[11/23/2005] Landless Democratize Education

Learning in order to implement our ideas. With this notion in mind, the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) taught over 50,000 landless workers to read and write in the last three years. Last week, the first graduating class of the MST’s Florestan Fernandes University, located in Guararema, São Paulo, received their degrees in Specialized Rural Education and Development.

For Roseli Caldart, an educator at Brazil’s ITERRA (Technical Institute for the Research and Advancement of Agrarian Reform), projects such as the MST’s Florestan Fernandes University place people into higher education that are only able to exercise their right to such an education because they are involved in social movements. “These are people who demonstrate the marks of social exclusion, discrimination and domination in all that they do, in their entire way of being. They are entering the universities on behalf of the collective groups of people that selected them and for this reason, their expectations are different. They are studying so that they do not have to leave the countryside‿, she affirmed.

The 53 recent graduates of the University Florestan Fernandes participated in five stages of specialization, each of which lasted 20 days. In total, they spent 600 hours in study/class. Along with the Specialization Course, a partnership with the University of Brasília, the Government and Via Campesina, over 40 agreements were developed with Federal, State and Community Colleges to hold an array of thematic courses (i.e., Pedagogy, History, Agronomy) as well as technical courses of different skill levels.

“If it weren’t for these projects, the majority of these people would not enter the university because they live and work far from schools, schools that have never prioritized the rural sector. It would be impossible to study while fulfilling their responsibilities in the settlements‿, Roseli stated. The courses have a special characteristic, not limited to technical studies but including an understanding of today’s societal reality. “During the negotiations and dialogues with universities, the recruitment of partnerships was conducted maintaining a plan for student-based curriculum, which includes a different way of organizing courses – generally in alternating stages – and with entrance exams‿, Roseli explained.

According to Roseli, the reasoning for this differentiated format is to make possible the student’s permanent and ongoing access to higher education. Many of them to do not have the means to regularly attend such courses since they live and work in areas where courses are rarely offered. For this reason, one of the demands of the students is dignified and adequate learning facilities in the regions they come from. She also stressed the importance of guaranteeing a dialogue between university courses offered and questions of true importance for rural workers in areas of agrarian reform, which are often overlooked. For example, when studying pedagogy, “it is essential to alter the starting point in the universities to address the demands and understandings of education in rural areas, almost always ignored by regular universities‿, she stated.

In accordance with this perspective, the MST’s 1,800 Schools of Fundamental Education adjust their education to the realities of life in the countryside. Statistics from INEP (The National Institute of Research and Studies in Education) identify 200,000 children and young adults in attendance, and 3,900 educators in these schools. In MST pre-schools, for children below the age of six, there are roughly 250 educators along with another 3,000 alphabetization teachers for all ages, with roughly 30,000 students currently learning to read and write throughout the country.

“These people entering the universities are active members of social movements, people who identify themselves with struggles, proposals for social change, symbols, and a ways of being associated to those struggles. Perhaps this is the thing that bothers some people the most, people that is, who desire a reproduction and repetition of the social inequalities of the past‿, concluded Roseli.

In Potuguese –

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