Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Brazil, New Focus on the Class after Class ; Private Organizations Now Supplement Public Schooling

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Brazil, New Focus on the Class after Class ; Private Organizations Now Supplement Public Schooling

Article excerpt

In the corner of an old warehouse, across the floor from a bunch of kids learning all about graffiti art, Valeria Nascimento sits with one eye on her teacher and another on his boom box. When her mentor gives the sign, the slight, 12-year-old draws a big breath and jumps in.

"Hip hop is for learning, It speaks to us," raps Valeria. "It is fun, it is union."

In today's Brazil, this is what passes for education. It is not school and it is not play, but a mixture of the two, a new attempt to bolster the precarious learning provided by Brazil's primary schools. With the system in crisis - the lack of funding is so acute the education minister last year encouraged children to march on the capital to demand more cash - more and more private organizations like this one, which teaches black culture, are pitching in with extracurricular activities and guidance for the country's youngest students. Innovative, energetic, and committed, their presence is, experts say, evidence that the old methods of teaching no longer work here.

"Public basic/elementary schools are scarcely able to teach the basics," says Fernando Rossetti, a former United Nations consultant and one of Brazil's best-known experts on education. "Some of the most innovative education programs in Brazil today are not happening in schools, but outside them. Civil society in Brazil and in many Latin American countries is, through nongovernmental organizations, organizing itself to supplement school teaching for the poor majority. Many of these partner with schools, but in a complementary way, so that schools can concentrate better on the job of teaching the basics."

And how they need to concentrate. Over the past few years a volume of studies carried out by foreign and domestic researchers show that when it comes to primary education, Brazilian students have a lot of catching up to do. One typical study, released by the Education Ministry last month, found that less than 5 percent of fourth-graders could read properly, and less than 7 percent had the math skills commensurate with their age.

Programs like the one in Mare, a sprawling and often dangerous labyrinth of 16 slums, hope to give state schools more time to concentrate on those core subjects by taking responsibility for extracurricular activities. Educators from the Mare Center for Study and Solidarity (CEASM), a nongovernmental organization set up by former university graduates from the area, now work with eight of the area's 16 primary schools by teaching such subjects as photography, dance, black culture, communication, theater, and music. CEASM is funded by some of Brazil's major corporations, like Petrobas, the state oil company, as well as foreign institutions like the Ford Foundation in the US.

CEASM educators stress that they cannot and do not want to supplant the state schools. Instead, they see their role almost as that of substitute parent.

Unlike children who live in the US and Europe, youngsters who live in and around Mare do not have access to books, educational toys, or even safe playgrounds - much less cinemas, theaters, or museums. …

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