacher's primary role is to transmit knowledge to students, "depositing" information into students as they would deposit money into a bank "(Freire, 1970, 1973; Graman, 1989; Auerbach & Burgess, 1985). Instead, Freirean education is a mutual process of reflecting upon and developing insights into the students' evolving culture. The lecture format, where the teacher talks and the students passively receive information, is replaced by the "culture circle" where teachers and students face one another and discuss issues of concern in their own lives (Freire, 1970, 1973). The term "problem posing" is often misunderstood, perhaps because of the negative connotations given the word "problem" and the frequent reference to problem-solving skills in education. In the Freirean approach, cultural themes in the form of open-ended problems are incorporated into materials such as pictures, comics, short stories, songs, and video dramas, which are then used to generate discussion. The teacher asks a series of open-ended questions about these materials that encourage students to elaborate upon what they see in them. Ultimately, this questioning process leads the students to define the real-life problem being represented, discuss its causes, and propose actions that can be taken to solve it (Freire, 1970, 1973; Wallerstein, 1983). Ideally, the solutions evolving from the group's discussion will entail actions in which reading and writing skills are required, thus giving learners a concrete purpose for the literacy they are developing. Freirean advocates contrast this problem-"posing" with problem-"solving" approaches to literacy instruction. In problem-solving approaches, educators identify students' life problems for them a priori, and then design lessons to give students the knowledge they need to solve those problems (Freire, 1970; Auerbach & Burgess, 1985; Noble, 1984; Faigin, 1985; Graman, 1988; Fargo, 1981).

3. The Role of Culture in Literacy

In a culturally heterogeneous society, literacy ceases to be a characteristic inherent solely in the individual. It becomes an interactive process that is constantly redefined and renegotiated, as the individual transacts with the socioculturally fluid surroundings (B.M. Ferdman, 1990). The term "literacy" may be interpreted narrowly, to focus strictly upon the basic mechanics of learning to read and write, or broadly, to recognize the role of cultural factors associated with language learning in different societies. A recent trend toward a broad interpretation recognizes culture and associated factors such as values, beliefs, attitudes, motivation, and cognitive styles as key aspects of literacy education. Scribner and Cole (1981) define literacy as "a set of cultural practices developed in and for different social contexts." Building on this definition, Reder (1990) argues that literacy is acquired in collaborative social contexts; literacy is a shared activity, not individual proficiency with particular skills. Social meanings and learning attitudes, in addition to functional skills, need to be considered in one's interpretation of what it means to be literate. Likewise, Ferdman (1990) argues that literacy is framed and defined by the culture of the learner. One becomes literate when one has developed mastery of both the processes and the symbolic media of a particular culture, the ways in which cultural norms, values, and beliefs are represented. Thus, literacy is considerably more than the ability to read a printed or written page; it involves the ability to both comprehend and manipulate the symbols of that page in ways prescribed by a particular culture. Further, Ferdman cautions that, "The value placed on behaviors that are construed as literate in the context of one group will not be equivalent to the value given them by a different culture." Thus, acquiring and maintaining literate behaviors in a new culture may not be easy, because basic values are not readily changed. The relative ease with which an individual acquires and maintains appropriate literate behaviors in a new culture relates closely to the similarities and dissimilarities between the native culture and the new culture. The methods developed by Freire in Brazil in the early 1960s for native language literacy are still in use in many developing countries in Latin America and Africa. In the United States, organizations such as the Hispanic Literacy Council in Chicago; Bronx Educational Services, Union Settlement House, El Barrio Popular, and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union in New York; Base in Los Angeles; and the Adult Literacy Resources Institute in Boston have used Freire's methods to teach initial literacy in Spanish, in what are sometimes referred to as Basic Education in the Native Language (BENL) programs.Freire developed his approach working with a team of anthropologists, educators, and students in Brazil on a multiphase plan to develop a program of initial literacy instruction in Portuguese for rural peasants and villagers. The first phase of the Brazilian literacy plan consisted of an extended period of social research in the communities where the program was to be implemented. Members of the literacy team spent time in those communities, participating in informal conversations with residents, observing their culture, and listening to their life stories. The team researched the vocabulary of the communities, looking for recurring words and themes to be included in materials for the literacy program. In the second phase of the plan, the literacy team chose "generative words" from their vocabulary lists that would later be used to help students develop elementary skills in decoding and encoding print. Generative words contain syllables that are separated and recombined to form other words. (According to Freire, 1970, In Portuguese only fifteen words are needed to generate all the other words in the language.) Like Ashton-Warner concept of "key words" (1963), Freire believed that generative words should have special affective importance to learners and should evoke the social, cultural, and political contexts in which learners use them (Freire, 1973). In Brazil, the building of the conceptual analysis skills needed for decoding a written text was carried out through the oral discussion of cultural themes present in people's daily lives (Freire, 1973). In the third phase of the Brazilian program, these themes were presented in a symbolic, codified way in the form of drawings of familiar scenes in the life of the community. Illiterate adults were encouraged to "read" their reality by analyzing the elements of the scenes using some of the same decoding tools, such as background knowledge and contextual information that they would with a written code. Each scene depicted conflicts found within the community for students to recognize, analyze, and attempt to resolve as a group. The generative words from the vocabulary lists compiled in the first phase of the plan were embedded in these codifications (Freire, 1973). In the course of identifying the problem in a given code and seeking its solution, learners would "name" the embedded generative words, giving teachers the raw material for developing reading and writing exercises. The final phase of planning the literacy program involved the preparation of so-called discovery cards based on the generative words discussed above. Each discovery card contained a generative word separated into its component syllables, giving learners the opportunity to recombine syllables to form other words in their vocabulary (Freire, 1973). Use of the discovery card method was in keeping with established syllabary techniques frequently used to teach word-attack skills in phonetically and orthographically regular languages such as Spanish and Portuguese. For example, Fingeret (1989) warns against judging nonreading adults within the normative framework of the dominant, reading culture. She regards nonreading adults as members of primarily oral subcultures that are rooted in concrete experience and that place importance on talk. Talk requires consistent face-to-face interaction, follows different rules, and has greater practical value than it does in mainstream U.S. culture. The collaborative literacy practices of the Eskimo, Hispanic, and Hmong communities studied by Reder (1987) revealed a strong oral component and collective accomplishment of reading and writing tasks (p. 256).

