Brazil still occupies the 46th place in literacy in the United Nation ranking, having only 83% of the population over 15 years of age capable of writing and reading. It is important to notice that according to the United Nations this data refers to people over 15 years of age who can write and read a short simple text about their daily lives. In our field work we have noticed that many of the people who declare themselves literate have little or no condition of answering simple questions when these are put in writing.

Although literacy occupies a central role in the work of Paulo Freire, it does not refer to a simple set of techniques to teach people to read and write, as one could think. His work is an instrument through which people can be politically sensitized, thus abandoning the usual understanding of their underprivileged condition as resulting from fate or divine wish, and starting to perceive their situation as a consequence of the economical-political-ideological society context, of which they are the product as well as the producers.

In this way the revolutionary aspect of Freire’s ideas lie in the possibility of conjugating the reading of words with the reading of the world; shaking the students out of their inertia and apathy, a result of their condition of exclusion, and guiding them to perceive their place in society as producers of culture. From this they perceive how important and necessary it is to learn to read and write. This is, politically speaking, the first step to literacy.

In this sense, the participants of the "culture circle", as he called classrooms, start a dialogue – the main pedagogic vehicle for a conscientization (1)
– encouraged by the coordinator about themes related to their own reality, with the intention of deepening their readings of the world and enabling new readings, from the standpoint of a political engagement that intends to transform society.

The process always starts with the student’s reality and vocabulary. The "generator words" – selected in a previous research due to their meanings and phonemic richness - besides serving the purpose of encouraging political participation and acting as learning tools will also improve the participants reading and writing skills. They are presented in a crescent order of phonemic difficulty and are interpreted according to the participant’s life context, always taking into consideration local language and culture.

"Conscientization is an ongoing process by which a learner moves toward critical consciousness. This process is the heart of liberatory education. It differs from "consciousness raising" in that the latter frequently involves "banking" education--the transmission of pre-selected knowledge.

The efficacy of Paulo Freire’s teaching "Method" lies in its starting point: the student’s reality, all that he/she already knows. The facts of his/her daily life are valued and taken into consideration, yet when placed in a wider context where the oppressed condition is revealed, they give rise to a desire to overcome this condition.

One has to convey to the students that they have their own ability to transform and re-invent history, by taking charge of it, and by assuming their subject roles and feeling engaged and enthusiastic. This is why the "Method" goes beyond methodological and linguistic rules, to create political sensitivity and the perception of our own place in the world, as creators of culture, of society and of our own destiny.

This is not about inverting the oppressed-oppressor poles, but of overcoming the perverse logic which excludes and alienates, while it bars the access of underprivileged classes to a global understanding of the world.

In this context, Paulo Freire’s ideas are very useful, not only for educational purposes, but for all undertakings that seek community participation in general. While community participation is seen today as essential to developmental processes and to any researches in this area, there remain many doubts concerning the best ways in which to encourage participation. Many clues may be found in Paulo Freire’s ideas, especially in his posture against primers and first readers.

As an example of an adult literacy program inspired by Paulo Freire’s ideas we would like to mention the Adult Literacy Program of the State of Amapá. This program is a result of a covenant executed between the state government of Amapá and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). The project is coordinated by Professor Iza Guerra Labelle (Social Services Faculty, - UFRJ) and has the purpose of teaching young people as well as adults to read and write, besides helping them to enter the work market, thus improving the quality of their lives. Respect for the region’s reality is a basic premise, and the local history, culture and means of survival are validated and revalued, serving as starting points for the learning process.

If he did not believe in the use of first readers in the learning process, it is possible that he also did not believe in their efficacy as tools to encourage community participation. The possibility he leaves open is the valuation of culture and local knowledge, maintaining people’s experiences always as a starting point. Furthermore, there are dialogues, seen as possibilities for mutual learning: the condemnation of the so-called "bank" transactions, where one’s own values and beliefs are "deposited" in the other person, preventing the other person from performing a critical reflection about his/her own reality; and also the search for conscientization, a process which necessarily impels people to action - a transforming action, since it frees both oppressors and oppressed.


"Conscientization is an ongoing process by which a learner moves toward critical consciousness. This process is the heart of liberatory education. It differs from "consciousness raising" in that the latter frequently involves "banking" education-the transmission of pre-selected knowledge