K. O. Ojokheta

This study was carried out to investigate the application of Paulo Freire’s Literacy teaching methodology in three carefully selected basic literacy centres organized and sponsored by a religious organisation, the University of Ibadan, and a government parastatal (AANFE). The study was designed to find out if the application of the methodology truly helped in achieving the two major purposes of the methodology: political consciousness and literacy skills acquisition. Four postgraduate students, who had undertaken a course on Philosophy of Adult Education, served as research assistants cum facilitators in each of the selected literacy centres. The study was quasi-experimental in nature.

Paulo Freire’s Literacy Teaching Methodology: Application and Implications of the Methodology in Basic Literacy Classes in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria

The findings of the study showed that three prominent issues: mismanagement of the nation‘s resources, leadership and corruption as well as the political crisis in the states dominated the discussion of the learners at stage one. At stage two, the Generative Words discovered by the facilitators were: crude oil, stealing, pocket, begging, poverty, suffering, crying, hunger, crisis, dying. These words were further depicted in pictorial images showing the core situations in the lives of the people. At stage three, the learners have been thoroughly conscientized, and sensitized with the pictorial images that they were no longer interested in the acquisition of literacy skills. In other words, the first of the two purposes of Freirean methodology (political consciousness) was achieved by the study. The implication of this finding is that facilitators wishing to apply Freire‘s teaching methodology must be careful and, in fact, exercise caution in the application of the first two stages so as not to signal the death of the third stage. The actual process of literacy training may not take place if the political consciousness of the learners has been thoroughly raised.


It has long been recognized in Nigeria that education for all is an essential key to the development of the society. This is why the issue of eradicating illiteracy in the country is taken with all the seriousness it deserves by all the stakeholders involved in the promotion of literacy: government establishments, non-governmental organisations, community based organisations etc. Many literacy centres have been established and more are still being established in many states of the federation through the activities of a government parastatal called the Agency for Adult and Non-Formal Education (AANFE) as well as of the National Mass Education Commission (NMEC). Similarly, nongovernmental organisations, especially religious organisations, are increasingly establishing literacy centres where illiterate congregation members are given the opportunity to acquire literacy skills so as to enhance their functionality in the church and eliminate their inferiority complex in their association with other members. It is noteworthy to state that the traditional method of teaching literacy skills is largely employed in all these literacy centres. This traditional method of teaching perceives the teacher as having the monopoly of knowledge while the learners are tabula rasa. The learners learn through the read and recite method. They are mostly passive in the teaching and learning activity.

However, this traditional method has often been criticised by radical philosophers of adult education for domesticating the learners since it emphasizes the transfer of existing knowledge to passive objects (the learners) who must memorise and repeat knowledge acquired. The traditional method is often accused of imposing curricula, ideas, and values on the learners, thereby submerging their consciousness. In place of this method, Paulo Freire, one of the greatest radical philosophers of adult education, proposed a libertarian, dialogic, and problem posing education. This type of education is one in which a group of persons, through dialogue, come to realize the concrete situation in which they live, the reasons for this situation, and the possible solutions. The learners, through this process, are more involved in the real act of knowing rather than being given a ready-made view of social reality. To achieve this type of education, Freire developed different stages of teaching basic literacy.

The Freirean Literacy Method

“Education which fails to recognise the highly educational role of righteous anger that protests against injustice... against indifference, against exploitation and violence, is wrong.” Freire

The literacy teaching method proposed by Paulo Freire comprises three stages. Stage one is tagged the Study of the Context. At this stage, a team studies the context in which the people live in order to determine the common vocabulary and the problems that confront the people in a particular area. To know this, words are elicited from the people themselves through informal conversations. The task of the team is to faithfully record the words and the language used by the people during the informal conversation.

Stage two is tagged The Selection of Words from the Discovered Vocabulary. At this stage, all the words suggested during the informal conversations of people are carefully taken note of and the team chooses the words that are most charged with background meaning for the people. The team is not only interested in the typical expressions of the people but also in words that have major emotional content for them. These words, which Freire called GENERATIVE WORDS, have power to generate other words for the learners. The most important criterion for the choice of a word by the team is that it must have the capacity to confront the social, cultural, and political reality in which the people live. The word must suggest and mean something important for the people. The word must provide both mental and emotional stimulation for the learners.

