ArticlePDF Available

Understanding Freire's Banking and Problem-Posing Concepts of Education: A Concise Discussion

Authors:

Abstract

This article is an attempt to understand the Freirean educational approach from the lens of critical pedagogy. In particular, the philosophical and methodological tools that Freire critiqued and advocated in his work on 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed, first published in 1968, have been discussed dividing the concepts into two sections. First, the article sheds light upon the banking concept of education taking account of its pedagogical and literacy mechanism as proposed by Freire. Second, it introduces and highlights the problem-posing concept as a critique of the banking concept emphasizing Freire's notion of dialogue, praxis, and conscientization. Next, it takes account of some possible pitfalls of the Freirean approach concerning some pieces of evidence of the Freirean era; then, it notes down few misinterpretations of Freire's notion of dialogue advocated by pseudocritical educators. Finally, the article concludes with a precise note on what has been examined in the article and signifying the importance of problem-posing education for becoming a 'transformative being'.
Understanding Freire's Banking and Problem-Posing
Concepts of Education: A Concise Discussion
Abstract:
This article is an attempt to understand the Freirean educational approach from the
lens of critical pedagogy. In particular, the philosophical and methodological tools
that Freire critiqued and advocated in his work on 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed, first
published in 1968, have been discussed dividing the concepts into two sections. First,
the article sheds light upon the banking concept of education taking account of its
pedagogical and literacy mechanism as proposed by Freire. Second, it introduces and
highlights the problem-posing concept as a critique of the banking concept
emphasizing Freire's notion of dialogue, praxis, and conscientization. Next, it takes
account of some possible pitfalls of the Freirean approach concerning some pieces of
evidence of the Freirean era; then, it notes down few misinterpretations of Freire's
notion of dialogue advocated by pseudocritical educators. Finally, the article
concludes with a precise note on what has been examined in the article and
signifying the importance of problem-posing education for becoming a
'transformative being'.
Key Terms: Banking education, Problem-posing education, Pitfalls
Paulo Freire has been regarded as one of the most reformist educational thinkers to
develop theoretical and practical alternatives to mainstream development
approaches (Blackburn, 2000) in contemporary studies in educational and social
philosophy, political theories, development education, and particularly adult literacy
education (Pongwat, 1979). Freire’s thoughts on ‘conscientization’ and ‘dialogical
education’ renowned by the name ‘bottom-up’ or ‘grassroots’ approach at his
contemporary epoch gave rise to the participatory approaches that emerged during
the 1970s, advocating the democratic call for a critical self-consciousness on the part
of the researchers/facilitators as well as a concern with social justice, and seek to lead
to some action based on the needs identified by the communities (Blackburn, 2000;
Bozalek and Biersteker, 2010).
Over the years, several approaches have evolved advocating idealistic, moral,
commodified, scientific, and perhaps by modern and other populist metaphors.
However, being democratic and radicalistic by nature, Freirean approaches are still
relevant to reconstruct the hegemonical ideologies of education, thereby empowering
the minorities to evolve freely and break what Freire (2000) calls [the] 'culture of
silence. Freire's views have been both negatively and positively perceived, but he
certainly represents a voice from the lesser developed world, an area which is often
spoken of but itself seldom speaks (Pongwat, 1979). In the following section, the
article talks about Freire’s banking education and its critique: the problem-posing
education taking account of some philosophical assumptions of Freirean thought.
Banking Education: Freire (2000) gives a detailed account of the banking
concept of education in the second chapter of his book, "pedagogy of the oppressed".
Taking Freire's views into consideration, the banking concept of "education" can be
perceived as an instrument of oppression which fundamentally is 'narrative', be it
inside or outside of school (Freire, 2000). Further, he suggests that "education is
suffering from narrative sickness" (p. 71), characterizing the role of a teacher as a
storyteller, alienating the topic from student's existential experience, while students
as the meek listeners and reproducers of the narrated story in society. As opposed to
an instrument of liberation, Freire introduces formal education as a dehumanizing
tool that serves the interest of oppressors. There is no better way of summarizing
Freire's critique of the banking concept of education than to reproduce here is his
original words on the subject:
[Formal] education becomes an act of depositing, in which the students
are the depositories and the teacher the depositor. Instead of
communicating, the teacher issues communiques and “makes deposits”
which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the
“banking” concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to
the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the
deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors
or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is men
themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity,
transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For
apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, men cannot be truly human.
