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What does ‘popular education’ mean and why does it matter?

Introduction

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            In the context of the twenty-first century, technological and space advances have changed the course of life as it ever before was. Today, it is very significant to pace up with the fast changing world to keep abreast with the development. There is no doubt that education is only single factor that has taken the developed world on the top of the hierarchy from where they now lead the rest of the world. This is true in almost all walks of life. As such, for any country, it is an imperative requirement to cope up with the present and upcoming challenges to equip their people with essential tool like education. It is due to the essential observation that education has played a vital role in bringing a positive social change among those who were made aware of their problems as well the ways to solve those problems.

The present paper, henceforth, looks at the issue of “popular education” or “adult education or learning” in the context of present times. It sheds critical light on a number of areas of popular education and aims to explore its pros and cons with the view in mind that the paper will educate the reader about the concept of popular education as well as the paper will bring forward the essentials of this very conception of education. In the later part of the paper, I review a case study to examine the effectiveness of popular education for social change. Ahead, I critically discuss the issues of adult education and lifelong learning with regard to popular education and make significant recommendation about the issue at hand.

Popular Education

There is no one clearly-sifted definition of popular education in the South American background where it is actually said to have nurtured in the present times. It is typically connected with political progress and is intended for communities disqualified from full contribution in the political procedure. Experts state that the philosophical foundation of popular education as a social activity that positions itself in a structure wider than that dealing absolutely with teaching and something that aspires for the popular divisions, in order that people in these categories will develop into self-conscious political participants.

The key features of popular education are normally listed as that (i) horizontal associations between educators and learners; (ii) rejoinder to a need articulated by a community; (iii) community participation in setting up the instruction and political effort; (iv) acknowledgement that the group of people is the source of information. (Smith, 1999, n.p.)

Role of Motivation in Adult Education

            There is high emphasis laid on the issue of motivation in adult education. Research findings suggest that to encourage adults to start learning again, or start learning in a different way from their daily routine, it is important to boost up the level of their motivation so that they can show results. Ahl (2006, p. 387) cites Björklund, who gives three components of motivation as “(1) what energizes human behaviours; (2) what directs or channels such behaviour; (3) how this behaviour is maintained or sustained”. Though there are a number of definition for the conceptual understating of motivation, the authors specifically reviewed literature in connection with adult education. There are, according to this review, six types of factors that play a vital role in elevating adults to start learning. These six do not offer exhaustive and clear-cut definitions and are open to argument, we can fairly note that they provide bases for looking into the domain of adult education. This review also helps one understand how adult education can be designed to motivate adults to stand up again to learning and bringing change in their lives. The six types are: (1) Economic/rational humans who are motivated by rewards and punishments in terms of economic gains and losses; (2) then there are social humans who find motivation in the social norms and their communities and social practices have great motivation for them to improve life conditions; (3) psycho-biological humans are another category of those who get motivated to learn by their instincts and drives, that is to say, it is their inner voice that motivates them to learn something which has an implication that their inner voice must be kindled to make them opt for an adult learning program; (4) learning humans find motivation in stimuli and/or rewards; (5) need-driven humans are those who have their inner needs engrained in them to catalyze a plan to learn; (6) the last category is of the people which are considered as cognitive humans motivated to learn by their cognitive maps: logical thinking, reasoning, and so on. (Ahl, 2006, pp. 388-393)

Although much of this is available in educational research discourse, this is important to note that these theories, though advocated by a number of different scholars, have their own grounds for criticism. As such motivation theories for adult learning is not a clearly outlined domain because “it implies that individual differences become important in motivation theory. A reward may mean something important to one person and yet quite a different thing for another”. Yet it is right to suggest that these theories help us understand the basic formulation of how to base adult education. (Ahl, 2006, p. 393)

