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Peter Roberts

The work of the Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire (1921–1997) has been extraordinarily influential. Freire’s ideas have been taken up not just by educationists, but also by scholars and practitioners in a wide range of other fields, including theology, philosophy, sociology, politics, women’s studies, nursing, counseling, social work, disability studies, and peace studies. In educational circles, Freire is regarded as one of the founding figures of critical pedagogy. He is best known for his adult literacy programs in impoverished communities and for his classic early text: Pedagogy of the Oppressed. As a writer, he was most prolific in the last ten years of his life. His work advances an ideal of humanization through transformative reflection and action, and stresses the importance of developing key epistemological, ethical, and educational virtues, such as openness, humility, tolerance, attentiveness, rigor, and political commitment. The themes of love and hope figure prominently throughout his work. Freire was opposed to authoritarian, technicist, and neoliberal pedagogical practices. He argued that education is a necessarily nonneutral process and favored a critical, problem-posing, dialogical approach to teaching and learning. While acclaimed by many, Freire also attracted his share of criticism. He responded to some of the key questions raised by others, while also leaving open a number of areas of inquiry for further investigation.


Literacy is a gateway to education, and yet universal literacy remains an aspiration rather than a reality. The science of reading has, however, made significant progress in understanding the key factors that impact development. Five relevant factors can be identified. The first factor is the developmental focus of models. Here the richness and dynamic nature of development is central. Models must clearly explain change and phenomena such as bi- and multilingualism. A second factor concerns bioecological influences on development. Stronger models include understandings of the complexity of gene–environment interactions in development. A third pertinent factor concerns the precise nature of the learning task facing the beginner reader, and in particular the influence of distinct orthographies. A fourth factor concerns the coherent exposition of the cognitive processes involved in “word-level” and “text-level” reading processes. Finally, contextual effects on literacy are profound. Historical and politicoeconomic forces are often linked to wide country- and region-based differences in literacy. A detailed treatment of what is known about effective interventions for struggling readers can be built on the basis of this theorizing. Here, evidence from meta-analysis suggests that both the word-level decoding and text-level comprehension aspects of reading development can be measurably improved through evidence-based interventions. For word-level interventions studies focusing on phonics currently furnish the most secure evidence of impact. For text-level comprehension, interventions focusing on oral language development and text-based meta-cognitive strategy appear the most efficacious. Measure of treatment effects for such interventions show modest but reliable impacts on development and form the basis of ongoing efforts to optimize interventions.