Knowledge emerges only through the restless, impatient, continuing,
hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the world, and with each
other (Freire, 2000, p. 72).
Characterizing the nature of the banking concept, Freire (2000) outlines a set
of features that depict the notion or role of teachers, students, and the overall
mechanism of the formal education process. For Freire, in the formal education
process, teachers are the subjects of the study and think-tank while students remain
as the meek objects who come to adapt to the chosen programmed content. Freire
argues that the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her
professional authority, which she and he sets in opposition to the freedom of the
students. Further, he stresses that the banking system of education regards men as
the adaptable manageable beings or cognizable objects for maintaining an oppressive
social order: the more students put their efforts into receiving and storing
information deposited in them, the less they can attain the critical consciousness that
comes from ‘intervening in reality as makers and transformers of the world’ (Freire,
2000, p. 72).
Therefore, critiquing the banking concept, Freire argues that it fosters falsified
humanitarianism to preserve a profitable situation, alters the consciousness from the
world, negates ontological vocation preventing the students to change history,
inhibits creative power through necrophily, and dichotomize everything proscribing
communication and authentic thinking (Freire, 2000, pp. 74-86). Drawing upon the
work of Beauvoir (1963), Freire writes that the interests of the oppressors lie in
“changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses
them"(p.74), thereby offering euphemistic title of welfare recipients, and enforcing
them to adapt to their imagined system.
Blackburn (2000) mentions that Freire is not the only one to have attacked
formal education. He regards Ivan Illich as one of the contemporaries to Freire who
proposed Deschooling Society (1971) 'no less than the total abolition of all
institutionalized forms of learning' (p. 6); however, Blackburn thinks that Illich failed
to conceptualize a working methodology or lay down the practical basis for an
education in which the poor and oppressed might become subjects of their own
development, asserting the needs, rather than passively accepting the dictates of
State-sponsored education.
Problem-Posing Education: Problem-posing education, on the other hand, sees
education beginning "with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by
reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers
and students" (Freire 2000, p. 72). Unlike the banking education, here knowledge is
not deposited into the minds of others, but instead "emerges only through invention
and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human
beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other" (Freire 2000, p. 72).
Education in this sense based on the movement toward what Freire calls
conscientizacao (for conscientization). Conscientizacao refers to learning to perceive
social, political and economic contradictions, and to take action against the
oppressive elements of reality (Freire, 2000, p. 35). In this regard, one can see that
passive adaptation to a regulated and pre-determined reality is in direct opposition
to the concept of problem-posing education.
In problem-posing education, students and teachers seek to transform the
reality together, rather than to adapt to it. Freire (2000) suggests that in order to
initiate the liberatory praxis people should "abandon the educational goal of deposit-
making and replace it with the posing of the problems … responding to the essence of
consciousness—intentionality—reject communiqués and embody communication"
(p. 79). Problem-posing education seeks to challenge people to critically create
themselves with the world in which they find themselves. Freire (2000) states
Problem-posing education affirms men and women as beings in the process of
becoming—as unfinished, uncompleted beings in and with a likewise
unfinished reality. Indeed, in contrast to other animals who are unfinished,
but not historical, people know themselves to be unfinished; they are aware of
their incompletion. In this incompletion and this awareness lie the very roots
of education as an exclusively human manifestation. The unfinished character
of human beings and the transformational character of reality necessitate that
education be an ongoing activity. (p. 85)
While banking education refuses to allow man the freedom of to decide and to
create and treats men as objects, problem-posing education is directed towards all
becoming subjects in the process of decision making through their own creation of
the world. Problem-posing education is also based on a concept of humanization
with men. It realizes that "humanity however cannot be carried out in isolation or
individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity; …" (Freire, 2000, p. 85).
Connoting the dehumanizing practice with sectarianism, Freire (2000) demarcates
the meaning of being 'authentic human', and argues that "some men’s having must
not be allowed to constitute an obstacle to others’ having, must not consolidate the
power of the former to crush the latter" (p. 86).
