Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Gandhian Education by Ela Gandhi


Discussion about colonial education and how to decolonise education is rife everywhere in S.A. Here are ideas of two personalities who have written much about education and how education can be used to oppress and how it can be used to liberate. This is just a trigger to start discussion on what needs to change. I have chosen three themes:

Picture Paolo Friere
picture from Wikipedia Mahatma Gandhi






  1. Oppressed learning to become oppressors?

Friere wrote in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Because it is a distortion of being more fully human, sooner or later being less human leads the oppressed to struggle against those who made them so. In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not in seeking to regain their humanity (which is a way to create it), become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both.”

An important carrot dangled by colonial oppression is the possession of wealth and power. The desire for these has had the effect on generations of freedom fighters being lured into this trap so that they are transformed from liberators to oppressors for it is wealth and power that oppress the masses.

Gamndhiji said, “Free trade maybe England’s salvation. It spells our ruin. We have yet to formulate a system of Indian economics….. It is not by making our brains a storehouse for cramming facts that our understanding is opened. An intelligent approach to an industrial training is often a more valuable aid to the intellect than an indifferent reading of literature.”

Both Gandhiji and Friere believed in the basic dignity of work. Both believed in humanistic values, but emphasized the need to revive the dignity of the human spirit. Freire wrote, “Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both. Any attempt to “soften” the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their “generosity,” the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well.…False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands — whether of individuals or entire peoples — need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.”

Gandhiji wrote, The primary aim of all education is, or should be the moulding of the character of the pupils….It is a sad thing that our school-boys look upon manual labour with disfavour, if not contempt…. Every handicraft has to be taught not only merely mechanically as is done today but scientifically, i.e. the child should know the why and the wherefore of every process.”

  1. Liberation comes from consciousness of the self not from wanting to ape the oppressor:

Freire who was concerned about the effects of oppression wrote, “Who are better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an oppressive society? …. They will not gain this liberation by chance but through …. their recognition of the necessity to fight for it. And this fight, because of the purpose given it by the oppressed, will actually constitute an act of love opposing the lovelessness which lies at the heart of the oppressors’ violence, lovelessness even when clothed in false generosity. But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or “sub-oppressors.” The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. Their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors….It is not to become free that they want agrarian reform, but in order to acquire land and thus become landowners — or; more precisely, bosses over other workers….. One of the gravest obstacles to the achievement of liberation is that oppressive reality absorbs those within it and thereby acts to submerge human beings’ consciousness.”

Gandhiji warned the Indian nation against a system of education imitating the British, he said, “If India decides in the light of the need there is of fighting Europe with her own weapons, Industrialism, Capitalism, Militarism, and all the rest, in favour of making counterfeit Europeans of her children, soldiers, inventors of explosives, prostituters of Science, forgetting of God, she must go forward on her path stern and open-eyed, whatever the disaster.”

  1. Education for transformation:

Freire writes about 2 stages of the pedagogy of the oppressed, “The pedagogy of the first stage must deal with the problem of the oppressed consciousness and the oppressor consciousness, the problem of men and women who oppress and men and women who suffer oppression. It must take into account their behavior; their view of the world, and their ethics. A particular problem is the duality of the oppressed: they are contradictory, divided beings, shaped by and existing in a concrete situation of oppression and violence. Any situation in which “A” objectively exploits “B” or hinders his and her pursuit of self affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression. Such a situation in itself constitutes violence even when sweetened by false generosity; because it interferes with the individual’s ontological and historical vocation to be more fully human. With the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed. How could they be the initiators, if they themselves are the result of violence? …. It is not the unloved who initiate disaffection, but those who cannot love because they love only themselves. …However the moment the new regime hardens into a dominating “bureaucracy” the humanist dimension of the struggle is lost and it is no longer possible to speak of liberation. Hence our insistence that the authentic solution of the oppressor-oppressed contradiction does not lie in a mere reversal of position, in moving from one pole to the other. Nor does it lie in the replacement of the former oppressors with new ones who continue to subjugate the oppressed…. the oppressors develop the conviction that it is possible for them to transform everything into objects of their purchasing power; hence their strictly materialistic concept of existence. Money is the measure of all things, and profit the primary goal.”

In his biography of Gandhiji Kulkarni writes about a new teaching module visualised by Gandhiji, “each village school could become self reliant with the help of productive economic activities such as gardening, agriculture horticulture, dairy, spinning, weaving and other village crafts. He once poetically desired that he wanted not only “thinking brains” but also “thinking fingers”. He wanted work to vitalise learning, and learning to vitalise work….Nayi Talim also emphasised the teaching of mathematics and the various sciences that are useful for an intelligent and efficient exercise of a person’s vocation. “If to this is added music and literature by way of recreation”, Gandh wrote, “it would give the student a perfect well-balanced all-round education in which the intellect, the body and the spirit have all full play and develop together in a natural, harmonious whole. Gandhiji’s agenda was not limited by national boundaries. It was universal in the conception of its goals-such as the march towards a peaceful and cooperative world order, exploitation –free economy, dignity and justice for all human beings, goodwill and harmony between faiths and cultures, empowerment of women and respect for nature and all her creatures. These universal goals he believed could be achieved only through adherence to the eternal; values of truth, nonviolence, love, justice, kindness and compassion.”

These then should be the goals of liberators –freedom fighters and leaders of the oppressed.