Adopting Paulo Freire’s Conscientization Process to Transform the University Community.

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The primary essence of this study was to use a generative theme identified through a listening survey in the community to show how Paulo Freire’s conscientization process can be applied to transform the community. To achieve that, the study will give an understanding of the concept of conscientization. This will be followed by description of what generative themes are. Next, the study will outline the generative themes generated through the listening survey. In concluding, it will present the identified ‘code’ that can be adapted to foster transformation of the community.

The concept of conscientization

Conscientization also known as ‘critical consciousness’ is a popular education and social concept developed by Brazilian pedagogue and educational theorist Paulo Freire, grounded in post-Marxist critical theory (Shor, 1993). Critical consciousness focuses on achieving an in depth understanding of the world, allowing for the perception and exposure of social and political contradictions. Critical consciousness also includes taking action against the oppressive elements in one’s life that are illuminated by that understanding (Freire, 1976).

Conscientization or critical consciousness proceeds through the identification of ‘generative themes’, which Freire identifies as ‘iconic representations that have a powerful emotional impact in the daily lives of leaners.’in this vain, individual consciousness encompassing dialogue, cultural synthesis, community and cultural circles, and informed actions has been instrumental in breaking the culture of silence in which the socially dispossessed (deprived, destitute, distressed) people internalized the negative images of themselves created and propagated by the oppressor in situation of extreme poverty and marginalization.

Conscientization also refers to a type of learning which is focused on perceiving and exposing social, political and economic contradictions and injustices. Conscientization also includes taking actions against oppressive elements in one’s life as part of that learning (Freire, 1972).

Concept of generative themes

Generative themes are issues that stir up people’s energies to act because they are emotionally affected. If one is apathetic about something, one is likely to do something about it. Generative themes are issues such that, when they are revealed, they affect people emotionally; they infuse fear, anger, worry, joy, sorrow or excitement. Freire argues that much of the education has tried to ignore human feelings and concentrated much on reasons and actions yet it is the feelings that mobilize people’s energy to act- emotion and act link. This means anything must be on what people are emotionally affected (Freire, c1998). Generative themes in short are Burning Issues which the community is facing.

Generative themes generated through listening survey

The University of Zambia is quite a vast and dynamic community. It would be almost impossible to fully exhaust all the burning issues that are being faced, at least not their entirety.  However, this study was able to establish, from the listening survey, three of some of the most common burning issues. These are: Poor Sanitation, Electrical-power Scarcities, and Politics: UNZASU Elections.

Poor Sanitation (most pressing issue)

According to information conducted from 26 informants (students), sanitation levels around campus have become worrisome. Even though this problem is not new in discussion, the propensity at which students are affected leaves much to be desired. Some students have narrated that due to the scarcity of water in their hostels, there is already fear for the possible breakout of water borne diseases.

Still others have expressed disappointment regarding the response given to them by Resident Engineers after reporting water problems. They mentioned that at one time shower drains were blocked and apparently the showers were not tightly closed. So in the middle of the night the tabs were flooded causing the flood to run into student rooms. Even though a report was filled the next morning to the relevant authorities, no response was given.

Meanwhile, other informants narrated their disappointment with their fellow students regarding the violation of sanitation rules set by Hall Representatives. Usually, students in hostels formulate a set of rules regarding the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of sanitation conduct. For example, the rules that everyone must leave the Sink clean after washing their dishes. Unfortunately, others choose not to abide by these rules which tend to anger other students.

Electrical-power scarcities

The following information was collected from 17 informants. The past few weeks have been characterized by shortages in power supply in selected hostels around campus. For a student populace where electricity is not only used as a source of lighting but heating and other miscellaneous, this issue has been received with mixed emotions.  During the survey, it was heard that some students were not able to iron their clothes much worse cook because of the power shortages. The predicament was even exacerbated in the night when it was dark as it made it difficult for students to clearly study from their hostels.

