At a time when important changes are happening in public education, the National Scenarios for the Future of Education in Brazil serve as a reminder that, although we cannot predict or control the future, we can influence it.
By prompting a multi-sectoral dialogue, the scenarios project has contributed to a significant shift in the relationships among some of the main stakeholders in the education field in Brazil and enriched the public debate on the topic. According to Christel Scholten, Managing Director of Reos Partners, some of the key outputs have included “a contribution to a new language, an invaluable rhetoric-free focal point, and a precedent for constructive relationships within the sector.” Through the development of important reflections on the future of public education, the scenarios team, in collaboration with Instituto Reos, has created a forum for meaningful conversations, despite the profoundly different perspectives that exist on the topic.
Even in the midst of a serious political crisis in the country, the scenarios have been widely disseminated, opening spaces for collaboration and laying the groundwork for change in the system. In this way, two years after its launch, the project continues to stimulate new conversations, strategies, and actions by important players and to foster the development of coordinated agendas and integrated efforts for the improvement of education.
The convening group for the scenarios project include Ação Educativa, Campanha Nacional pelo Direito à Educação, Consed, GIFE, Instituto Reos, Todos pela Educação, and UNDIME. We began the initiative in mid-2014 by conducting interviews with 71 leaders from across the education system. Of these, 41 were invited to participate in the scenario construction process. The scenario workshops began shortly after the new 10-year National Education Plan 2014-2024 was formalized and sanctioned by then-President Dilma Rousseff. The National Education Plan reinforced the idea that public education is a constitutional right and needs to be monitored by society. Many on the scenario team were involved in creating this plan, which was an important achievement for the education field and these leaders.
Scenario team members met four times and held several additional meetings over 18 months. The group produced four scenarios of potential futures for education in Brazil, which they named after Brazilian birds: Canary (Canário da Terra), Hummingbird (Beija-Flor), Peregrine Falcon (Falcão-Peregrino), and Sparrow (Tico-Tico). The scenarios differ based on how six factors might play out in the future: inequalities and diversities; social participation and control; the role of the state; the education model; school management; and the balance between public and private influence.
After their launch at an event in São Paulo on August 20, 2015, the scenarios have been continuously disseminated to different groups, with the aim of enriching and stimulating public debate.
Current Educational Context
Though much progress has been achieved in recent years, the current political situation in Brazil pose a challenge for the education field. In 2016, several political decisions were approved that were setbacks for education, and others are under discussion due to the economic crisis and the advancement of a conservative agenda. This turn of events, wasn’t predicted as such by the scenarios, but was reflected in the Sparrow scenario, which describes a continuation of the status quo in which the government aims to universalize education but is incapable of implementing it; only a few have access to high-quality education; and violence and religious influence on education increase. In the Sparrow scenario, persistent impasses prevent any real advances in the system, and the National Education Plan 2014- 2024 is not upheld. It remains to be seen if reality plays out in the same way.
Congress is also presently in discussion about the “PEC 241,” which is a constitutional amendment proposed by the Minister of Finance that in practice would invalidate the National Education Plan 2014-2024. “The [National Education Plan] requires an expansion by 2024 of 3.4 million enrollments in kindergartens, 500,000 enrollments in elementary school, 700,000 in preschool, and 2 million in higher education,” says Daniel Cara, General Coordinator for the Campanha Nacional pelo Direito à Educação (National Campaign for the Right to Education). The data shows that Brazil needs to expand the number of places for students and increase investments in quality public education, but, according to Cara, the current discussion doesn’t correspond with the reality presented by the numbers.
The question remains, how can we inspire strategies and actions that can bring out the best aspects of the scenarios for education, rather than the worst? If we don’t start to take steps in the right direction, what will education be like in Brazil in 2032?
Impact: Expanding the scope
The scenario process is a way to unlock and overcome complex and polarized situations, and it therefore impacts relationships and brings a new understanding of a field. Despite their differences, through generative dialogue about the future of education in Brazil, the members of the scenario team came to common ground on some key issues. In a letter made public in June 2016, they stated that they, “believe that basic education is fundamental for the development of the country in the short, middle, and long term, and thinking about the future helps us reflect and act in the present.” The goal of the letter was to expand the impact of the scenarios on the public arena and raise awareness of the challenges the current situation presents to society.
Throughout the first half of 2016, the scenario team sought to expand the initial scope of the project and identify new opportunities for dialogue, dissemination, and mobilization. Some actions to broaden the project’s impact included: the Todos pela Educação (“All for Education”) event on May 17, an interview with Gestão Escolar (School Management) magazine, a seminar by the Campanha Nacional pelo Direito à Educação (National Campaign for the Right to Education) on the quality of public education in Brasília, and a presentation at the 26th meeting of the National Union of Municipal Education Councils.
