Paulo Freire: Pedagogy of the Oppressed – the banking and libertarian models of education

This is a summary of Paulo Freire’s explanation of the banking and libertarian models of education, from The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1996 Penguin Edition).

The point of education and human action is “the individual’s ontological and historical vocation to be more fully human.” (37)

Two models of education

The banking model of education is about depositing information into passive students

“an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues comminiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the “banking” concept of education,…” (53)

The banking model requires students to adapt to the world, and encourages servility

“the banking concept of education regards men as adaptable, manageable beings.” (54)

“The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is…” (54)

“Implicit in the banking concept is the assumption of a dichotomy between human beings and the world: a person is merely in the world, not with the world or with others; the individual is spectator, not re-creator.” (56)

Libertarian education

Education is not about integrating people into an oppressive society, but about understanding and transforming the world

“Authentic liberation – the process of humanization – is not another deposit to be made in men. Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it.” (60)

“Problem-posing education affirms men and women as beings in the process of becoming – as unfinished, uncompleted beings in and with a likewise unfinished reality.”(65)

“Whereas banking education anesthetizes and inhibits creative power, problem-posting education involves a constant unveiling of reality.” (62)

“Education as the practice of freedom – as opposed to education as the practice of domination – denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from people. Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the world without people, but people in their relations with the world.” (62)

What does libertarian education look like in practice?

“Through dialogue, the teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow… Here, no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other, mediated by the world, by the cognizable objects…” (61)

How to create a libertarian program of education

“The starting point for organizing the program content of education or political action must be the present, existential, concrete situation, reflecting the aspirations of the people.” (76)

“education… cannot present its own program but must search for this program dialogically with the people,” (105)

“the investigation of thematics involves the investigation of the people’s thinking – thinking which occurs only in and among people together seeking out reality… Even if people’s thinking is superstitious or naive, it is only as they rethink their assumptions in action that they can change. Producing and acting upon their own ideas – not consuming those of others – must constitute that process.” (89)

“the team of educators is ready to represent to the people their own thematics, in a systematized and amplified form. The themetics which have come from the people return to them – not as contents to be deposited, but as problems to be solved.” (104)

“after several days of dialogue with the culture circle participants, the educators can ask the participants directly: ‘What other themes or subjects could we discuss besides these?’ As each person replies, the answer is noted down and is immediately proposed to the group as a problem.” (104-5)

Redesigning the Mind website

In 2013 we redesigned the Mind website, to make it easier for people to use.

Lots of people told us that the old website was hard to use, and sometimes overwhelming. We wanted to make our website easier to use, so that people can seek our help sooner, get behind our campaigns, and support us more generously.

We’ve tried to base our new site around people’s needs, so the design process was shaped by over 50 users at in-person workshops and user testing, and by over 100 people who participated online. We held workshops, surveys/tests, and user testing.


We held workshops so that we could understand what people need from the Mind website. We wanted to find out what their top tasks were, and asked people to devise a site structure and labelling system that made sense to them, using card sorting. The aim of this was to make a site structure that isn’t based on organisational language or the way that we structure our work or teams internally.

We also invited people to discuss their feelings on the Mind brand, imagery, and use of colour online, and their feelings on how Mind’s values apply to the website.

We held the workshops in Bristol, London, and online.

People’s top tasks were:

  1. 1) Finding information about mental health
  2. 2) Knowing that I’m not alone
  3. 3) Finding support/services near me
  4. 4) Getting involved (mostly with fundraising)

People told us that they want a greater focus on their most important tasks. They wanted less clutter, a calmer and more sparing visual design, with a greater focus on people. They really resonated with Mind’s values: real, personal, compassionate, courageous.

Notes from a discussion about Mind's brand values and their relevant to Mind's website

Using this information alongside other information about our web visitors – eg from Google Analytics – we were able to draw up a clear, shared understanding of what our project was trying to achieve, and what the most important tasks were. This was crucial, as design is about prioritisation, and that often means telling people that their area is less important. Being upfront about your top tasks – and getting these tasks from users – helps with these discussions.

The in-person workshops took about 4 hours; the online workshop was condensed into an hour.

Our understanding of top tasks also drew from our Analytics data, which tells us things like over 80% of our traffic is to our information pages.

Online Survey

At the workshops, participants devised a site structure that made sense for them. We wanted to test if it made sense to other people too, so we tested it.

We carried out an online reverse card sort exercise to do this, using a tool called Treejack.

There were some areas of disagreement between the workshops (eg “get involved” vs “support us”, and “info & support” vs “help & advice”) and this exercise helped us decide between the competing options.

The exercise took each user about 10 minutes.

User Testing

Before we started building the final website, we built a sort of draft version: a prototype. It was just made with HTML and CSS. We did 1:1 user testing and online user testing of this.

By asking people to carry out a number of top tasks, and seeing what they found easy or hard, we were able to improve the prototype before building the final product.

We did this as part of following an agile methodology.

We encouraged participants to think aloud as they went so that we could better understand their thought processes. We took notes and for one of the sessions participants agreed to have their screen and faces recorded, using a tool called Silverback.

user testing the mind prototype

Some key learning points

– I’d start the recruitment process earlier, and plan a whole journey of engagement, rather than just inviting individuals to one-off events.

– We had more people sign up than we expected or had capacity for. (This did help us select a more diverse group for our London workshops.) I’d have liked to plan even more opportunities for wider engagement.

How did all this user involvement help us and help the people who took part?

By better understanding our visitors and their needs, we built a better website for them. By testing as we went, we could make sure that our designs were on track.

Participants gave very positive feedback, saying that they felt listened to, valued, and that their feelings and ideas were taken seriously.

What support did you offer?

– We tried to make sure everyone felt comfortable at workshops. We made sure that we had refreshments, a quiet space for people to go if they wanted a break, and we also asked people to fill in a wellbeing plan so that we could know how best to help them if they were distressed. (Most people didn’t fill in a wellbeing plan, but some did and it was very helpful in these cases.)

– We used supportive language and set an expectation of non-judgmental listening and sharing. We made sure not to ask leading questions, so that our results were useful.

– We tried to be clear in advance about what people were signing up for, and we told people that they could withdraw from activities at any time.

Tips for other people doing user involvement activities

– Be clear in your aims. For us, the value was clear: good agile digital project work relies on user engagement, so doing lots of user engagement was always a priority for achieving a good result. Mind takes user involvement seriously, and this made working in an agile, user-centred way very easy to achieve.

– Budget the time and money to carry out engagement activities. If you want the benefits, you need to plan the investment.

– Negotiate administrative support early, to help with booking venues, paying people for participation, etc.

– I pre=scripted everything non-reactionary in the online chat. i.e. all the welcome messages and pre-planned questions were written in advance so I could copy-paste. That left me free to focus on responding to the contributions of participants.