Concepts of pedagogy in French-language schools: You said conscienti… what?!

By Gilberte Godin
February 15, 2013
Untitled Document

The last issue of Perspectives featured the large-scale Pédagogie à l’école de langue française (PELF) (pedagogy in French-language schools) project undertaken by CTF in an effort to define pedagogy as it applies to Canada’s minority-setting French-language schools. The definition takes two factors into account: students’ living environment and the Francophone community’s aspirations. This article focuses on conscientizAction, a key concept underlying the definition of pedagogy in French-language schools. Future articles will present other key concepts surrounding this definition.

A little history of conscientization

Close links were established between conscientization and teaching by renowned Brazilian educator Paolo Freire who bequeathed the world of education an important book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

This book was inspired by Freire’s interest in the improvement of the working-class living conditions and in the link between these conditions and illiteracy. Freire strived hard to make workers understand that in order to improve their conditions and that of their families, they had to understand the issues affecting their lives and to commit to changing situations they were unhappy with by taking part in the decision-making process and having “their” say in everything that concerned them. Through consciousness-raising and power-sharing pedagogy, he taught them to read and to claim their place in society by thinking critically and taking action with others.

Freire saw in the word “conscientization” two components of the praxis “reflection and action”. In fact, he cautioned against reflection without action, as much as he dreaded action without reflection. For him, a person would achieve conscientization by developing critical thinking skills which he placed on a continuum that went from magical thinking to naïve thinking to critical thinking.

People who use magical thinking are a long way from social issues and believe that everything can be solved by magic, without having to intervene. People who use naïve thinking have partial and often incorrect knowledge of the social issues that influence their lives. They leave it up to a higher power (God, the government, etc.) as they consider themselves powerless to make a difference. People who use critical thinking try to understand the elements that control their lives. They try to understand the various views on these elements, take position and engage in transformative action.

What caught the attention of researchers in Francophone linguistic minority settings is the connection that Freire made between critical-thinking development through consciousness-raising pedagogy and learners’ emancipation.

Considering the complexity of the linguistic and cultural context and its influence on school outcomes and on the students’, or even the Francophone communities’, linguistic and cultural identity, research has established connections between the success that Freire has achieved through his approach and education in French-language schools in minority settings. For teachers in language-minority settings, implementing Freire’s pedagogy means to be careful not to impose their views on their students and to focus instead on fostering a dialogue with them to develop critical thinking skills and eventually lead them to engagement.

The emergence of conscientizAction

The word conscientizAction emerged perhaps from a lack of knowledge about Freire’s work or from the acknowledgement that despite his intentions, action or engagement is not always associated with conscientization. In fact, this word often simply means “awareness”. It is with a view to dispel any doubt about this that the PELF project adopted the word “conscientizAction” as it brings results and social transformation.

In the PELF project, the word conscientizAction applies to both teachers and students. Ferrer and Allard (2002 a and b), themselves influenced by Freire’s work, present the basics of pedagogy for conscientization and engagement, while emphasizing the need for teachers to develop their skills as critical thinkers. They feel it would be unrealistic to believe that teachers who have not developed their own capacity to think critically about the social issues affecting the lives of Francophones in minority settings can help students become aware of and take action on this issue.


FERRER, C., & R. ALLARD. La pédagogie de la conscientisation et de l’engagement : pour une éducation à la citoyenneté démocratique dans une perspective planétaire, première partie, Moncton, Université de Moncton, 2002a.

FERRER, C., & R. ALLARD. La pédagogie de la conscientisation et de l’engagement : pour une éducation à la citoyenneté démocratique dans une perspective planétaire, deuxième partie, Moncton, Université de Moncton, 2002b.

FREIRE, P. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paris, Maspero, 1983.

Gilberte Godin is Coordinator of La pédagogie à l’école de langue française at CTF.

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