4. Incorporating Culture into Adult Literacy Classrooms

According to Fingeret (1990), literacy programs tend to ignore the meanings that learners need to learn to express, choosing instead to teach either the employers' meanings (in the case of workplace literacy programs) or the schools' meanings (in the case of school-based programs). Thus, she makes a case for participatory literacy education approaches that recognize and respect the knowledge, skills, experiences, and aspirations of the students involved (1989). These approaches to literacy education have a strong active component (see Jurmo 1989a), requiring learners and teachers to engage in cross-cultural communication, negotiation, and mutual learning. Following are examples of these approaches:

4.1 Freirean approaches

The influence of Paulo Freire is apparent in many programs and approaches that attempt to base literacy on the cultures and personal experiences of students (see Spener, 1990). The most prominent features of Freirean approaches are problem-posing (Freire, 1970, 1973; Wallerstein, 1983, 1984) and dialogue (Freire, 1973; Auerbach & Burgess, 1985). Dialogue is viewed as a relationship between the learner and the teacher in which the student contributes concrete cultural knowledge and the teacher contributes knowledge about reading and writing. The notion of dialogue is manifested in the ethnographic research of Heath (1980, 1983), Weinstein-Shr (in press), and Weinstein-Shr & Lewis (in press), as well as in the listening and observation techniques proposed by Wallerstein (1983). Problem-posing involves the use of cultural themes and open-ended questions that generate discussions drawing upon students' background knowledge, values, and aspirations. Students are thus given responsibility for defining real-life problems, discussing the causes of the problems, and proposing solutions based on their own experiences.