Stage three is tagged The Actual Process of Literacy Training. The stage comprises three sub-stages: motivational sessions, the development of teaching materials, and literacy training (decodification).

The motivational sessions have to do with the showing of pictures without words by the coordinator. The purpose of this is to provoke, among the learners, some sort of debate and discussion about the situation(s) in which the people live. Through this, the illiterate learners see themselves in the process of learning and reflecting, which helps to promote group consciousness.

The development of teaching materials involves the team developing materials appropriate to each situation. The materials to be developed are of two types: the first type consists of a set of cards or slides showing the breakdown of words into their parts. The second type is a set of cards which depict situations related to the words and designed to impress various images upon the learners. These pictures are designed to stimulate the learners to think about the situations which the words imply. Freire conceptualizes this process of developing images of concrete realities as codification. Through various pictures, situations in the lives of the people are codified or represented in pictorial form. This codification process is the distinctive aspect of Freirean literacy method. They not only serve as aids in the teaching process but also help to initiate and stimulate the process of critical thinking among the learners.

In the literacy training (decodification) each session is built around words and pictures. Here, the generative words are printed with a picture of the word. The literacy class begins to break down both the word and the picture. The learners discuss the existential situation of the word and the relationship between the word and the reality it signifies. After this, a slide is projected showing how the word is separated into its syllables. The family of the first syllable is shown, for example, the word poverty can be broken down into three syllables. The family of the first syllable po is then shown as: pu, pe, pa, pi, etc. A similar process is applied for the remaining syllables. The learners are then led to create other words using these syllables and their families. At the same time, they continue to discuss and analyse critically the real context represented in the codifications. In essence the literacy education is closely connected with the cultural and political life of the learners.

In conclusion, the Freirean literacy approach can be classified as a philosophy and as a method for bringing oppressed people to both literacy and political conscious-Source: La Carta 225 ness. In an attempt to find out how applicable these stages are to teaching literacy skills in literacy centres, in Nigeria, the researcher, with his team of postgraduate students, decided to carry out a study in selected literacy centres in Oyo state of Nigeria.

The Setting and Methodology of the Study

To apply the Freirean literacy method, a quasi-experimental approach or design was adopted. Three literacy centres located in the heart of Ibadanland, the capital city of Oyo State, and the second largest city in sub-Saharan Africa, were randomly selected. The first literacy centre is managed by a religious organisation – the Baptist Mission

– while the second selected centre is managed by the University of Ibadan through the Department of Adult Education. The third centre is organized and sponsored by Oyo State Agency for Adult and Non-Formal Education (AANFE) and is situated in Iddo Community in Iddo Local Government Area of the State. Three teams comprising four postgraduate students who had undertaken a course on Philosophy of Adult Education, served as research assistants and facilitators for the study.

The Application of The Freirean Method in the Selected Literacy Centres

With the assistance of the research teams, the three stages were effectively put into practice in the selected literacy centres.

Stage One: The Study of the Context

At the literacy centres organized by the University of Ibadan, Department of Adult Education, the basic literacy learners consisting of 20 learners from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds participated in the discussion of the context. The discussion, sparked off by the learners themselves, predominantly centred on mismanagement of the nation’s resources. The discussants noted that the nation is overwhelmingly blessed with many resources, among which are: crude oil, gold, bitumen, good agricultural land. They bemoaned the situation that despite the abundance of these resources, the majority of the people still suffer in terms of lack of good roads, lack of good health facilities, massive unemployment, lack of power and water supply, etc. The discussants were extremely furious that the nation’s resources have been massively mismanaged by the nation’s successive leaders, which has led to a situation where people beg in the land of plenty.

At the Agbowo Baptist Literacy Centre managed by the Baptist Church, a similar discussion took place among 18 basic literacy learners of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The discussion centred on leadership corruption. The discussants were almost moved to tears during the discussion process that the nation has made a lot of money from the sale of the crude oil without the nation having anything to show for it. The discussants overwhelmingly agreed that the poverty in the land is caused because

“the monies made have been stolen by past and present leaders into their private pockets…. This is the reason why there is no money to provide good roads, electric supply, food, drugs in our clinics and hospitals, jobs, and good houses, all the money has been stolen by government people.”

