Education in the countryside: popular, liberating and emancipating

Check out the special report on Movement Pedagogy and how education is debated throughout the 40 years of the MST

When talking about the importance of guaranteeing access to free public basic education in the countryside, settlers, and those encamped across the country, it is very clear that, in the areas of Agrarian Reform, education is a priority for the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST).

The MST's defense of education in and from the countryside involves the right to education in its various dimensions, from the appreciation of teachers, to the necessary infrastructure and a pedagogy that actually responds to the real needs of this population. To this end, the Movement argues that knowledge must be produced based on local reality, but it must also serve to make a qualitative leap in the organizational process, the production process and human relations.

Going against this process of struggle by the Movement across the country, the Legislative Assembly of Paraná has just approved, in the first round, Bill 342/2004, which provides for the privatization of the management of 200 public schools in the state. The Privatization of Public Education is a project that mainly harms the poor and rural population.

In a statement, the MST in Paraná states that they will continue to resist the privatization movement in education. “If militarization, the closing of schools, increased privatization, the freezing of teachers’ salaries for almost 6 years, the extinction of the careers of Educational Agents and the outsourcing of these workers were not enough, now he wants to sell the schools,” states the note.

The process of creating a rural school is linked to the local demand of rural workers and their children, but also a space for training militants aware of the political function exercised by the Movement, as Rubneuza Leandro, from the MST Education Sector, recalls. “Over the last 40 years, the MST has changed the vision of the countryside and the subjects of the countryside, becoming a reference not only for Brazil, but also for Latin America and the world, based on Via Campesina,” she recalls.

In the Agrarian Program, developed by the MST based on debates, seminars and meetings with its social base, Education appears as central to this theme. “The Movement reaffirms in its agrarian program the right to basic, public and free education, which has been present since the genesis of the Movement, highlighting the importance of education in the Agrarian Reform process and in the development of settlements. Breaking the land fence also involves fighting against other fences, including the education fence.”

Although the 1988 Federal Constitution guarantees the right to education, in practice there is a denial of this right by political relations, especially for the rural population and, in particular, for social organizations such as the MST, where education enters as a political and also ideological.

“Since its genesis, the Movement has fought for access to this right, we have occupied education departments, city halls, and debated internally with settlers and campers about the importance of education. Internally, the Movement managed to build awareness that education is a right, and we have collectively fought for this access,” recalls Rubneuza.

School is struggle

Historically, the MST faces political conflicts due to the denial of access to education by public authorities, especially in basic education and elementary education, which are municipalized. This results in confrontations with each municipality, confirms Rubneuza. “In response, the Movement created the so-called Itinerant Schools, guaranteeing the right to education for the population in encampment areas. Given that fundamental education is municipalized, evictions result in the displacement of these families to other areas or municipalities, requiring adaptive solutions such as Itinerant Schools.”

From this perspective, not all states managed to implement Itinerant Schools, although states such as Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, Piauí and Alagoas were successful. These schools were intended to guarantee, by the State Government, the right to education for these families, regardless of the municipality and the situation imposed on them. In this process of instability that goes from occupation to land ownership, the Movement always tries to ensure the continuity of studies.

“First, you need to obtain the right, then guarantee the operating conditions. We have been fighting constantly to find schools, which are generally improvised in shacks provided by the community, in the homes of one of the settlers or in old farmhouses. For the most part, conditions are very precarious, and we constantly fight to guarantee the necessary structure for these schools,” she says.

In addition to basic education, the Movement comprehensively discusses the importance of early childhood education and, in this sense, obtaining daycare centers and preschools for Sem Terrinha children is also a major obstacle, mediated by a lot of struggle with the occupation of secretariats and city halls. And this starts by discussing with the community and building awareness of the right, so that the community itself takes on the fight to access this right.

Movement Pedagogy

When recounting the 40-year history of the Movement, it is possible to observe that education has been an integral part of this struggle. When the first schools were conquered, many of them were contrary to the ideas defended by the Movement, as were many teachers, and the fight for education began to take on other forms.

“The MST base starts to say that they want schools, but not just any school. If it's not that school, how will we make the school we want? And in this, the Movement has been pursuing this educational project, that it is not enough to have a school; it is necessary to build the school of struggle. The Movement has made significant progress, but we are dealing with a public school under the guidance of a private Movement”

Rubenueza Leandro from the MST’s Education Sector

Movement Pedagogy, in principle, is the defense and elaboration of an educational project that is built for each school conquered and for each teacher who comes to teach. But this political-pedagogical project is not automatically given in the achievement of the school, reminds Rubneuza. According to her, it is necessary to build it in an often-conflicting relationship with the municipality, as teachers are public employees linked to the city hall.

So, how can we ensure that the State provides the conditions without dictating the intellectual and moral direction of training, which must be given by the social organization? The answer involves democratic public management in the process of creating the school and fighting identity as an important factor in decision-making, division of tasks and collective organization. And this is a permanent process.

“The Movement’s pedagogy understands education as human formation, combining reading the world with reading the word. As Pistrak* [Moisey Pistrak (1888 – 1940)] puts it, education is the instruction that makes up human formation, separated in capitalism. The Movement seeks to integrate these two dimensions under the umbrella of human formation, encompassing not only the cognitive, but also literature, art and culture. Today, this is part of the agroecology project, which for us is more than a technique; It is a way of living and being in the countryside, comprising human development in its entirety, including art, culture and literature.”

