I hope I can accurately document my experiences in Brazil and share my knowledge with other educators. The Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Project offers an extremely unique opportunity for a special educator. The need for both leaders and educators in special education to develop a global perspective of their field and an international understanding for policies and procedures abroad is imperative. Opportunities to learn from educators, government officials and inhabitants of countries promoting large education initiatives, especially those targeting students with disabilities and individuals who require alternative teaching methods, offer invaluable information about the country’s perception of special education, the disabled population, and what role culture plays in educating individuals with disabilities. Mutual understanding and learning amongst educators in this field is critical to the development of programs that will meet the unique needs of diverse populations.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Brasilia (Day #2) Thursday, June 24, 2010
The morning began with a visit to the Social Environmental Institute (Instituto SocioAmbiental ISA), an NGO created in 1992 to defend the rights of Brazil’s indigenous population. I have blogged quite extensively about the black and white relationships in Brazil, but have not yet discussed the third main group in Brazil. The indigenous population in Brazil has been discriminated and taken advantage of throughout Brazil’s history. The indigenous people of Brazil were, like Afro-Brazilians, give equal protection rights Brazil’s 1988 Constitution. 99% of the indigenous population live in the Amazon. There are around 255 indigenous groups in Brazil who speak 180 different (native) languages. This NGO works with these indigenous groups, they advocate for their social and environmental rights. The spokesperson for ISA explained that the land the indigenous live on is protected and reserved for this population, however the government actually owns this native land. The indigenous people cannot sell the land. This is mainly because of environmental legislation that protects the ecosystems that have developed in the Amazon. I still find it quite amazing that this land that the native Brazilians have lived on for thousands of years is owned by the government.
Some of the schools indigenous students attend schools so remote that it takes 2-3 days, by boat, to travel to them. These schools have autonomous management and student learning occurs through projects. It incorporates specific learning needs and curriculum. Teachers teach in a very interdisciplinary manner. ISA explained that many challenges exist with providing education to this group of people. They explained that a major gap exists between legislation and practice. That seems to be quite common in Brazil! This is something I have heard from many people. Another issue is language. It is very difficult to find teachers who are certified to teach in the language spoken by specific tribes. Most of these schools do not offer special education which means students diagnosed with disabilities who want specialized schooling must travel very far to these schools. I was told that students with disabilities were seen as equals in the tribe and there was no segregation.
After leaving ISA we visited a public school in Brasilia. Our visit to Centro de Ensino Medio Setor Leste, a high school, was interesting to say the least. Initially I was absolutely amazed. The school was beautiful. It had 2 large swimming pools, an exercise room, gymnastics, a garden, and judo (yes judo!). It was a public school that I later learned was most likely the best in Brazil. We were welcomed with open arms. The administration was warm and eager to show us the school. They explained that many students were absent because the bus drivers went on strike. I cannot imagine that scenario! There were more students present, but the school normally houses 900 students. We were told that students at this school received the highest scores and that many students performed very well on the Vestibular (college entrance exam) were accepted to public universities. I felt a bit of hope. This school appeared wonderful! … appeared being the operative word. After being served food and drink, we were given the opportunity to speak with the teachers. I spoke with one who spoke English very well. She lived in US while her father received his doctorate degree. She explained that most of the students that attended this school would not go to college. She said that maybe 30 out of 900 would attend a public university. The others would work or received welfare. It seems that Brazil likes to mask many of the problems they encounter!
I did visit a special education classroom. It was very small. I found it a little odd that upon entering the room a hodgepodge of manipulatives for the visually impaired were set out on a table in the middle of the room. The special education instructor explained each item (a test in Braille, a periodic table in Braille, plastic triangles, etc.). I wondered if this was where they served students diagnosed with visual impairments. I stayed, after the group continued with the tour,to get the scoop. After all, I am finding it takes a little digging to get the complete picture. I found out that this was the only special education classroom in the entire school (a huge room for judo and gymnastic equipment, but one tiny room for special education?). They serve all students diagnosed with disabilities in this classroom. Like the public school in Sao Paulo, they relied on the pull-out method to reinforce instruction in the regular education classroom. It seemed strange that there was such a focus on the visually impaired. I wondered how many visually impaired students they served. I have a feeling there was not an excessive population of blind students in Brasilia. Unfortunately, because of lack of time and language barriers, I was hurried on to the next stop on the tour.
The good news is that I made a connection with the English teacher and gave out my second webcam (She is very excited to work with us!) and being from the same state as Miley Cyrus is pretty cool according to Brazilian teenagers!
After the school visit we departed Brasilia. After a four hour bus ride we arrived in Cavalcante in the state of Goias. Tired, we arrived around 10:00 PM. As we stepped off the bus we were greeted by the mayor, the secretary of education and many other local figures. I was absolutely amazed that these people came together to greet us. After a short presentation and introductions, we were served dinner and shown to our rooms/huts.