A Proposal: To Make Brazilian College Students Literacy Teachers

Teaching adults how to read in BrazilThe dream of a university education has become a nightmare for more than 50 thousand Brazilian students who had to finance their higher-education courses by means of the Programa de Financiamento Estudantil [Student Financing Program], the Fies. The program was set up to finance the graduation of those enrolled in private institutions who do not have the ability to pay the costs of their education.  

Thus, those institutions have to register with the Ministry of Education. Today, thousands of students and ex-students are unable to pay off their debt to the Caixa Econômica Federal [Federal Economic Bank].

I believe that, by providing a service to the nation, the students would be able to pay the debt they contracted to study. With this rationale, I presented a project approved recently in the Commission of Education, Sports and Cultural of the Federal Senate. It says that every university student who studies in a public university will have to participate in the adult literacy program. The same applies for the students of private institutions who desire to obtain financing for their studies.

These private-school students participating in literacy programs will be exempted from paying the monthly fees during their entire course of studies. The Senate has already approved this project of law and it will soon go to the Chamber of Deputies. I hope that it will be approved. The best manner of resolving the enormous Fies debt is a marriage: joining the literacy program with university students’ participation in literacy programs.

I am proud to be the author of this project of law, which makes the young university student a literacy teacher as well. That gives the student the chance to be a liberator, liberating millions of Brazilians from the prison of illiteracy, from the impossibility of finding a good job, from the risk of confusion when giving medicine to a sick child, from the difficulty of using public transportation and arriving at the correct address.

The existence of fourteen million illiterate youths and adults is a disgrace. A still greater disgrace is the existence of so many illiterate Brazilians alongside the existence of four million university students. A country that has so many university students cannot have fourteen million illiterate people without experiencing profound shame.

This is an inexplicable tragedy, having so many students pursuing higher education while so many others do not even succeed in entering K-12 education. An immense gap exists between those who do not attend elementary and secondary school and those who have already graduated from it.

To eradicate the illiteracy of fourteen million young people and adults in four years, we need only 100 thousand literacy teachers. Note that this is asking for very little: that each university student reserve six hours per week for one semester, comprising only four months of classes. Only this: six hours per week for four months. Afterwards, in all their other semesters at the university, the students will not need to do any more literacy teaching. This is asking very little of them.

Therefore, besides eradicating illiteracy, eliminating this national shame and helping the country to take a gigantic step forward because we know that a literate person earns and produces more than an illiterate one, it is important to remember that, once free of illiteracy, the country will grow. Each university student who participates in this program can tell his or her children and grandchildren how he or she was part of the heroic national movement to eradicate illiteracy in Brazil.

But, if you think this is a small thing, if you think that patriotism, nationalism and national sentiment are things of the past, do not forget that a professional who was an adult literacy teacher is inclined to be a better professional than someone who was not, even someone who has completed the same studies.

An engineer who dedicated him or herself to studies and, besides this, taught young people and adults to read, will be a better engineer than another person who also studied but did not teach reading. The reason is simple: the former literacy teacher will better relate to his or her workers.

Some business managers I know say that, when interviewing an engineer, they ask, “Which volunteer program did you participate in? How many people in the poorer social classes did you get to know?” This helps the manager determine if the future employee will be capable of conversing with those whom many call the “peons” of construction.

Anyone who was an adult literacy teacher will relate better with the worker. He or she will thus be a better engineer. And, doubtlessly, a better person.

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website – www.cristovam.org.br – and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br.

Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome LinJerome@cs.com.

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