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.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Brasilia (Day 1) - Brazilian Government
Brasilia (Day 1) – Wednesday, June 23, 2010
We arrived in Brasilia last night after a 2 hour flight from the Sao Paulo airport. Today was very exciting! At times I wondered whose reality I was actually living in! I will get back to that in a moment. I feel like I have to explain some of the more technical aspects of Brazil’s government.
Brasilia is Brazil’s state capitol. Just as Sao Paulo can be compared to New York City, Brasilia is Brazil’s Washington, D.C. Like D.C. it is a separate district. It is a new, approximately 50 years old, and planned city. If you look at the city from afar it is shaped like a bird or airplane. The city is divided into areas, each having apartments/homes, a school, a church, a shopping center, etc. It organized into mini communities within the city. We took a tour of the city this morning and I found it quite extraordinary! The buildings which seem very contemporary where designed by an architect named Oscar Neidermyer, a very famous architect who has designed many buildings around the world (he is currently in his 90s). The apartment buildings (which are very expensive) are open on the ground floor to permit walking and the government buildings are quite unique as well.
After a city tour that included some very beautiful Catholic churches (Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world), we visited the Chamber of Deputies (Camara dos Deputados) which is the equivalent to our house of representatives, as well as the Senate. Each state in Brazil has 3 representatives who serve in the Senate. There are currently 81 seats in the Senate with a possibility of 3 more when a new state is formed and 531 representatives who serve in the Chamber of Deputies. I learned that a majority of both the senate and the house were women (go women!).
It was very neat to be in the capitol at a time when so many changes are occurring! Brazil’s current president, President Lula is completing his second term in office and an upcoming election is on the horizon. President Lula has a very intriguing background. I hate to keep making comparisons to the U.S., but I feel it helps put things in perspective. With that being said, Lula is a bit like Obama in the sense that he came from very humble means, a minority population, and worked his way up through the ranks. Lula is actually indigenous and only has a seventh grade education. While Lula must leave office after his second term of 4 years, he may set out a term and run for office again. Another difference is that Brazil has a multi-party system instead of only 2 like in the U.S.
Okay back to my surreal experience… Upon entering the Senate, our presence was announced. Although in Portuguese, I still felt a bit capricious! Because our group is travelling on a Fulbright, we are representing the U.S. government and I suppose it gave us a little more prestige. I will take it when I can get it, knowing I will go home to my insignificant little life in Tennessee… housework and runny noses. Pretty neat, but it gets better! We were then invited onto the floor of the Senate where we were introduced. Camera flashes came at us in all directions and the “Brazilian CNN” captured our presence as well. We listened as the topic of petroleum funds was discussed. Many want to use the proceeds to fund education. Obama and the situation in the gulf were also discussed. At this point I was wondering if the experience was real. I mean I couldn’t have dreamt this one up.
We left just in time to see the arrival of the president of Angola. We then met with Congresswoman Raquel Teixeira, a very Nancy Pelosi – esc type of woman. She was extremely intelligent and had been in education most of her life. She has a doctorate and was a college professor before entering politics. She spoke about very aspects of education in Brazil and I felt a real sense of honesty. She seemed very genuine and realistic about education in Brazil. This was very refreshing. It seems that many officials and politicians mask many of the problems in Brazil’s education system or only offer bits and pieces of the system’s educational reality.
Education Goals of 2022
1. Every child from the ages of 4-17 will be attending school (currently 88% -90%).
2. Every child will read and write by 8 yrs. old. (Brazil is having difficulties developing an assessment system to measure this.)
3. Every child will learn what is appropriate at the appropriate age.
4. Every child will complete middle school by 16 yrs. old.
5. Every child will finish high school by 19 yrs. old.
We then had dinner with some US embassy officials who, to be quite honest, I didn’t even see. They were seated at the other end of the table. All in all, a pretty amazing day in Brasilia!