The following article was first published in Engagement, Vale’s magazine for socially responsible and sustainable mining.
CVRD school program approaches its tenth anniversary and celebrates its positive results
“I now enjoy studying more. Before the program, I felt embarrassed and had difficulty with some reading. Now I’m not embarrassed about anything and can read without a problem. “Testimonies like this one by Layla Leite Soares, who is ten and a pupil at the Henrique Rodrigues de Barros Hall School, in the district of Penha the Capim, in Aimorés (MG), represent significant pedagogical advances. And they reflect a host of similar reports in the 24 Brazilian municipal districts covered by the school that Vale (EQV), or “CVRD School program(1), set up in 1999 by the CVRD Foundation (FVRD), in partnership with the Municipal Departments of Education and the Center for Education and Documentation for Community Action (Cedac) (2).
The program was set up to improve public education sector by qualifying and training teachers and pupils. Today the program covers 450 schools, reaching more than 90 thousand people. Nearing the end of its tenth year in existence, the program has had significant results, such as in the case of Curionópolis, in Pará “One of the effects of the project has been the drop in the numbers of students failing their exams in our local schools. In 2001, around 43% failed – by 2006, this had dropped to 19.5%,” says Maria do Amparo Costa e Silva, the Secretary of Education for the district.
Although the statistics speak for themselves, the real merits of the Vale School program that go beyond the rise in the numbers of pupils in the public system passing their exams. The program’s methodology is geared towards the exercise of citizenship and encouragement. The idea is that to be a citizen in school is to learn about local and universal matters, to be treated with dignity, to have access to up-to-date, quality materials and equipment; to have the opportunities to develop one’s capacities, and to share experiences and opinions. “The teaching methodology was different, before. Pupils learned to read and write through fear. They were not allowed to put forward their ideas,” remembers Edson da Silva Dias, 43 year-old father to Keila, a pupil at the Center for Children’s Education Joy of Knowledge school, in Canaan of Carajás (PA). “Nowadays, pupils express what they think, their opinion on what happens in the house and in society,” says the trader, who follows his daughter’s school activities closely.
Keila, who is six, loves school and is always full of news. “I’ve learnt to read and write. I’ve learnt it’s important to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. I’m also learning to speak better in public and I know how to recite poems,” she tells us. “The other day, my friends and I wrote a text about the apple tree and the importance of the apple. I even learnt how to make apple pudding!”
CVRD School Program Almost Ten Years Old
The program actively engages in each municipality for three years, after which it provides up to two more years of support, at a distance. It subsequently provides monthly supervision for six months or more, depending on the needs of each town. Meanwhile, teachers and coordinators are invited to take part in groups to continue with and expand on the activities, known as “Continuing the Conversation” groups. The meetings take place in the House of Professor – centers built to serve as a reference point for the local teaching community.
The initiatives also increase the teachers’ self-esteem. “Nowadays, teachers in the municipal system are seen as a reference point in the town,” says Reis Geanete Pereira Silva, coordinator of the House of Professor in Aimorés (MG). “They stand out at university for their innovative experiences and positive results.”
Lília Roela and Pereira Silva is one of those teachers. She felt the effects of her professional development within the classroom itself. “Before, I was not sure about what I was doing. Nowadays, with all the studies and projects we’ve done, I know what to do when a pupil is having trouble,” she says. “Through the project, I became surer about what I know. Now I can better understand the difficulties of my pupils and find appropriate solutions. It’s no longer a case of trial and error. I follow methods that have been tried and tested, and that work.”
If in Minas Gerais the program served to give teachers a welcome boost, this is perhaps even more so in the case of Pará. There, the program is spreading rapidly, now covering nine municipal districts. By the end of 2006, the program had provided around 6,090 hours of teacher training; 15,225 hours of supervisor training; 19,140 hours of local training coordinator; headmaster and 3,915 hours of training, amounting in all to 44,370 hours of training in the State since 2000.
So many hours dedicated to training the professionals soon showed results in the form of improvements in teaching and performance in the pupils. “The municipal schools used to receive a very high number of children who, even in the second grade, did not have basic reading or writing skills,” recalls Virene Alves de Souza, coordinator of Carajas in Canaan. “Things today are very different, because many children now leave Primary School already knowing how to read and write.”
The expansion and deepening of the content to reach beyond traditional subjects, such as through the art workshops, are some of the distinctive features of the Vale School programs. “The workshops have helped a great deal in the educational work in the municipality, because we have acquired and expanded our knowledge of visual arts,” explains Virene. “They give us time to reflect about what art is, in discussions and through discoveries that lead us to think about and plan better the children’s activities, expanding their perception of the world that surrounds them.”
Maycon Kaio Lopes Leal, who is 14, is one of the youngsters whose interest has expanded to new horizons. When the program arrived in Açailândia (MA), he was in the second year of Primary School. Having learned to read and write as proposed by the school that Vale program, he read practically all the books in the library at his school. He is now in eighth grade and considered an exemplary student. “I’m really happy I had this chance. It was through the program that I learnt to write and discovered the pleasure of reading. I realized then that school would change my life,” he says. He hopes the initiative will expand to other areas of Maranhao and the rest of the country.
The plan is for the program to expand in a sustainable manner. “We’re preparing ourselves for this growth, investing in the complete structuring of the EQV. It is to be expanded, but without losing its quality, ” explains Tereza Perez, Cedac coordinator, speaking with the experience of someone who also learned from her years in the program. “With time, we perceived that we needed to keep our feet on the ground. Before, for example, we thought the focus should be only on the teachers. We now know that for the initiatives to work, we need to involve not just the teachers, but also the coordinators, headmasters and mistresses, secretaries and technicians – the entire education network, in fact. ”