Bolsonaro’s Literacy Policy not fit for purpose – Prof. Maria Nunes Macedo

Professor Maria Nunes Macedo, from the Federal University of São João del-Rei, Minas Gerais, picks apart the Brazil’s ideologically driven literacy policy under the far-right Government (06/02/20)

Brazil is one of the most unequal countries in the world, marked by a process of social and economic exclusion, aggravated by the giant literacy problems shown by the Brazilian Institute of Geostatistics (IBGE) indexes. Despite advances over the 20th century, and in these two decades of the 21st century, we still have around 14 million young people and adults who are illiterate. 

According to UNESCO, we make up 38% of the illiterate throughout Latin America. How can we fight against illiteracy if the Government has decided to ignore the scientific knowledge accumulated for decades in the research centers of all universities in the country? This reveals all sorts of materials that materialize the literacy policy published by the Ministry of Education. Starting with Decree No. 9,765, of April 11, 2019, creating the National Literacy Policy, what we have seen is a rudimentary policy that is going back to an completely outdated literacy conception from the beginning of the 20th century, and based on the phonics method, which means students have to memorize phonemes and letters in order to get literate.

Where do these ideas comes from if it is not the result of internationally recognised research carried out in the country? This is just an imitation of the literacy policies of the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries of the North, imported with the argument of literacy based on “evidence, a positivist conception of science. Under Weintraub’s command, the Ministry of Education (MEC) succumbs to imperialist and colonialist logic, tearing away the stones already settled in the soil of literacy practices in Brazilian schools, so widely studied over decades, financed by public resources invested in research centers.

It sets us in a position of extreme subservience and fragility as a nation.

However, this decision to import policies excludes the most effective and interesting educational policies from the wealthy countries they are taken from: the investment in qualified access to written culture – through the school and neighborhood libraries – which are a decisive contribution for children’s literacy. Investment in the teaching career to give more dignified salaries. Investment in school’s material conditions, such as providing proper equipment. Investment in full-time education.

However, the MEC, just like a crab, decides to take a thousand steps back, in an authoritarian or “flat earther” way of thinking, interrupting a cycle of advances in educational policy.

Even though they weren’t as ideal as we think it should be, these policies had been focusing on the importance of written culture to combat the failure of literacy – such as the PNBE (National School Library Program) and PNAIC (National Literacy Program at the Right Age), which made thousands of literary books available to schools in the last decade.

As if the Decree were not enough, the MEC launched the disastrous LEIA PRA MIM program, which does not resist to a superficial analysis. A set of recommendations to parents that seems to come from another planet. These kinds of parents do not exist in Brazil, or in Latin America, or in any country from the capitalist periphery.

Here are some examples of the moral advice and recommendations given to families: “Treat your child with love and care; have high expectations for your child; give books to your child as a gift; read and write in front of your child; read aloud to your child; praise and encourage your child ”etc. Clearly, we can see how much the State is removed from its role as a guarantor of the right to education, and therefore, from access to written culture, transferring responsibility from the state to the family.

The ideal family would have many hours available to dedicate themselves to reading for their children. But this idea of family doesn’t represent the different configurations of the Brazilian family; who doesn’t work hard; that does not have to wake up at 4 am to take crowded public transport; a family that does not spend 4 hours a day commuting to work. If they live in large centers; a family, my people, who doesn’t know what it’s like to survive on a minimum wage; a family that does not add up to the statistics of 13 million unemployed; a family that does not even know what it is like to live in the countryside, abandoned to its own fate; a family whose children attend school because it is not the young black men murdered by the state; a family whose father or mother is not among the 800,000 inmates in the Brazilian prison system; a family that has not been giving up hope on better days, because it already has them.

It is this ideal family that needs, according to Bolsonaro’s Government, to invest in the education of their children, reading hours and hours a day of literature books and telling them stories.

It is against this colonial-imperialist logic that we are fighting. It is no longer enough to just be teachers and researchers, and to produce the best and most advanced scientific knowledge in education by publishing it in the most prestigious journals.

No. There is an urgent need for us to assume a truly political attitude, to use the powerful tool that is writing to denounce, in all corners, what has been happening in Brazil.

Maria do Socorro Alencar Nunes Macedo is a Professor at the Federal University of São João del-Rei, Minas Gerais, Brazil, a researcher at National Research Committee (CNPq ) and a visiting scholar at the Goldsmith University

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