At one of the literacy centres organized by Oyo State Agency for Adult and Non-Formal Education in a community called Iddo in Iddo Local Government Area, 20 basic literacy learners constituted the culture circle. The discussion focused on Political Crisis in States. The discussants believed that majority of those who contest for positions during elections do so because “of the money they want to steal when they get to office.” They submitted that this is the reason why the politicians fight to get to office. They wondered why many politicians will want to contest the same position, if not that “they want to steal.” They concluded that the political crisis will continue in the country as long as “people get to office because they want to steal.”

Stage Two: The Selection of Words from The Discovered Vocabulary

From the discussions of the learners, the Generative Words written by the team of facilitators were: resources, money, abundance, crude oil, stealing, pocket, begging, plenty, poverty, suffering, frustration, crying, hunger, crisis, dying, death.

These words were later depicted in pictorial form showing the concrete realities and situations in the lives of the people. The pictorial display provoked an emotional state of pity and anger among the discussants, some of them could not talk, while most of them were moved to tears asking the question: Why! Why! Why! Why!

Stage Three: The Actual Process of Literacy Training

After the completion of stage two, it came as a great surprise to the facilitators, that the discussants were not willing to participate in the literacy teaching/training process. They were in a state of emotional wreck. They were furious, angry, shouting and restless. They were shouting Change! Change! Change! Cursing furiously those who have, in one way or the other, contributed to the suffering of the people. The bottom-line: acquisition of basic literacy skills did not make any meaning to them and in fact was irrelevant, with some of them asking the facilitators:

“What have you people, who are learned, done to change the situation, rather you (have) worsened the situation when you yourself get to the position.’’

The Implication of the Methodology

The application of Freirean literacy methodology has revealed that the first stage, the study of the context, is the most important stage in the whole methodological process. This stage determines what subsequently follow(s) in the other stages. The implication of the application of this stage is that when basic literacy learners are allowed to have a free discussion of the situation(s) in which they live in order to determine the problems that confront them, they may be so carried away with the discussion that they may not be interested in any learning activity afterwards.

Besides, if the facilitators are knowledgeable enough to select Emotive Generative Words depicted in pictorial forms and images, the learners are thus involved in the real act of knowing, having realized the concrete situation in which they live. The implication of this is that the learners may not be interested, any longer, in the acquisition of basic literacy skills, as shown by the findings of this study. The natural reaction of the learners, after their exposure to the pictorial images, would be: “What are the possible solutions to these situations?” rather then the acquisition of literacy skills. Therefore, literacy facilitators, wishing to apply Freirean literacy methodology, must be extremely careful in the application of stage one: the study of the context. This stage, as well as stage two, if applied according to Freire’s specifications, may signal the death of stage three, which is the kernel of the entire methodology. It is important to note that Freirean literacy methodology is meant to achieve two purposes. The first purpose is to prevent people from being given a ready-made view of social reality but to involve them in the real act of knowing through dialogue and discussion. The second purpose is meant to make people acquire literacy skills, which they can use to bring about social, political, and economic changes in their society. In other words, Freirean methodology is meant to bring oppressed people to both political consciousness and literacy. However, the danger in the application of the first two stages of Freirean literacy methodology is that the first purpose, as specified above, will be completely achieved while the second stage may not be reached, not to talk of being achieved.


“The democratic school to which we refer is not one in which it is only the teacher who teaches and the pupil who learns, and where the head is the all-powerful ruler.” Freire

As important as the first two stages of Freirean literacy methodology are, facilitators must exercise caution in their application in literacy classes. When the political consciousness of the learners is raised, they may not be patient enough or be interested in the acquisition of literacy skills since the first two stages may have thoroughly conscientized and sensitized them two stages may have thoroughly consciento the realities of their lives. This is the major finding of the study.

Special Acknowledgement

I acknowledge, in a special way, the effort and commitment of my postgraduate students who served as my team of facilitators in the literacy classes used for this study. Their dedication to the study led to its early completion.


Freire, Paulo (1970(a)). Cultural Action for Freedom: Harvard Education Review and Centre for the Study of Development and Social Change, Cambridge, MA.

Freire, Paulo (1970(b)). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder.

Freire, Paulo (1970(c)). “The Political Literacy Process – An Introduction.” Mimeographed Manuscript Prepared for Publication, Hanover, Germany.

Freire, Paulo (1972). Conscientization and Liberation. Geneva: Institute of Cultural Action.

Freire, Paulo (1973). Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Seabury.