The emancipatory tenet of problem-posing education as a humanist and
liberating praxis demands the oppressed to rise above the fatalistic ideologies and
fight for their freedom to become 'a full human'. Freire (2000) argues that "problem-
posing education does not and cannot serve the interests of the oppressor" (p. 86),
therefore, he suggests the oppressed to embrace revolutionary fashion (i.e., dialogical
from outset); overcome authoritarianism, alienating intellectualism and their false
perception of reality. Here, the concept of 'dialogue' and 'praxis' becomes inevitable
for understanding Freire's thoughts on problem-posing education which is discussed
in the following sections.
Dialogue: Problem-posing dialogue is subjects (teachers and students)
dialoguing with each other as equals. Freire states, "…within the word we find two
dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is
sacrificed—even in part—the other immediately suffers" (p. 87). For Freire, "dialogue
is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world"
(Freire, 2000, p. 88). Dialogue is necessary in Freire's approach for education, that it
is through a problem-posing approach that conscientization occurs.
Through dialogue, men are thus able to create their own humanness as they
name and transform the world. Dialogue does not deposit truth or knowledge into
minds. When people dialogue with each other, they are seeking truth and knowledge
together; they create it. Dialogue is necessary; "… authentic education is not carried
on by "A" for "B" or by "A" about "B," but rather by "A" with "B," mediated by the
world—a world which impresses and challenges both parties, giving rise to views or
opinions about it" (Freire, 2000, p. 93).
Praxis: Freire believes that in order to escape an oppressive or
"domesticating" condition, men must transform themselves and the world through
their praxis. Freire (2000) sees the praxis of men in terms of "…reflection and action
upon the world in order to transform it" (p. 51). Freire thus presents a vision of man-
world interdependency, whereby men must confront their world critically (reflection)
and then act (consciously) in order to intervene upon the world (through his actions).
Freire believes man's vocation in life is to create his humanness; to create conditions
that deny man's praxis is to be oppressive. Hence, man must therefore strive to
regain this state of praxis or recognize himself as a being in praxis; then only, he can
be truly human.
Congruently, another fundamental term Freire emphasizes, as succinctly
mentioned in the above section is conscientization. Defining the term Pongwat
(1979) quotes professor Elias (1974) who define the term as "Conscientization …
means a radical denunciation of dehumanizing structures, accompanied by a new
reality to be created by men. It entails a rigorous and rational critique of the ideology
that supports these structures" (p. 29). Although revolutionary in character, the term
has been perceived as both the process and quality inculcating a multitude of
Freirean thoughts. For instance, the term as a 'quality' is examined by relating with
critical consciousness, critical self-evaluation, and historical commitment;
meanwhile, as a 'process', the term has been perceived as historical conditioning and
level of consciousness (such as intransitive, magical, naïve and critical), a social
process, a demythologizing process, a process of awakening and reawakening
consciousness, conscientization as utopia, and a risk-taking process (Pongwat, 1979,
pp. 34-59). Conscientization, in its simplicity, is a process of inquiry for being a 'full
human' embracing liberatory praxis and dialogue, thereby contributing to transform
the regulated realities of any society.
Possible Pitfalls of Freirean Approach: Although Freire has proposed a
working self-liberating pedagogical framework for the oppressed, the pitfalls and
challenges in implementing his framework are significant. For example,
Blackburn
(2000) has
critiqued and doubted upon two aspects of the Freirean approach: "
(i)
the particularist notion of power and empowerment in Freirean thought and
its disregard for vernacular and traditional forms of power, and (ii) the
potential for ideological manipulation, and cultural invasion inherent in the
approach" (p. 8). Drawing upon the "fear-power" (
Rahnema, 1992, p. 123)
dimension of power foregrounded by Rahnema, he critiques the 'ideological
neutrality' and 'culture of silence' notions of Freire from "anthropological
grounds". Taking account of extreme political exploitation contexts ranging
from Northeast Brazil, Latin America to Guatemala during the 1960s,
Blackburn (2000) argues that even the enslaved and powerless possess some
power "those who appear powerless and fatalistic – stuck in what Freire
called a ‘culture of silence', or a ‘magical’ as opposed to a ‘critical’
consciousness – may in fact express (at least some) power in more subtle ways,
such as sabotage, non-cooperation, and the secret observance of a distinct
culture and identity" (pp. 8-9).
