Daniel Schugurensky, Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)

Questions and Answers on Adult Education

Edited by Daniel Schugurensky

This site includes questions and answers on Adult Education that were written by students in the course 'Outline of Adult Education' at OISE/UT. The questions are first raised in class by the students themselves. Then they organize in teams in order to research and answer them. New entries are added regularly. This website is intended to provide information about the field to new students and to those who have a general interest in Adult Education. Anyone is welcome to submit a question and/or answer.


What is Popular Education?

Prepared by E. Jill Given-King, OISE/UT

Related terms: Conscientization, transformative learning.

Popular Education, be it in South Africa or Latin America or Canada, is education devoted to promoting social and political change. Where the democratic process is substandard, it encourages citizens to consider their position and make changes as they see fit. As such, it "exposes and then breaks the cultural and structural bonds hindering people’s enlightenment and empowerment" (PEPE). This enlightenment/empowerment can be wrought in various ways, be it in the course of literacy circles, in a course-based approach, or in a broader social movement.

The Popular Education Group describes four stages in popular education:

  • stage 1 - begins with people’s own experience

  • stage 2 - a move from experience to analysis

  • stage 3 - a move from analysis to collective action

  • stage 4 - reflection and evaluation on the above process.

  • Two Sites of Popular Education

    Paulo Freire (1921-1997) is perhaps one of the better known proponents of popular education. Central to his method were the notions that learning must take place within the community it is meant to benefit and that learners must be encouraged to rely on their own knowledge in the learning process. Freire thus rejects the "banking" approach to education, which supports the notion of teachers as experts and learners as empty vessels into which knowledge must be poured. (Freire, 58). His method exchanged the passivity that traditional notions of adult education engender for an active learning process in which the roles of teacher and student are merged: students are teachers, teachers are students. Learners become active in deciding what is important for them to learn. For Freire, literacy and liberation became entwined. As literacy developed--first in references meaningful to the community being taught, then in discussion of larger political issues--so too did efforts by the populace for liberation. Freire’s vision of popular education is thus divided into two stages: conscientization and praxis; first developing awareness and then putting this awareness into practice.

    In course-based initiatives, there is an emphasis on critical thinking processes which enhance practical and analytical abilities in the area of popular education, thus theory and practice are linked. The Catalyst Centre in Toronto offers courses such as the "Beginner’s guide to popular education" and "It’s about power," the eventual goal being that students will eventually be able to:  

    demonstrate an understanding of popular education;

    develop strategies to build alliances across difference;

    plan and evaluate popular education efforts;

    and demonstrate their awareness "as community workers" of their own particular location as well as that of their clients. 

    All of the above should be rendered in the spirit of "continuous self-reflection and learning" (Catalyst Centre), an effort akin to that of Freire’s although in a different setting.


    Whatever the setting, popular education aims to promote consciousness raising and progressive social change. In the past in Canada, such efforts were at the heart of the Antigonish Movement and continue today in Quebec where "more than 1,000 popular education groups are currently accredited by the MEQ" (Greason, 1998, 97). Interest in popular education is also active in Canada at the institutional level. The Department of Adult Education and Transformative Learning Centre at OISE (www.oise.utoronto.ca) in association with the International Council for Education have linked to "explore the basis and application of popular education in Canadian society" (Selman et al, 415). Interest in popular education continues to grow and is becoming a worldwide effort, one which is manifested at various sites and in different modes.


    Freire, P. (1992/1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

    Greason, V. (1998) "Adult Education in Quebec," in G. Selman, M. Cooke, M. Selman and P. Dampier’s Adult Education in Canada. Second Edition. Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing.

    Selman, G., M. Cooke, M. Selman and P. Dampier. (1998). Adult Education in Canada. Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing.

    Spencer, B. (1998) The Purposes of Adult Education. Toronto. Thompson Educational Publishing.


    Catalyst Centre - http://www/catalystcentre.ca

    Paulo Freire - http://nlu.nl.educ/ace/Resources/Freire.html

    Popular Education Index - http://www.flora.org/mike/poped/index.html

    What is Popular Education?- http://www.pepe.org

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    Last updated on September 04, 2002.