Popular Education at Length

            Popular education is actually a kind of impartation that aims to encourage and educate adult learners. However, the kind of education that is the focus of popular education is not of academic type, something in which adults sit down to copy word for word from the black or white board. What popular education does to adults is that it encourages them to look into their life critically and pinpoint areas that need to be changed for a better lifestyle. In this sense, popular education means to bring positive change into the lives of adults by educating them about their own problems and issues. The derivation of the term “popular”, as Sandra, 1997 states, bases on the idea of an education system “being of the people” (n.p.). It was in the beginning of the second half of the twentieth century (1960s-1970s) that the concept of popular education. Although the roots or early development of this particular genre of education can be found as early as the French Revolution, surprisingly, the contemporary concept and practices emerged not in a developed country but in Latin America, Brazil, to be specific. Paulo Freire is the best known proponent of popular education. (Sandra, 1997, n.p.)

            The prime goal or focus of popular education is to develop in adults a capacity by which they can bring about a social change. However, the approach of popular education is to strike a social change by making people pinpoint their problems of life in a collective initiative. As such, the approach stresses on adults’ participation, reflection, and analysis of their social problems in a critical way. Key features of popular education are worth noting because of a different approach of educating the concerned population of adults. In this education, every adult has an opportunity to teach and thus to learn. This way the concept of leadership is shared; this education starts with concerns and experiences of learners; likewise the degree of participation by the learners is naturally high; by all this process, popular education easily kindles the ways of creation of new knowledge; there is a significant amount of critical reflection by the learners on the issues they are talking about which, as a result, enable them to start to initiate high order, organized thinking. Popular education aims also to elevate the local people to a global level and encourages them to put effort for a collective action to be put for a change in present context of a social setting. (Sandra, 1997, n.p.)

The Process of Popular Education

            Popular education is essentially community-based method of imparting problem-solving skills to adults. Henceforth, the forms of impartation of this type of education are diverse and varied. However, the base pattern of process described by experts like Arnold and Burke (1983); Mackenzie (1993) (as quoted in Sandra 1997) follows the cycle as “action/reflection/action; or practice/theory/practice” (Sandra, 1997, n.p.). The opening of education segment starts from the experiences that people of that specific community have. The community, at large, then initiates the identification of problem. Afterward, people involved then go on to reflect on the problem as well as analyze the problem, widening the scope of the problem from local to global so that theory can be developed. On the next step, the participants of the educational session carry out determined action in order to bring about change in the present context of the problem. Adult educators have a dynamic role to play in this situation. They can facilitate the entire process of community education by playing the role of democratic collaborators who make sure that some kind of target learning occurs in the community; moreover, the development of leadership and self-direction are equally monitored by these adult educators. The essence of actions put the adult educators is the keep on track the participants and encourage them to move on actively in the process of learning. Another important role that the adult educators have to play in popular education is to put efforts in bearing a longer-term perspective on the problem which in addressed in the community, in a way that links can be extended in the social, political, and historical context by which the learners sharpen their skills of problem solving.  (Sandra, 1997, n.p.)

            An essential component of the popular education is that it usually takes after popular culture, that is to say, there is considerable room for such actions and activities as using drama, song, poetry, mine, dance, puppetry, storytelling, role-play, art, and other such forms to help learning become interesting and light for the learners. According to Sandra (1997, n.p.)

“The use of these forms can enhance communication among audiences with an oral tradition, demonstrate respect for community cultural values and enhance group spirit, demystify the information conveyed and make it accessible and relevant, and encourage participation and learning by appealing to different modalities”.

This method, along with numerous others as proposed by different experts of popular education, is recommended keeping in view the assumption that active participation makes learning most effective, and that active participation can be acquired only by employing a number of techniques which address different styles of learning, by executing content which is directly relevant to the lives of the learners. By these techniques learners are seen as equals making the learning process an enjoyable experience for all. There can be quoted a number of examples from theater to sculpture that address learning styles of different participants. (Sandra, 1997, n.p.)