But in addition to agroecology schools, the MST also offers training for teachers, training them for this work with better quality in settlements and camps, integrating literature, art and culture into education, bringing together different sectors, such as culture, to deepen these elements, subsidizing the education sector.

The introduction of these elements into education takes place through training with teachers and national activities that set movement and debate with students and the community. These spaces created by the MST promote intersectionality with education, where teachers appropriate this knowledge and develop it with children.

Training trainers

 “We have work that is, if I'm not mistaken, in its eighth version, which are the so-called MST pedagogy courses. We hold these courses annually, in a different state each year, involving all states, and the host state usually includes more educators. In these courses, we discuss the epistemological basis of the Movement’s pedagogy,” recalls Rubneuza.

She explains that each state, based on its dynamics, holds state meetings, which are moments of unification, of giving unity to the political, ideological and pedagogical debate of Movement Pedagogy.

“This space is also for agitation and propaganda, and allows the socialization of experiences and debates at different levels, about the activities that the Movement carries out, such as early childhood education, primary education and the organization of pedagogical work in schools. These moments create motivation and an unveiling of reality, where teachers realize what the Movement’s pedagogy is.”

And for this motivation to materialize in practice, it is necessary for the school to go through a process of deepening and organization, that is, to return these debates to the base. This process depends on how the Education Sector is organized in each state, region and area, influencing the unfolding of the Movement's pedagogy in each location. Although there is no single education system in the MST, there are principles that guide this system. The correlation of forces and the structure of the Movement in each state will determine the level of engagement.

“Education being municipalized depends a lot on the correlation of forces in each municipality and the insertion of the [MST Education] sector in each area so that the community starts to defend this school. These dimensions are diverse, but are aligned with the political-pedagogical principles of the Movement's pedagogy. The direction is given, but it is implemented differently in each state, municipality and school, depending on the correlation of forces.”

In any case, the search is always for solutions to break these structures, whether with the formation of the Landless Movement pedagogy at a national level, with annual courses, or with specific courses on agroecology and education. There are also activities with Sem Terrinha, such as meetings and literary days, which reach schools and involve the leadership and base of the Movement. “Thus, we build the Movement’s pedagogy in practice, depending on the organic nature of each state.”

Understanding  education in the countryside

Among the MST's contributions to society, the education promoted by the Movement impacts not only internally, but also contributes externally to rural education in general. Today, it is a reference for a liberating and emancipating education and is recognized by researchers and intellectuals, who attribute this contribution to the Movement.

Internally, the Landless Movement has changed the vision of educators who teach in the countryside. Over the last 30 years, through coordinated activities called “Country Education”, it has been possible to influence public policy in the places where the Movement was located.

For Rubneuza, the teachers did not identify with the countryside, they refused or went to these areas just to complete a probationary period, without building links with the communities, and suffered from the same prejudice that rural education faces, such as the “Jeca Tatu” stereotype [from Brazilian books denoting the characterization of lazy peasants]. and precarious schools. She argues that the Movement has contributed to the appreciation of these educators and to the qualification of education in the countryside, placing rural subjects as subjects of law.

"We managed to qualify educator training and rural education, which was previously seen as very precarious. There was a view that for the countryside, anything would do, because the peasant only needed to pick up a hoe and did not need to know how to read and write. The Movement redefined the role of education and rural educators, defending that education is a right. Therefore, we fight to ensure that the conditions and infrastructure of schools in the countryside are dignified, and not just receive broken materials from the cities.”

But despite its significant production, education in the countryside still faces limitations due to the relationship established with “a bourgeois and capitalist state, especially at a time of regression in social rights,” recalls Rubneuza. Faced with the continuous struggle both to gain and maintain rights, as in a current case in Paraná, where the governor has a project to “put 200 state schools up for sale.”

Rubneuza states that MST workers believe that joining forces is essential, both in the countryside and in the city, to defend public education and the training of the working class. “The fight is for conditions to be the same as in the city, with access to new desks, staff and other necessities.” Done under a canvas shack or a tree, the fight is for dignity, so that the peasants are seen as a subject of law and have the same learning conditions as people in the city.

“We had examples of people offering us broken desks, hoping that someone in the area could fix them, while new material was obtained for the certifying school and they asked if we would prefer to take the used ones and leave the new ones. No! Our peasant has the right to sit in a new chair, conquered under the sun, occupying the Department of Education. This gives new meaning to the person; the settled or encamped peasant sitting in that new chair and knowing that he is being treated with dignity gives another dimension to his experience,” says Rubneuza.

In any case, the consensus within the Movement's Education sector is that the responsibility for the pedagogical administration of rural schools involves the school community through values ​​such as cooperation and solidarity. “We believe that we need to join forces in the countryside to fight for a public rural education policy”, concludes Rubneuza.

*This is the first report on education in light of the Peoples’s Agrarian Reform program in the MST. Stay tuned to the Movement’s website and social media to follow the second part.

By Fernanda Alcântara | From the MST Page | Edited by Solange Engelmann | Translated by Friends of the MST (US) | Original URL:

June 4, 2024