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Brazzil - Education - August 2004

Brazil: Blame It on Neoliberalism

Brazil is at a crossroads, according to João Pedro Stédile, a leader
of Brazil's Landless Movement. For him it was not enough that
Brazilians voted against neoliberalism when electing President Lula.
Neoliberalism, he says, is still present in the press, in the government,
in the universities, even in grade schools and high schools.

Mauricio Hashizume

If it had to be summed up in only a single adjective, the Second National Conference for Education of the Countryside, it would be described as "strategic" by the approximately one thousand participants.

To the social movements and rural unions, the encounter marks their mobilization for a new platform of education for the population that lives in the rural countryside of Brazil.

There, a child is eight times less likely to become literate than elsewhere in the country, according to statistics furnished by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The "strategic" importance is clear in the words of João Pedro Stédile of the National Directorate of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST) during the opening ceremony.

In his opinion, the question gains more relevance because we are arriving at a key moment of crisis in Brazil's development. "The country is at a crossroads," he said, reminding many of a speech by Fidel Castro, president of Cuba, in which he said that today the liberation of the people is not affected with guns but with "pencil and pen."

To the audience that filled the auditorium, Stédile explained that since the model of "dependent" industrialization (a paradigm that predominated from the 1930s until the 1980s) grew stagnant, the elite have tried to implant the neoliberal model of development in Brazil.

"We overturned neoliberal policy in the elections, but that was still not sufficient," said the leader of the MST, because this model of development is still present in the press, in the government, in state administrations, in the universities, even in grade schools and high schools.

In this neoliberal model, the education of the country is "disposable" and winds up under the auspices of the Ministry of Transportation because it requires only broken-down automobiles to take the people from the countryside.

The thesis presented by Stédile was entirely endorsed by the Minister of Education, Tarso Genro. It was the Minister, in addition, who affirmed that the development model of the Brazilian state still had not succeeded in freeing itself from control by speculative financial capital, which has used and abused the blackmail of the public debt.

"There will be no change and no transition if we do not have a movement from outside to inside," the ex-mayor of Porto Alegre affirmed categorically, reinforcing still more the "strategic" conception of the Conference.

"The great social changes that occur within a democracy only happen where the citizenry participates actively, putting forth their own proposals and democratically pressing for change. There exists no paradigm for change—that is, aside from a dictatorship—that does not require influence from outside the government," he emphasized.

"A society that does not have active social movements is a sick society. It is a society that has a deficit of democracy. The participation and input of social movements are the keys to producing changes in the state of citizenship."

The minister said that he believes these changes will win more space in the national agenda soon: "We already recovered the increase, and now we have to have strong transition policies to achieve a development model that implies both the generation and distribution of income, and an increase in the rates of growth."

The signal of the government, according to the Minister, was already given. "We now have a Special Secretary of Literacy and Diversity and a special coordinating committee for education in the country, which will specifically address the question of incorporating the magnificent contributions available, such as those coming from this conference."

To finish, Tarso Genro complained about the "savage logic of privatizations" and mounted a vehement defense of the duties of his position: "Education is not a secondary public policy that can be made conditional."

Retaking Paulo Freire

Specialist in popular education, professor Miguel Gonzalez Arroyo of the School of Education of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), explained that the experiences of those now participating in rural social movements are proof of the potential of rural education as a vector for social transformation.

"At times, rural education in the countryside is spoken of very badly. There is good reason. Truly, there is a great deal of fatigue, extensive abandonment. The young in the countryside do not have perspective. They do not have conditions to study much beyond the fourth grade of primary school.

"This all needs to be said. But one must also talk of another reality—that is the work being done by the diversity of social movements in the countryside and by the union movement," Arroyo underlined.

"If public education in the countryside is abandoned, the educational programs of the social movements today are one of the most advanced frontiers of Brazilian pedagogy," affirmed the ex-secretary of education for the city of Belo Horizonte.

To the specialist, what is most interesting in the rural education efforts by social movements and unions is that they are bringing together all that is most progressive in pedagogical and didactic concepts, in curriculum design, and in teacher training.

"They are putting into action all of the pedagogy of theorist Paulo Freire, all of the ideas of the popular education movement of the 1960s and 1970s in Brazil. This creates great hope."

Mauricio Hashizume is a Brazilian journalist.

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