Under Bolsonaro

University budget cuts jeopardize rural teacher education programs in Brazil

Education professionals fear budget may not be enough to fund specific teaching training courses

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
Budget cuts could impact rural teacher education programs that integrate academic experience and engagement with the community
Budget cuts could impact rural teacher education programs that integrate academic experience and engagement with the community - Handout/Landless Workers' Movement (MST)

Rural teacher education in Brazil could be dramatically impacted after the government announced in April a R$5.8 billion (US$1.4 billion) budget cut for federal universities, experts told Brasil de Fato.

The budget cut will especially impact students seeking a teaching degree in one of the nearly 40 rural teacher education courses at the many public institutions of the country that help peasants, indigenous people, quilombolas (residents of communities originally settled by escaped slaves in colonial times), and traditional riverside dwellers gain access to higher education.

:: Cuts will impact more than 30% of budget in half of Brazil’s federal universities ::

Maria Raimunda César, a member of the Regional Rural Teacher Education Forum in the northern Pará state, says the syllabus of these teaching schools aims at developing education, research, and outreach programs both in the university environment and the countryside, so that knowledge can be applied to and developed based on the real lives of students. But now the budget cuts could cripple the main methodology used in teacher qualification.

Rural teacher education courses in Brazil usually include both classes at school and programs in the community, where students conduct research and outreach activities, which provides students with a unique kind of education training, she says.

But there are not enough professors to work with students during this time they spend in the community. “You need money for accommodations, travel, seminars, and monitoring. All that is under threat,” the activist with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) adds.César points out education courses have their own specific characteristics, and that is exactly why students should be able to follow the course planning, which also engages with the reality of individuals who live in rural areas.

Access and retention

Gilson Machado da Cruz is a 41-year-old small settled farmer who has been taking a rural teacher education course for the past four semesters at the UFRB, a federal university in the Recôncavo, a bay area in the northeastern state of Bahia.

:: All Brazilian states hold demonstrations in defense of education, against Bolsonaro ::

Cruz proudly says his academic background has allowed him to share experiences and knowledge produced by peasants with themselves. “Not to mention to be able to contribute by teaching about the literate world they didn’t have access to for a number of social, economic, and political reasons,” he adds.

He says the budget cuts for federal universities will accelerate the deterioration process that is taking over the UFRB, resulting in cuts to agreements with services providers to outsource cleaning and security workers, and fuel budget cuts.

“[This process] causes unemployment and less development for three territories of identity in the state of Bahia, as well as dramatically reducing the offer of new undergraduate and graduate courses both in rural education and other subjects,” he says. “It makes it impossible for students to afford their lives [in a new city] when they move from remote areas and need a place to live and university restaurants to be able to continue to study,” the farmer says.

The UFRB is one of the dozens of universities that offer rural education courses.

Frederik Moreira dos Santos, the general coordinator of the rural education major in the university, is also worried about the budget cuts, underscoring that, without the necessary money, the qualification of future rural teachers is at risk and will impact rural education as a whole.

One example Santos mentions is the case of quilombolas and indigenous students who attend teaching school and are waiting to receive their student assistance grant, arguing that this kind of aid policy is key.

“Education is more than just training teachers to serve schools,” he says. “The bond between students and the community is extremely important. We want them to be there and contribute to that space. How can we build a course and a university that has this kind of impact without offering the appropriate conditions to keep the student in the university?”

Santos points out that, since their first year in college, students start to think about projects to engage with rural areas and help associations, cooperatives, and other forms of social organization in the communities. “We’ve had students who drafted a bill for the cities. Laws that contributed for these rural schools,” he says.

But the attacks against higher education by the Jair Bolsonaro administration are putting education schools at risk, the coordinator points out. “Rural education suffers a double blow: the university as a whole is under threat, and [that’s worse for] a course like this, which really depends on retention policies and funds to pay outsourced workers. It’s an even greater obstacle to make this community-based work,” he laments.

But attacks to dismantle rural education -- from basic to higher -- are not new. The number of rural schools, for example, has dropped significantly in the past ten years. While there were more than 85,000 public rural schools in 2008 in the country, in ten years that number dropped to 56,000 schools, according to Brazil’s school census. A survey by UFscar, a public university, actually showed 38,000 schools shut down between 2002 and 2017.

Ilderner Pereira de Carvalho, a teacher at a rural school in Luzilândia, in the northeastern state of Piauí, argues that education schools for rural teachers was a victory for rural movements that fought for years to push public policies for this purpose.

The rural schools that adopted this methodology, she says, showed great improvement, as professionals with a better understanding of life in the countryside, helping people prepare for life, respecting their spaces, to value peasants as the agents of their own history. “We were able to have all by training educators, they train us to work with this matter of values,” she points out.

“When there is a budget cut, which ultimately takes away people’s right to graduate to work in these places, it’s a disaster,” she says, adding that only one school in her area works with that rural education methodology integrating academy and community, while other local rural schools just use the same processes as urban schools.

Nationwide mobilization

In response to the budget cuts announced by the government for federal universities, students, professors, and workers are calling large protests for Thursday, May 30, to hit the streets all over the country.

Gilson Machado da Cruz says students will join the struggle to defend rural education.

Edited by: Aline Carrijo