The idea of establishing a South African Paulo Freire Institute (PFI) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal was suggested in 2002 by world-renowned Freirian scholar and Director of the Paulo Freire Institute in Brazil, Moacir Gadotti, based on the historic role and philosophy of the Centre for Adult Education. In November 2004, the PFI-SA was established as the Paulo Freire Project within the CAE, joining 50 other institutions around the world which work to stimulate, promote and strengthen Freirian thought and pedagogy.
Since 2004, the Paulo Freire Project has been involved in a number of activities, including:
- Hosting a number of internationally acclaimed writers, thinkers and academics, including Professor Peter McLaren, Professor Carlos Torres, Raj Patel, Salim Vally, Dr. Derek Mulenga, and Professor Jacques Zeelen;
- Setting up and running a series of seminars by postgraduate students based at other universities; Nisha Thapliyal from the University of Maryland, USA, ran a seminar on her research with the Movimento Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra (MST, Landless Workers Movement) in Brazil, and Anna Selmeczi, a PhD candidate in the Department of International Relations and European Studies of the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, and a Doctoral Research Fellow of the European Commission, on her work on Foucault;
- Setting up and running two conventions, viz. the Youth for Social Change convention and the Teachers for Social Change convention. These have involved a number of academics from the adult education and social justice disciplines in the Faculty of Education. The Youth Convention involved 100 students from 10 secondary schools in the Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas, whilst the Teachers Convention brought together a number of teachers from schools in the region;
- Running community workshops on issues related to educational rights, including, inter alia, school fees, when invited to do so by communities and/or social movements;
Running political theatre, cultural events and film festivals;
- Undertaking research on globalisation and educational reform, so far involving six Masters students and one PhD student.
In 2009, Ivor Baatjes, the member of the Centre who had been most active in establishing and running the work of the Paulo Freire Project, left UKZN. During 2010, the Project was relatively dormant whilst the academic staff member now responsible, Anne Harley, was on sabbatical. However, during this time a three-year plan to be implemented from 2011 was drawn up. This includes continuing to attract eminent academics from South Africa, Africa, and beyond to present seminars and lectures; facilitating engagement between local social movements, civil society organisations, and the academy; undertaking research on the current use of Freirian methodology and political praxis in South Africa; arranging and running film festivals and other cultural events to foster discussion, and facilitating a deeper and wider understanding of Paulo Freire’s work and thinking.