Popular Education and Challenges Present

            Though effective as it is considered, popular education faces a number of challenges on its front that need serious concerns by the people involved. There are a number of experts who point out to these challenges. Sandra (1997, n.p.) quotes Beder (1993); Walters and Manicom (1996); Zacharakis-Jutz, Heanery, and Horton (1991); and others who give way to the challenges present to the idea of popular education. According to these experts one challenge is the demand and provision of funding as well as the constraints faced in entertaining funds for a community’s education by popular method. The role of facilitators and their perceptions are also to be critically discussed. Disconnection between participants’ objectives and goals of the program are also noteworthy. Moreover, there are issues with regard to addressing the gender related matters, and facing the perception that popular education is a form of revolutionary education or is too radical to be touched upon. (Sandra, 1997, n.p.)

When we look at the issue of how adult educators from a university can effectively play a vital role in extending efforts for community learning, experts refer to different analyses of thriving and ineffective popular education attempts observed at the Lindeman Center at Northern Illinois University. In place of working as experts, adult educators of popular education brought forward their opinion of the group of people as co-investigators and co-learners by helping public accommodation occupants in raising their own ability for headship and their own familiarity about occupant managing. Conversely, an effort to expand inter-generational house maintenance help in an underdeveloped district failed only because adult educators overlooked the assessment of community needs and the development of strategy and because a city organization which offered financial support brought “top-down” decisions and urged that participants be selected. (Sandra, 1997, n.p.)

Educators of Casa en Casa, a scheme in a Hispanic fitness hospital, aimed to train volunteers of community to be promoters of health in their nearby vicinities. Yet, the volunteers assumed no leadership parts and were not organized for combined effort due to the fact that they did not have awareness to train other people or play the role of workers of that specific programme. Their training laid emphasis on substance knowledge; however it did not sufficiently equipped them with skills for action for their community. Excessively anxious with enforcing their own plans, the project educators left off their duty to direct the education procedure. So it was like beginning where the people were. As such this challenge requires that adequate filtering process must be put in place so that these problems can be addressed appropriately. However, it is another thing how difficult this filtering process can be. (Sandra, 1997, n.p.)

Another program of popular education in Sao Paulo, Paulo Freire’s own city, in Brazil, aimed to maintain citizenship for the fundamental change of political and community issues by literacy education. Nonetheless, public and political material was rarely taken into consideration and debates and discussions did not all the time adhere to participants’ understanding of how this content had an effect on their lives. There was a considerable misbalance between tries to make them speak out on political matters in class and the kind of political conversation they slotted in in daily life. Though most of the educators and learners were females, the course did not openly address issues of gender. (Sandra, 1997, n.p.)

Though the objective, taken as a whole, was arousing citizen contribution, this aim was not sturdily linked to the goals of learners; numerous of them were chiefly paying attention to social communication or fulfillment of their individual needs. Eventually, the course faced – and was ended by – a key obstruction of popular education: it was the antagonism of political factions who felt threatened by a schema of social alteration. (Sandra, 1997, n.p.)

Concerns for Adult Facilitators

Now attention shifted to how adult facilitators can attend to these issues to popular education. Experts like Stromquist recommend that needs of a people and aims ought to shape the foundation for a popular education program and that educators ought to be trained in decisive discourse which mixes together political material with educational practices and links the matters with learners’ direct realism. (Sandra, 1997, n.p.)

Sandra (1997) cites Beder (1993) who maintains that power is a grave source, since it is not possible to accomplish change without power. Nonetheless, power has to be owned by a community, yet it should be exercised by persons in support of it. Adult educators should not force a program nor should they renounce liability. They are to realize that only integrating of participatory education methods and self-governing compositions does not essentially facilitate individuals to confront their internalized convictions and expand critical capabilities, and they are to have a vivid idea of social change and that how their efforts get installed into the wider scenario. Expert reach a conclusion that the part of adult educators from university background is not to go over hastily over action but to hold up efforts the group of people attends to on their own behalf. They propose that looking for means by which resources of a university can effectively bring results for the community.

