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Commonwealth hosts second collaborative virtual youth work café celebrating 100 years of Paulo Freire

1 December 2021

Youth workers across the Commonwealth united at the Secretariat’s virtual world café to discuss hope, critical pedagogies, and the continuing relevance of Paulo Freire, in the year that marks the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Together with the Professional Association of Lecturers in Youth and Community Work (PALYCW), and the Namibian College of Open Learning (NAMCOL), the Commonwealth Secretariat hosted the second youth work café to give youth workers, practitioners, and academics a space to extend networks, share resources, and establish effective collaborations.

Remembering Paulo Freire

Today, the work of Paulo Freire, a prominent Brazilian educator and philosopher who was a leading advocate of critical pedagogy is reflected in teaching practices around the world.

The virtual café gave participants an inclusive space to discuss his theories and how they impact different cultures in Commonwealth regions. When asked if Freire’s work is still relevant in education today, one participant said: “Very- the theory of hope. There are still many people disadvantaged around the world especially in terms of education.” Freire’s theory of hope was a broad topic of the session as participants reflected on being respectful of each other and working together for a more connected future. Another participant raised the importance of dialogue: “One of the challenges is that we have become more individualised and need to return a focus to the power of collectivism”.

Director of NAMCOL, Dr Heroldt Murangi said: “I think what is important is for us to recognise that Paulo Freire was a patriot of education because of his political and pedagogical thinking.”

He added: “What fascinates me about his view of education is what we advocate for today as open distance eLearning institutions that both the educator and student are partners and learners in the education process.” 

“A sense of belonging”

Academics Professor Mike Seal, Professor Veronica McKay and Ms Christine Smith were amongst speakers who talked about the critical thinking and pedagogical practices they use in their work for social transformation and empowerment amongst youth. Professor Seal said that to enable critical pedagogy in higher education, one has “to change how you teach and your relationship with students; push the structures as far as you can and build alliances; and, be seen as a pedagogic expert, internally and externally.

When participants were asked to identify an ‘idea’ or ‘hope’ they would take away from the café they strongly stated ‘tolerance’ while youth work was perceived as being global. “Trust” was mentioned as the key factor in building hope through youth and community practices, together with inclusion and a sense of connectedness.

Imogene Hilukiluah, Education Officer at Ministry of Education Namibia spoke highly of the café. She said: “I have started to feel a sense of belonging again and having this connection with all of you I have learnt a lot and I believe everyone else who has joined this cafe learnt a lot and will leave with the thought of tolerance of others.”

Professor Veronica McKay, Executive Dean of the College of Education (CEDU), University of South Africa added: “It was wonderful to share and to hear that it doesn’t matter where we are in the world, we are all grappling with the same ideas about the human conditions and how to make the world a better place for young people especially.”

This is the second world café that the Commonwealth has hosted for youth workers this year.

Education Advisor at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Dr Amina Osman said: “Change takes time but if we make connections, if we engage in dialogue, it has the power of connectivity, and we can focus on the future together.

If we are all willing to come again and exchange our ideas and build our sense of belonging to a wider community, I think there is hope here in our work and practice and with our everyday doings and actions.”

The Commonwealth is committed to supporting youth workers and has put their work at the forefront of the Youth Programme’s new four-year strategic plan.

After positive feedback, the Commonwealth Secretariat, in collaboration with its partners, aims to host more virtual café meetings in the future.