Todos pela Educação Event in São Paulo.
The event at Todos pela Educação was directed at private social investors and laid the groundwork for two campaigns: (1) a manifesto signed opposing threats to equal access to education regardless of gender, sexual orientation, and other forms of diversity, and (2) the launch of the Twitter hash tag #pelaeducação (#foreducation). During the event, participants expressed concern for the setbacks that threaten the plurality of Brazilian education and developed a manifesto in opposition to the Programa Escola Livre (“Free School Programme”). This proposed program aims to limit the freedom of expression in classrooms, under the premise that schools need to be neutral and that some content can entice students to adopt a certain ideology.
The manifesto demonstrated the strength and value of the scenarios project in forging relationships between organizations with different strategic agendas. The participating organizations defined a series of “non-negotiable” aspects of Brazilian education and promoted a statement to that effect on social networks. Many individuals and organizations signed the document, which was sent to the State Assembly of Alagoas (which had approved the Programa Escola Livre), the State Government of Alagoas (which tried to veto the program), the National Confederation for Teaching Establishments (which was responsible for a Direct Action of Unconstitutionality, or Ação Direta de Inconstitucionalidade, against the program), and the Federal Supreme Court (which will rule on whether the program is constitutional or not).
In addition to the manifesto, the May 17 event shaped another spontaneous movement: the celebration of the National Education Plan’s second anniversary. A Twitter campaign was carried out by important organizations, including CENPEC, Aprendiz, FLACSO-Brasil, the National Campaign for the Right to Education, and the Workers Confederation in Education. The campaign raised awareness about the goals of the National Education Plan 2014-2024. It sought to inform people about how to stay up-to-date on the plan’s implementation and to keep the stakeholders involved and accountable for the plan’s achievements. As of June 24, 2016, between Twitter and Instagram there were 26,703 posts and 1,485.261 impressions.
Gestão Escolar interview.
George Stein of Reos Partners was featured in Gestão Escolar magazine, and more than 4,000 people viewed a Facebook video post based on the interview. George spoke about the National Scenarios for the Future of Education in Brazil, with the goal of supporting school administrators in using the scenarios as tools for planning daily classroom activities. “The potential for transformative action is evident in groups that are challenged on a daily basis in their quest for better learning. Education in these territories is not just a well-meaning idea; it is a daily practice. Schools, communities, administrative teams, teachers, collaborators, and students are beginning to look towards and reflect about possible futures for Brazilian Education,” Stein explained.
Campanha Nacional pelo Direito à Educação Event in Brasília.
In July 2016, at the Seminar for the National Campaign for the Right to Education, 13 students of occupation movements of schools in six Brazilian states (Ceará, Espírito Santo, Goiás, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande de Sul, and São Paulo) participated in a workshop titled “Schools’ voices in discussions on the current quality of education.” Four members of the scenarios team were involved in the dialogue about what quality of infrastructure, curriculum, management, and participation students want in schools. The students vehemently emphasized the importance of democratic government and a new pedagogy in schools. It’s interesting to note that these ideas feature strongly in the Canary and Hummingbird scenarios.
National Union of Municipal Education Councils Meeting in Tocantins.
The 26th meeting of the National Union of Municipal Education Councils took place in Palmas, Tocantins. About 600 participants from across the country reflected on how to influence and contribute to a positive scenario.
The scenarios have been presented to school communities, social movements, national and international non-governmental organizations, foundations, universities, community and student groups, and thousands of citizens who believe or not in a high level of education as a means to building a fair and sustainable country.
How can strong foundations be established in times of dissent and radicalism? The project has just completed 2 years. Scenarios introduce strategic conversations and collaboration – as a way of stimulating awareness and critical thinking around complex issues, and therefore the potential for change is exponentially increased.
Scenario-related activities for the rest of 2016 include events, advocacy, letter-writing campaigns, manifestoes, and the creation and distribution of special materials for public administrators, all targeted toward stimulating new conversations, strategies, and actions and fostering the development of coordinated efforts for the improvement of education. “The process of creating the scenarios has enriched us, and we hope that the dissemination and use of the scenarios also enriches people who are exposed to them,” said Andre Lázaro from the Santillana Foundation. With the ongoing support of the C&A Institute, one of the key partners in the scenario process, the Reos team in Brazil will continue to articulate and promote actions and outcomes to expand and deepen the project’s impact.