Critical Issues and Constraints

Sandra (1997, n.p.) also talks about critical issues and constraints present in popular education. She points out that popular education agendas might be inhibited by the directives and rules of financial support resources. She refers to reinforcement of the drawbacks linked with community money, signifying that popular educators maintain low the amount of community funds in the general budget, form an umbrella firm to control money, or endorse and hold up home-grown sources in society, serving local communities to construct well-built businesses under restricted management. (Sandra, 1997, n.p.)

She also refers to emphasis that allowing power and liberation are not standard: they have dissimilar implications and meanings for males and females. Relations between Sexes must be an element of the investigation of authority relations and communal situations which occurs in popular education. She cites Walters and Manicom (1996) who advocate techniques which see from women’s point of view, employing female familiarity in a mode which exemplifies that “woman” is not a all the same class; discover the junction of sexual category, race, social division, and civilization; and make possible for women to look for room, time, and a position for education. (Sandra, 1997, n.p.)

Popular education is not restricted to dealing with the needs of particular cultural communities or the deprived and the immobilized. It has broader relevance as a technique of raising serious understanding, constructing self-assurance and logical skills, and connecting them with societal achievement in different backgrounds and socio-economic levels. (Sandra, 1997, n.p.)

Education which takes as its prime objective social change confronts alarming confrontations, as illustrated by a few the agendas discussed in the above lines. Nonetheless, instruction for social change is a continuing process. Though a certain session may come out to have unsuccessful outcomes in its instant aims, it might stand for one pace in the gradual, multifaceted, and collective course of social transformation. (Sandra, 1997, n.p.)

A Case Study

            Rivera conducted a case study in 2004. The aim to conduct this case study was to examine how the dispossessed mothers were influenced by their involvement in the popular education course at the Family Shelter. Based on his interpretation, the author argues that the Family Shelter’s popular education viewpoint and the making available of inclusive social services attended to the females’ personal, educational, and social needs. Rivera also argues that popular education carried a positive effect on the state of the mothers’ lives which expanded beyond acquiring essential numeracy and literacy skills (Rivera, 2004, p. 31).

Fifty women were included in the study; these were the females who had taken popular education classes; the time span of their class participation ranged from three months to three years. Many of the sample females were actually referred to The Family Shelter by the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) or by such programs as follow-up for homeless shelter. Forty percent (twenty) women were African-American; 22 percent (eleven) were Puerto Rican; 12 percent (six) were Haitian; and many of the remaining were from English-speaking countries of the Caribbean region. (Rivera, 2004, p. 31).

The program of popular education had a powerful association with a home community university and altruistic institution which supported a funding for scholarship for previously homeless females who intended to go to college. After completing their General Education Diploma programs, three women, Magdalena, Frieda, and Helena, all obtained scholarships to go to college; however, they abandoned attending college since they did not have childcare facility. Though two other women, Yolanda and Concepcion were also granted scholarships to attend college, Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance did not consent their plans for college and thus Yolanda and Concepcion too were enforced to look for some jobs. Six other females, Emma, Louise, Shanequa, Elsie, Rhoda, and Winnie, as of the year 1999, were full-time or part-time students attending college. (Rivera, 2004, p. 31).

The data analysis suggests that by a practice of combined sharing and suggestion, the homeless females in this present investigation started to “act upon the world,” confronting their inner repressions and familiarity as to how structural obligations formed and restrained their lives. Their rising consciousness of their association with others and to the human race augmented their confidence, confronted their “cultures of silence,” and motivated them to lend a hand to other such women and grow to be sturdier supporters for their children. (Rivera, 2004, p. 31).