In the like manner, Blackburn (2000) reckons that Freirean and other
participatory activists have devalued traditional and vernacular forms of
power, and is highly "derived from European Leftist traditions …, in
particular, Marx's notion of power in capitalist societies" (p. 9). Further, he
states that although Freire did not explicitly embrace the idea of "increased
control of material resources by the poor as the way to increased power per
se, he did envision empowerment as – at the very least – the gaining of
greater political and social space by the poor and the oppressed" (Blackburn,
2000, p. 9). Blackburn (2009), ultimately, highlights the intricacies and
complexities of societal structures, thereby questing Freire's notion of
'magical' consciousness, and other higher levels of consciousness arguing
that "people may not want to be empowered in the way that is being
prescribed" (p. 9).
On the other hand, the notion of ideological manipulation is another
pitfall of the Freirean approach. Blackburn (2000) offers pieces of evidence
from two cases one from Mexico (summer school indigenous language
revitalization program) and another from Nicaragua (the 1980's mass
literacy program), in both cases, he claims that the Freirean approach is
misused. He outlines that in both of the cases the missionaries and
educators served their 'hidden agenda' by prescribing 'a particular world-
view': limiting to the bible readings thereby serving religious interests (in
the first case) and neglecting the local realities in the name of promoting the
national revolutionary culture, thereby serving political interests (in the
latter case) (Blackburn, 2000, pp. 9-10). Taking account of the above-
mentioned examples, one can easily notice the inability of Freire to envision
the possibility of hypocritic nature of educators or the products of banking
education who mainly advocate for what Freire (20005) himself calls
"conceived humanism… [as it] "overlooks the concrete, existential, present
situation of real people" (p. 93)".
Alongside the criticisms that seem merely based on possible resistance of
human nature towards change, or more succinctly philosophical dilemmas of
human agency to embrace the transformation, and question the oppressor's
regulated realities, Freire's educational approach is found to have been
misinterpreted from a dialogical perspective too. Donald Macedo, in the
introduction of Freire's 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed' critiques that "many
pseudocritical educators, in the name of liberation pedagogy, often sloganize Freire
by straitjacketing his revolutionary politics to an empty cliché of the dialogical
method" (Freire, 2000, p. 17). Further, he pinpoints that those educators "refuse to
link experiences to the politics of culture and critical democracy" and confine the
dialogical praxis into "a form of middle-class narcissism" to find "a group-therapy
space for their grievances" and secure "a safe pedagogical zone to deal with his or
her class guilt" (Freire, 2000, p. 17). Having discussed various critiques and
misinterpretations on the Freirean approach, the following section summarizes the
paper taking account of what has been examined yet in the paper.
Conclusion: Despite the attempts that have been made to understand the Freirean
approach of education in this concise discussion, Freire's philosophical and
methodological concerns are multi-paradigmatic, and demands one to think much
more democratically and rationally. It should also be noted that the Freirean
approach is not a panacea for all pedagogical issues that appear in developmental
contexts since there is no one-size-fits-all solution to any given scenario or problem.
And, we must be wary not to believe that education can revolutionize the world on its
own (as Freire repeatedly warned), we must also be careful not to assume that
nothing worthwhile can be accomplished via our educational efforts.
In the above sections, we observed that the educational approach
foregrounded by Freire and the philosophical groundings that underpin it,
necessitate a critical inquiry from the position of the educator, and requires one to
reject the mechanics of "banking education", thereby reinventing oneself from
"doxas" to "logos" (Freire, 2000, p. 81) together with the oppressed for creating an
enabling environment for their empowerment. We also saw how the educators
deploy Freirean techniques, in the form of falsified humanitarianism, whether to
serve their religious or political interests.
This, in turn, invites a few remaining concerns on the relevancy and
usefulness of Freire's ideas in the present-day world. Freire, undoubtedly,
like other great thinkers have been misunderstood and misused throughout
history, yet his ideas of authentic humanism, conscientization, dialogue and
praxis are still relevant and cannot be discarded in the field of education.
However, his works are less incorporated in the formal education system be
it school or university level curricula across the globe embracing the fallacy
that his works are cumbersome to understand (Baral, 2011; Freire, 2000).
Freire's contribution in the field of education is immense, as we
discussed above, however, his notable contribution is to demystify the
processes through which one can transform the regulated realities becoming
the subject of such transformation. In fact, Freire's ideas can be employed in
the multidimensional aspect of our lives with humility, love and compassion
considering history as a possibility for becoming 'being' of ourselves.
