Informal Learning, Cultural Traditions and Transformation

“Educational practices intended to generate democratic possibilities must be conceived of not as neutral processes but as political acts; [that can be] hegemonic [and so] reproductive…or guided by an alternative transformative social vision” (Mayo,1999, p. 155).

June 15th, 2017

What role can informal learning play in recovering indigenous knowledges and cultural traditions that are otherwise silenced by dominant,hegemonic knowledges within social institutions such as the academy and the media? While informal learning allows for the emergence of otherwise marginalised knowledges towards collective knowledge making and transformation, it is not exempt from the politics of power. Educational practice generally is not a neutral process but a political act mediated by the politics of power. This paper considers the collective process of action-reflection and praxis within social movements, specifically the People’s Education initiative, and its effectiveness in the realisation of transformation and the prioritisation of indigenous knowledges.

Informal learning and popular education

Informal learning takes place in a non-formal education context. It is not about the acquisition of formal knowledge or certification, and it is not necessarily facilitated by qualified experts. Its participants are not graded or classed. Informal learning can take place anywhere by drawing on local knowledges of facilitators toward the realisation of knowledges that serve the immediate needs of any given individual and/or community. It is necessarily accessible.

Popular education seeks to allow facilitators and participants alike collective and/or individual agency toward the realisation of knowledges that seek to transform socio-cultural practices which are dominant, hegemonic and destructive. Popular education is thus located within a context of transformation. 

Informal learning and popular education pedagogies are invested in changing people’s perspectives of change as something mediated from the top down. It is a recognition of local activities and structures as a starting point of the learning process. This implies an increasing level of participation and allowing people to retain their voices, rendering the population as self-relevant as possible. Informal learning and popular education pedagogies are at once transformative and emancipatory.

Culture and indigenous knowledges

There is always a dominant discourse which needs to be interrogated. Thus, the culture of the informal learning space also needs to be interrogated. Ntseane (2011) suggests that an understanding of African knowledges would be useful in this. Their collective nature brings to the centre otherwise marginalised voices and goes a step further to  challenge the assumptions and attitudes of privilege that hegemonic knowledges necessarily cannot. These are in fact made evident in folklore,dance, drama and craft.

Social movements and transformation

Freire (cited in Endersen, 2013, p. 30) considers popular education and informal learning to be “rooted in the real interest and struggles of ordinary people; it is overtly political and critical of the status quo; [and] it is committed to progressive social and political change.” Furthermore, “Knowledge is not acquired merely through abstract, rational thought but also by experiencing, interacting with and reflecting on the material world in which we live” (ibid). A dialogical model of education using the experience of participants in an educational process of conscientisation serves to counter the “culture of silence” (Freire, 2005, p. 30) whereby the oppressed “consent” to their oppression.

Ntseane (2011) speaks of a type of culturally senstive transformative. The "Afrocentric learning paradigm" includes community participation, spiritually, collective empowerment and gender roles (Ntseana, 2011, pp 311-312). The two former values are concerned with a plurility of knowledges, while the latter two are concerned with the manner in which knowledge is to be shared for collective and transformative good. 

People’s Education and sex education

People’s Education is a collective of educationalists, activists and artists in the Western Cape of South Africa who work to facilitate a culture of learning in informal social contexts. (The collective is discussed in detail in Evan Abrahamse’s article in this issue, but certain aspects of the collective will be emphasised here.) People’s Education critiques the formal education system, its preoccupation with Western models of education and its reproductive pedagogical device, curriculum and inaccessibility to the poor. The collective concerns itself with decolonising both practice and knowledge by mobilising the archive and contemporary African knowledges to decolonise learning and knowledge-making so that African communities are able to realise their own solutions to social issues. This is achieved by an emphasis on the African text and realised in varied forms of socio-cultural practice, in ritual and meaning.
The collective draws extensively on the work of Freire (2005) in that the facilitators all view themselves as “teachers amongst students and students amongst teachers” and believe that it is only through collective engagement and learning processes that communities are able to affect real change or transformation. People’s Education is a process of developing methodology through experiential learning where all activities are followed by a process of critical reflection on this methodology, coordinating strategies, pedagogical practice and content. This process is evident in the People’s Education approach in that all projects inform an internal study programme that focuses on these areas in line with the collective’s principles toward the development of methodology and experiential learning. Experiential learning is understood as a method of “learning by doing” where the experiences illuminate lessons toward skills and/or content and the betterment of future practice.
In a detailed invitation by People’s Education (2015) to a sex education workshop, the workshop process and intended outcomes are discussed as follows:

Setting out to explore new ways of talking, learning and teaching sexuality in cross generational and peer discussions. It becomes evident that we must create new knowledge and new social practices. Our sex and our sexuality remain as subjects which are taboo and shunned. Yet we live in a hypersexualised society. How do we create our own terms of engagement? We should discuss sex as an essential part of our humanity: equal parts knowledge and learning, personal and political, public and intimate. Engaging this through the workshop process, participants have imagined an emerging ritual practice rooted in the lived experience, recognising tradition that is partly forgotten and partly remembered. This is an effort to normalise the discussion of sex.

People’s Education is a social movement that focusses on informal learning practices informed by popular education. People’s Education seeks to speak to a collective, draw on indigenous knowledges and better its methodology through action-reflection and praxis.


Praxis gives voice to local and indigenous knowledges that are otherwise silenced by dominant, hegemonic knowledges such as the academy and the media. Praxis signals a process of change realised through action following reflection. It is a critically reflective process which seeks to realise what has been learnt. However, popular education pedagogies and indigenous knowledges alone are not enough. Meaningful transformation can only be realised when action and reflection are in alignment with the interests and struggles of oppressed people. It is the argument of this paper that it is this collective process of action-reflection within social movements that speaks to a realisation of transformation and seeks to draw on the indigenous knowledges in order to challenge those which are otherwise hegemonic. Popular education combined with art and culture realises pedagogical practices and/or educational modes which foster indigenous knowledges. This allows People’s Education to challenge otherwise hegemonic knowledges. Informal learning in the context of transformation and decolonising plays a positive role in recovering indigenous knowledges and knowledge-making practices.


Social movements are not immune to the politics of power. Social movement organisations and/or collectives need to remain critically reflective of attitudes and practices that illuminate the politics of power. Facilitators need to be mindful of not imposing but rather actively seeking out and utilising knowledges that are informed by those with whom they collectively work – an objective that People’s Education pursues. In conclusion, the following words from Walters and Watters (2001, p. 456) are pertinent:

The need for shared and equal responsibility [is] stressed by encouraging all stakeholders to be involved in all levels of decisions on choice of programme, assessment of learning outcomes, curriculum design and methods; to foster interaction among [participants, facilitators], communities [and its socio-cultural practices] in order to encourage commitments to social justice [locally].


  1. Endersen K (2013) Popular education in three organisations in Cape Town, South Africa. Studies in the Education of Adults, 45(1): 27-40.
  2. Freire P (2005) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Continuum International: New York.
  3. Mayo P (1999) Gramsci, Freire and Adult Education: Possibilities for Transformative Action. Zed Books: London.
  4. Ntseane PG (2011) Culturally sensitive transformational learning: Incorporating the Afrocentric paradigm and African feminism. Adult Education Quarterly, 61(4): 307-323.
  5. People’s Education (2015) Sex education workshop invitation. People’s Education, Cape Town.
  6. Walters S & Watters K (2001) Lifelong learning, higher education and active citizenship: From rhetoric to action. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 20(6): 471-47

About the author(s)

Goitsione Mokou is an educationist and community worker living in Cape Town. She is a co-founder of the Cape Town-based education collective, People’s Education. Goitsione is a Masters student at the UCT School of Education, specialising in Curriculum Studies. In both scholarship and practice, her key areas of interest are curriculum and pedagogy, and their inherent relationship in knowledge production and society, towards notions of “subject” making and adult education. Goitsione is concerned with popular pedagogies and how new counter-pedagogies can be created toward knowledge-making practices that seek to counter hegemonic discourse in both formal and non-formal education discourse. Goitsione is also a decolonialist, a jazz-phile and she hopes to master the keys one day.


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