Magazine article New Internationalist

Revolution: You Can't Expect Just to Open the Doors of a Traditional School and Have Working Children Flock In

Magazine article New Internationalist

Revolution: You Can't Expect Just to Open the Doors of a Traditional School and Have Working Children Flock In

Article excerpt


You can't expect just to open the doors of a traditional school and have working children flock in. Anthony Swift reports from a Brazilian school that has torn up all the rules.

AT other schools children are not given so much attention, or asked what they think of how their school is operating,' said Elizangela. 'We can talk to our teachers about anything - even very intimate subjects. They respect us very much.'

Two years back, Elizangela and other children in her class aged between 11 and 13 were worried about their education. Their teacher, who was new to the City of Emmaus School in Belem, Brazil, was failing to turn up consistently. The pupils, who regularly evaluate the education they are getting, tackled him about his absences and got the brush - off. They went to the Head but still nothing changed. They then called for a full staff meeting to consider their concerns, something inconceivable in most schools. The meeting helped the school realize it was adrift from its educational principles and get back on course.

In this school,' comments its former co - ordinator, Graca Trapasso, 'sometimes it is the teachers who are ahead and sometimes it is the pupils.'

The City of Emmaus School was once totally revolutionary, attracting wide attention in Brazil and from further afield. Now it is among a growing minority of schools trying to make themselves relevant to poor - community children. It was created in the early 1980s when animators of the Republic of Small Vendors, famous for its work with children on the city streets, realized that a major reason why such children had abandoned school was the inappropriate education on offer.

The Republic of Small Vendors had land in Bengui - an impoverished district on the periphery of Belem - and set out to build a school there based on local community needs and priorities. Settled mainly by rural migrants of Amazonian Indian origin, Bengui was home to many working children. After consultation, the animators proposed a school which would affirm the culture and rural origins of the local people and develop their children's capacity to act as citizens and understand the community's struggle for its rights.

Everything about the school was strikingly different. In place of the customary brick box with little or no space for play, independent circular classrooms of Amazonian Indian design were distributed in spacious surroundings of playing fields and natural bush. Circular rooms, lacking any set focal point, are ideal for education that emphasizes pupil participation. …

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