Present State of Adult Education

Today, Adult Education is far more incorporated into the common enlightening structure than it was ever before. Matters associated with workplace education, grown and family education, ongoing skilled learning, and worldwide expansion are almost constant evidence for the common eye. However, at this present scenario, where there is so much talk of the growing influence of adult education and its effectiveness, we are obliged to constantly inquire of ourselves these questions: How much is the exceptional share of adult facilitators to a community-based discussion on these matters? Specifically, the question should be, what does empirical research in adult education domain do to help give details of the fundamental problems confronting those caught up in any area of learning which is lifelong? (Rose, 2000, p. 28)

Research in adult education today, as in precedent time, is chiefly explanatory. This denotes that adult learning research is up to now frequently studded on a model that carries best practices. Now, a number of critiques explain specific programmatic projects in the strength of giving out or spreading modernization. Whereas this is, evidently, attractive to those putting efforts straight in the adult education domain, this kind of investigation does not guide to wider simplifications or functions of research results. In contrast, there has been a modification in instructional research on the whole, further than wide sweeping simplifications, and a fresh attention in the specific backgrounds which provide as the foundation to understand any experience or phenomenon. Therefore broad explanations directing to examination are at present prominent to a main aim of exploration. The question is still there, how do we interpret investigation for real practice? Rose almost endeavors to state that we have left off on this objective and the goal is currently to convert performance into research. The author then explains as to what then this says about the whole adult learning and teaching investigation undertaking (Rose, 2000, p. 28)

Looking through journals that bring forward issues of American adult education, the reader is struck by the accentuation on reflection and assumption and the apparent withdrawal from the utilization of data, in any shape whatsoever. While this is not at all widespread, the main reason emerges to be to take practitioners into a trouble recognition and analytic approach. Whereas this endeavor is praiseworthy, it is constructed on a structure of either exhausted or excessively hypothesized experts who adhere to unsuitable structures in spite of repeated disturbance. On the other hand, it is also relevant to clichéd experts who are crammed with assumption, but one way or another cannot discover how to relate it in some way, the customs of those vigorously busy in adult learning labor has been repeatedly overlooked. (Rose, 2000, p. 28)

Actually, one of the features which is outstanding about adult instruction is the scarcity of educator, or more commonly, practitioner investigation. Whereas this has been a productive spot of research surrounded by instruction usually, adult instructional model, with its special attention on the student has repeatedly sidestepped this vital feature of the educational endeavor and has up to now not actually expanded this part to the extent that is possible. There are a few first-person explanations of how a person goes through the process of self-confidence and adjustment, but little methodical research is available of the knowledge of educating gown-ups in a variety of settings. Thus there is dire need to address all these issues before it can be right said that adult education or popular education can yield ripe fruit for the purposes it is basically practiced for. Moreover, it is high time that serious efforts be put in the directions of finding what has not been explored yet. (Rose, 2000, p. 28)

Conclusion

            As global population is multiplying by the day, the problems of people are also multiplying. Popular education, in one sense, is of high value because it aims to equip adults with tools that can be used to face challenges present in their social setups. Although popular education has not gained a global recognition and is now, according to my personal opinion, in its infancy, we can, by reviewing its current status worldwide, easily perceive that it is the kind of education that is direly needed in the future more so because of the growing challenges in the prospective context.

Works Cited

Ahl, Helene (2006) “Motivation in adult education: a problem solver or a euphemism for direction and control?” International Journal of Lifelong Education, 25:4, 385 – 405. Accessed May 5, 2008 from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02601370600772384

Kerka, Sandra. (1997). “Popular Education: Adult Education for Social Change”.  ERIC Digest (185) ERIC Identifier: ED411415. Accessed May 5, 2008 from: http://www.ericdigests.org/1998-1/popular.htm

Rivera, L. (2004). “Changing women: an ethnographic study of homeless mothers and popular education”. Journal of Sociology ; Social Welfare (30) 2. Page Number: 31.

Rose, A. D. (2000). “What Is the State of Adult Education Research Today”. Adult Learning. (11) 4. Page Number: 28.

Smith, M. K. (1999). “Popular education: an introduction to practice plus an annotated booklist”. Accessed May 5, 2008 from: http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-poped.htm

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