Much worse, the power shortages created an opportunity for theft activities. Some devious individuals apparently took advantage of the dark to steal other people’s property. Items such as Laptops, books, clothing, and gadgets worth thousands have been stolen, mostly during power scarcity hours. Even though the students have been assured by Resident Engineers that the problem will be addressed and rectified, the anticipation for the solution is slowly fading to the extension that some students are thinking of evoking a demonstration regarding the matter.

On a different experience, one student was admitted to the clinic due to an electrical shock. Apparently the shock was caused by a high voltage but it wasn’t fatal. Power shortages have also affected the water supply in many hostels. Some informants complained of water scarcity in the entire block hostel for a period of five days. Students have to utilize taps from other hostels for their domestic water uses.  The scarcity of water in these hostels has also led to other sanitation concerns as well.

Politics: UNZASU elections

The academic year is coming to an end in a few months. According to the UNZA culture, it is time for UNZA elections. Clearly over-hearing this as a hot topic of discussion is quite inevitable, especially among students. One thing that established during the survey was that some students have lost confidence in the Students’ Union. As one student narrated to say “most of them will smile at you during campaigning period but after they are ushered into office they won’t even great you.” This was also echoed by other students who expresses disappointment during regarding the way the students union handled the matter of the price of the new graduating gowns classify the union’s response as ‘a total failure.’

Some adult education students have also expressed disappointment regarding the performance of the current UNZASU president. According to one adult education student, the fact that the current UNZASU president is an adult education student requires that he portrays high standards of competence and maturity as to complement the principles of an adult educator. Meanwhile, other adult education students have complimented the performance of the current UNZASU president saying that he has good qualities of an adult educator.

In related accounts, students are looking forward to candidates that will leave up to their campaign promises and moral statutes. Some informants have narrated disappointment regarding the behavior of current Union members grading their behavior as irresponsible and disappointing. Meanwhile, some students feel that participating in the next Union elections is a shear waste of time. There discussion was based on the premise that, according to them, all UNZASU candidates are the same; they seek Union positions just to uplift their own standards.

Codification: Problem-Posing

According to Freire transformation comes about from praxis (reflection and action), dialogue, debate, and problem posing approach. In short a transformed individual or community is a critically conscious one (Hope and Timmel, 1999). In order to achieve conscientization, there is need to develop a coding or schematization system that will enable the intransitive individuals to become aware of their problem or oppression.

In the intransitive consciousness, human beings do not believe in their powers to change their lives or their societies. In the intransitive consciousness, there is no human agent for change. These intransitive conscious persons always accept the status quo and accept everything because they consider themselves powerless and feeble.

In order to transform an intransitive conscious person into transitive or critical conscious person, Freire suggested the process of conscientisation. Central to this process are Dialogue, Praxis, Critical reflection, Debate and the Problem posing approach, which uses the concept of Generative Themes.

Therefore, in order to raise awareness about Poor Sanitation (generative theme) among the UNZA community. This study has resolved to adopt the Poem as a codification system.


Sanitation: Master, am I hygienic?

A dirtiness, you never were!

A tidiness, you have been!

A filth, you were not!

A health, you will eternally be!

To sanitation you offered this thanks,

When needing something like cleanliness

When writing and drawing blanks,

You always settled for sanitariness

You were always in search for more; you sang the praise of hygiene!

It’s you they all adored,

But where have you gone wrong?

Today you have left the responsibility of your sanitary and cleanliness entirely in the hands of a stranger, why?

Where is your song of hygiene? Where is your pride?

In conclusion, it is envisaged that through the above code, the community can be conscientized about their responsibility towards their own sanitation. Instead of relying on the stranger (third person) students can ensure that they take necessary steps to safe guarding their own health. Suffice to say that the code can only lead to community transformation when debate, dialogue, and praxis are initiated together with the community.


Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Harmondsworth: Penguin

Freire, P. (1976). Education, the Practice of Freedom. London: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative.

Freire, P. (c1998). Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire, AMA (notes), Barr, RR (tr). New York: Continuum.

Hope, A. and Timmel, S. (1999). Training for Transformation Vol 4. London: I

Shor, I. (1993). Education is Politics: Paulo Freire’s Critical Pedagogy. New York: Routledge






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