References
Baral, R. R. (2011). Pedagogy of liberation: A case of Nepal. New Angle: Nepal
Journal of Social Science and Public Policy, 1(1), 65–77.
https://www.nepalpolicynet.com
Blackburn, J. (2000). Understanding Paulo Freire: Reflections on the origins,
concepts, and possible pitfalls of his educational approach. Community
Development Journal, 35(1), 3–15. https://doi.org/10.1093/cdj/35.1.3
Bozalek, V., & Biersteker, L. (2010). Exploring Power and Privilege Using
Participatory Learning and Action Techniques. Social Work Education, 29(5),
551–572. https://doi.org/10.1080/02615470903193785
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. (30th Anniversary ed.). Continuum.
https://www.amazon.com/dp/0826412769?tag=scribbr00-
20&linkCode=osi&th=1&psc=1
Pongwat, A. (1979). Toward a better understanding of Paulo Freire's concept of
conscientizacao: Its significance and implications for educational change and
social transformation (Order No. 8007496). Available from ProQuest
Dissertations & Theses Global. (302901646).
https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/toward-better-
understanding-paulo-freires-concept/docview/302901646/se-
2?accountid=188747
Rahnema, M. (2009). Participation. In Wolfgand S. (Ed.), The development
dictionary: A guide to knowledge as power. (2nd ed., pp. 127-144) [E-book].
Zed Books. https://www.amazon.com/Development-Dictionary-Guide-
Knowledge-Power/dp/1848133804
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
Full-text available
In contexts of extreme inequality in terms of resources, power and privilege, such as South Africa, students preparing to enter caring professions need to develop the capacity to become critical, thinking and caring people. This would include imagination, a desire for learning, respect and recognition, and democratic practice across racial and class differences. A Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) approach provides a valuable basis from which students can engage in experiential learning about differences and inequalities. In addition, the approach can encourage developing health and human service professionals to be critically reflective in relation to social, political and cultural assumptions they may hold about themselves and others, becoming effectors of social change. We examine how the use of PLA techniques in pedagogic practice provides an environment in which students are able to share their locations and histories across differences of race, class and gender. We describe a joint project involving senior undergraduate students of the Social Work and Occupational Therapy Departments at the University of the Western Cape, and Community Psychology at Stellenbosch University in 2006 and 2007. The article describes how the PLA exercises contributed to students' knowledge of self and others towards anti-oppressive professional practice.
Article
This paper looks into the experiment of New Democratic Education (NDE) as an alternative to the mainstream education in Nepal. It was carried out in Nepal by CPN (Maoist) during the period of People’s War from 1996 to 2006. Along with the emergence of new people’s government in western hilly districts of Nepal by 2003, the concrete foundation was laid to establish ‘new democratic schools’ with their own curriculum. Such a radical pedagogical intervention was in fact an attempt to oppose the present education system which is elitist in its model. The paper endeavours to examine the development and implementation of the NDE project in western Nepal. With the exploration of its curriculum including objectives, textbooks, instruction methods and evaluation system, this paper tries to depict the alternative discourse of school education backed by this experiment in Nepal as well as the counter-arguments. The method of the study constitutes review of the relevant documents and interviews.
Article
The paper begins by exploring the philosophical origins and assumptions underlying the concepts of Freirean thought, notably the critique of banking education, and the revolutionary character of the concepts of dialogue and conscientization. The mechanics of Freirean pedagogical practice are also described, in particular the difficult role of the educator as facilitator, and the liberating nature of the literacy method in which participants' awareness of the 'world' is raised in the process of discovering the 'word'. The article ends on a cautionary note, warning that the particularist notion of power in Freirean thought can all too easily lead to manipulation by educators with other agendas.
Toward a better understanding of Paulo Freire's concept of conscientizacao: Its significance and implications for educational change and social transformation (Order No. 8007496)
  • A Pongwat
Pongwat, A. (1979). Toward a better understanding of Paulo Freire's concept of conscientizacao: Its significance and implications for educational change and social transformation (Order No. 8007496). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (302901646).
The development dictionary: A guide to knowledge as power
  • M Rahnema
Rahnema, M. (2009). Participation. In Wolfgand S. (Ed.), The development dictionary: A guide to knowledge as power. (2nd ed., pp. 127-144) [E-book].