Paulo Freire

Concepts Used by
Paulo Freire

Transformational educator, pedagogical thinker and radical practitioner

Concepts Used by Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire's pedagogical approach has been applied in many contexts, but it is more than simply a collection of methods or techniques. Here we outline briefly some of the key concepts in Freire's work.

Praxis (Action/Reflection)

It is not enough for people to come together in dialogue in order to gain knowledge of their social reality.  They must act together upon their environment in order critically to reflect upon their reality and so transform it through further action and critical reflection.

Generative Themes

According to Paulo Freire, an epoch “is characterized by a complex of ideas, concepts, hopes, doubts, values and challenges in dialectical interaction with their opposites striving towards their fulfilment”.  The concrete representation of these constitute the themes of the epoch.  For example, we may say that in our society some of these themes would include the power of bureaucratic control or the social exclusion of the elderly and disabled.  In social analysis these themes may be discovered in a concrete representation in which the opposite theme is also revealed (i.e., each theme interacts with its opposite).

Easter Experience

Paulo Freire says that “those who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly.  This conversion is so radical as not to allow for ambivalent behaviour…  Conversion to the people requires a profound rebirth.  Those who undergo it must take on a new form of existence; they can no longer remain as they were.”


To enter into dialogue presupposes equality amongst participants.  Each must trust the others; there must be mutual respect and love (care and commitment).  Each one must question what he or she knows and realize that through dialogue existing thoughts will change and new knowledge will be created.


The process of developing a critical awareness of one’s social reality through reflection and action.  Action is fundamental because it is the process of changing the reality.  Paulo Freire says that we all acquire social myths which have a dominant tendency, and so learning is a critical process which depends upon uncovering real problems and actual needs.


This is a way of gathering information in order to build up a picture (codify) around real situations and real people.  Decodification is a process whereby the people in a group begin to identify with aspects of the situation until they feel themselves to be in the situation and so able to reflect critically upon its various aspects, thus gathering understanding.  It is like a photographer bringing a picture into focus.

Banking concept of knowledge

The concept of education in which “knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing”.

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