4.2 Participatory literacy education

This program model (described in Fingeret & Jurmo, 1989) gives learners considerable control over decision making and program operations. The relationship between program staff and learners follows a Freirean orientation; that is, it is collaborative, and student characteristics, aspirations, backgrounds, and needs are placed at the center of the program. The model can give a framework within which a number of emphases can be developed, including family literacy (Auerbach, 1989; Wallerstein, 1984), community-based literacy (Anorve, 1989), the language experience approach (described for adults in Savage, 1984), the whole language approach (described for adults in Rigg, 1990), and learner-based courses. Learner-centered literacy assessment: Procedures for enabling learners to participate in their own literacy assessment are discussed in Lytle, Belzer, Schultz, and Vannozzi (1989). During assessment, learners are asked about such diverse topics as literacy practices and goals, reading and writing strategies, and personal interests. Proponents believe that these discussions enable students to become actively involved in their own learning.Literacy teachers in the United States and Canada who work with adult nonnative speakers of English have attempted to apply Freire's general approach using compatible ESL teaching methods and techniques. In doing so, they have had to overcome two important difficulties. First, Freire's approach assumes that learners are highly knowledgeable about the culture in which they live, and that they are expert speakers of the language that they are learning to read and write. For nonnative speakers of English in predominantly English-speaking countries, neither of these conditions pertains. How can teachers pose problems for their classes to discuss in English, and then develop literacy lessons based on these discussions, if their students cannot speak English? A number of authors have suggested that beginning ESL students can develop problem-posing and dialogue skills rather early on in their acquisition of English. Teachers can foster the process by focusing their initial instruction on development of their students' descriptive vocabularies and teaching them to use questions to exchange information in English. Some familiar ESL methods and techniques that have been used by Freirean practitioners to develop students' descriptive and questioning abilities have included language experience stories, oral histories, Total Physical Response activities, picture stories, the use of flash cards to introduce new vocabulary and structures, and skits conducted with puppets (Wallerstein, 1983; Nash, Cason, Rhum, McGrail, & Gomez-Sanford, in press; Faigin, 1985; Auerbach & Wallerstein, 1987; Barndt & Marino, 1983). A second problem for ESL teachers is that the spelling and syllabic structures of English do not lend themselves to the syllabary method originally used by Freire in Spanish and Portuguese. How, then, can generative words be used to build word-attack skills in reading and writing? Raft Adorve, a literacy trainer for California Literacy, uses a whole-word and word-family method. Learners memorize the spelling of each new vocabulary word and place them in lists of other words on the basis of similar morphological structure or related meaning. For example, the word "American" might appear in two different word lists: in one with words like "African," "Dominican," and "Canadian," and in another with words suggested by students like "apple pie," "Statue of Liberty," and "rich" (Adorve, personal communication, October 10, 1988). Other practitioners adapt the use of generative words to the phonics method of reading instruction, where students learn the spelling patterns of English in order to be able to sound out new words they need to read and write. In languages such as Spanish and Portugguese, generative words contain syllables that can be recombined to form new words. In English, generative words are used to teach other words with the same sound-letter correspondences or similar morphological structure (Long & Speigel-Podnecky, 1988). Still others have abandoned the use of generative words altogether in favor of other whole language techniques developed for English.

5. English as a Second Language in Adult Education (ESL)

The English as a Second Language (ESL) program addresses the needs of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) adults. This service includes adult immigrants, residents, and citizens of the U.S. whose native language is not English. The ESL program offers instruction in pre-literacy skills, reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar, U.S. citizenship, and cultural literacy. The main concern of the ESL program is to help adults with limited English proficiency better communicate in English in order to enter the American mainstream. Classes are conducted in English. The ESL program must take into account many factors involved in this type of education. Some students have post-graduate degrees in their own languages and may be illiterate. Some want only survival competence, while others want to have advanced linguistic competence. Some speaks and understand English quite well but do not read or write it. The ESL program addresses the cultural adjustment difficulties, which can be a major barrier to success.

6. Global Contexts for ESL in Adult Education

Although adult ESL learners across these countries may share similar backgrounds, experiences, and immigration or refugee status, because the context for their learning of English varies as a result of differences in program delivery systems, the adult education context for each country needs to be explained.


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The Freirean Approach to Adult literacy Education
( Atlantic International University )
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Dr. Osemeka Anthony (Author), 2009, The Freirean Approach to Adult literacy Education , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • Dr Osemeka Anthony on 9/30/2010

    literacy is considerably more than the ability to read a printed or written page; it involves the ability to both comprehend and manipulate the symbols of that page in ways prescribed by a particular culture.

  • Dr Osemeka Anthony on 9/30/2010

    Freirean education is a mutual process of reflecting upon and developing insights into the students' evolving culture. The lecture format, where the teacher talks and the students passively receive information, is replaced by the "culture circle" where teachers and students face one another and discuss issues of concern in their own lives.

  • Dr Osemeka Anthony on 9/30/2010

    Culture is not a static set of customs, religious beliefs, social attitudes, forms of address and attire, and foods; rather, it is a dynamic process of transformation and change laden with conflicts to resolve and choices to be made both individually and as a community.

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