Literacy in Brazil
The statistics for educational exclusion in Brazil are staggering. Of a total population of about 184 million (of whom 62% are aged under 29) there are 65 million young people and adults aged 15 or over who have not completed primary education. Of these 65 million:
- 33 million are functionally illiterate and have not even completed 4th grade;
- 14.6 million are completely illiterate.
In the 15 to 24 year age bracket - an important age-group that will provide the future critical mass of the country - 19 million people have not finished primary education and almost three million are completely illiterate.
These numbers illustrate the need to rescue the idea of education as a right of all young people and adults who have been excluded from the education system. Although Brazil has made significant progress in the field of education, especially in adult and youth education, the Brazilian government recognises there is still much to do, particularly in confronting a range of interrelated illiteracies: in education, culture, politics and citizenship.
Literacy as political priority
Literacy expresses the political priority that President Lula, Brazil's first left-wing president for 40 years, set out at the beginning of his term of office in January 2003 - literacy as the means of access to full citizenship, providing access to education as a right for all at any stage in life. For young people and adults who have not had access to school, a brief period of literacy teaching is unacceptable. Literacy is now directly articulated with the need to increase the availability of education for young people and adults.
Between 2003 and 2005, the most significant changes related to the political recognition of education as a fundamental human right of all citizens that requires special provision for those segments of the population living in precarious social conditions. Education is seen as part of the process of building a conscious and active sense of citizenship, respecting both the plurality and the specific needs of individuals.
To achieve this, the agenda for Brazilian education is being built on the basis of large-scale collaboration between the three levels of government - federal, state and municipal - and society as a whole, so that combined efforts can produce results in the shortest possible time in response to the challenges posed by the country's historic educational debt. This response cannot be limited to one-off short-term solutions but must be defined in a perspective of lifelong education establishing commitments to democratising education systems and to creating instruments that guarantee education for all.
Literacy and social inclusion
The Ministry of Education organises its action strategy by giving priority to the articulation between social and educational inclusion and literacy. In addition to being a right, the articulation between literacy and programmes of social inclusion is strategic and re-defines the horizons of citizenship. Links within the federal sphere and also with local state and municipal programmes and links between literacy and the income transfer programme (Bolsa Fam'lia) permit an important focus on those living in extreme poverty. The literacy and adult and youth education agendas form the structural base of inclusion. The articulation with vocational courses expresses the role of literacy as the gateway to inclusion and citizenship.
The Secretariat of Continuing Education, Literacy and Diversity (SECAD) translates the organisational principles into action. 'Continuing Education' expresses the focal point of the agenda for young people and adults. This goes beyond the limits of formal schooling and emphasises the idea of lifelong education, above all for the millions of Brazilians who have not yet benefited from access to school. 'Literacy' expresses the political priority and focus on citizenship. 'Diversity' represents the powerful concept not only of educational inclusion but, above all, of respect for, proper treatment of, and full value for the multiple aspects of Brazil's ethnic-racial, cultural, gender, social, environmental and regional diversity.
'Brasil Alfabetizado', the 'Literate Brazil' programme, was launched by the federal government in 2003. Its main object is to achieve educational inclusion by means of effective literacy teaching (reading, writing, oral expression and mathematics) for young people and adults over 15 years of age who have not had access to such courses, in order to promote the notion of education as a right.
As shown in Table 1, 1.67 million young people and adults attended the Literate Brazil programme in 2003. In 2004 the number rose to 1.7 million with resources totalling US$68.3 million.
Resources for developing this programme are transferred directly to institutions, in the case of public bodies, and by means of legal agreements in the case of non-governmental organizations, higher education institutions and private companies, after teaching programmes have been approved and learners, literacy teachers and co-ordinators have been registered. The plan finances literacy courses lasting between six and eight months, providing payment for the training of each teacher and a basic payment per month for all teachers, plus a further payment per learner/month.
It is the responsibility of partner institutions to train teachers, enrol learners and organise the whole teaching process, including classroom space, teaching materials, supervision and monitoring. Institutions are free to use the teaching method that best suits the communities in which they are working, as long as they guarantee that learners will be able to read, write, understand and interpret texts and carry out basic mathematical operations by the end of the course. One such institution is described below.
Centro de Educação Paulo Freire de Ceilândia
The Paulo Freire Educational Centre (CEPAFRE) is based in Ceillândia, a town of 344 000 people on the outskirts of the Brazilian capital, Brasilia. Ceillândia is poor in contrast to Brasilia. It was not planned but grew to house the workers who built Brasilia and subsequently those who serviced the middle classes. It suffers from a lack of infrastructure and is predominantly poor with high levels of unemployment and violence. The illiteracy rate is very high.
CEPAFRE was founded in September 1989 by a group of students doing an MA in education at the University of Brasilia. They joined forces with a group of local people who had started a literacy project based on the methods of Paulo Freire in the Escola Normal (vocational course for the training of primary school teachers) of Ceillândia in 1985. CEPAFRE has so far taught 7,880 adults to read and write and has developed projects with NGOs involved in the training of basic literacy teachers. In 1996 Paulo Freire himself visited CEPAFRE, an event that attracted 2,500 educators.