What is critical pedagogy?

critical pedagogy critical reading elt Aug 26, 2021

By Dr Jeremy Koay

A limited view

Going to school is good for you! Says who? What are the goals of teaching and learning? Is education neutral? Is it politically driven? Or is it influenced and driven by ideology and a particular worldview?

Traditionally, teachers were perceived as the source of knowledge, and learners as the passive recipients of knowledge. Paulo Freire, the father of critical pedagogy, calls this a banking view of education. This teacher-student relationship is analogous to depositing money in a bank. According to this view, learners are expected to “receive, memorise and repeat” (Freire, 1970) what teachers deposit.

A holistic view

Critical pedagogy is a philosophy of education that views teaching as a political act. This philosophy focuses on issues of inequality such as social class, race or gender. At the heart of critical pedagogy is the idea that individuals can, in their own ways, transform the world into a better place.

Advocates of critical pedagogy believe that a language classroom is not free of ideology. Education systems, as well as teachers to some degree, decide the content of a particular subject or course. For example, the process of selecting reading texts does not take place in a vacuum. It is motivated by political ideologies and worldviews.

In an English language classroom, teachers can either reinforce or challenge a particular ideology and worldview. Teachers should be aware of their biases and allow learners to express their views freely on a particular topic, even if the teachers disagree with those views.

Theory and practice

What can teachers do to give students a voice? Teachers can and should encourage learners to relate reading texts to their life experience. Teachers can have learners present their ‘story’ to the class and share it in small groups. When learners read a particular text, teachers can prompt discussions on racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.

Teachers can also plan activities that encourage learners to express their views on a particular topic. For example, rather than having reading comprehension questions that require learners to find information from a reading text, teachers should include opinion-based questions.

Learners should be introduced to critical reading activities, where they do not accept a writer’s claims at face value but evaluate the validity of the claims. Find out more about reading and critical reading.


Carr, P. (2008). “But what can I do?” Fifteen things education students can do to transform themselves in/through/with education. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 1(2), 81-97.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Dr Jeremy Koay is a New Zealand-based independent researcher and an education consultant at EduMaxi. He obtained his PhD in Applied Linguistics from Victoria University of Wellington in 2015. His research interests include Discourse Analysis, Genre Analysis and TESOL.

Image source: shutterstock.com/Gustavo Frazao