The closing of the Paulo Freire centenary celebrations brought together hundreds of people representing trade union organisations from all over Latin America at the Concha Acústica of the Federal University of Pernambuco.
On Monday 19 September, on the university campus where the statue of the Brazilian philosopher and educator has stood since 2013, the People’s Education Plenary gave rise to a series of reflections on the importance and relevance of Freire’s approach to education in Latin America and around the world.
The event preceded the 6th Meeting of the Latin American Pedagogical Movement, organised by Education International Latin America (EILA), which took place on September 19 and 20 in the city of Recife, Brazil.
Combertty Rodríguez, EILA’s Chief Regional Coordinator, opened the event by acknowledging the presence of representatives from so many countries in the region.
The Plenary was composed of two panel presentations, the first reflecting on Paulo Freire’s legacy in global education.
“Paulo Freire is a very important reference for educators all over the world. For us, he represents the ideal of the democratic school that teaches and trains people to think critically,” said Mário Nogueira, the representative of the National Teachers’ Federation, FENPROF, Portugal.
Antonio Mendes of the National Teachers’ Union of Guinea Bissau said that calling Freire a philosopher and educator falls short of the influence he has as one of the most important figures of our time.
Carlos Díaz, president of the Chilean College of Teachers, on reviewing the pedagogue’s principles that are still valid today, said: “He told us that education is not neutral and, so, nor can teachers be neutral. Either we are with the oppressors, or we are with the oppressed.”
The second panel analysed the importance of Freire in Brazilian education. Historian Sérgio Haddad argued that the educator’s legacy is an antidote to the racism, the increasing poverty, the xenophobia and the militarisation affecting our societies.
Academic Eliete Santiago, for her part, emphasised the political nature of education and said that “Paulo Freire continues to be a necessary point of reference for the collective construction of social policy.”
The event was attended by Nita Freire, Paulo’s widow, who recalled that her husband said that one cannot teach without love and without consistency between what one thinks, speaks, writes and practices.
The global education plenary ended with a symbolic act in front of the statue of Paulo Freire, where a new plaque was unveiled highlighting the tribute paid by education workers in Brazil and around the world to the centenary of this leading figure of education.
Education as a tool for emancipation
The same afternoon saw the inauguration of the 6th Meeting of the Latin American Pedagogical Movement (MPL), which, as Combertty Rodríguez recalled, was born 11 years ago, in December 2011, in Bogotá, Colombia.
Luciene de Oliveira, representative of PROIFES, recalled the importance of building “a Latin American Pedagogical Movement that should aim to respect the history of all the peoples of the region”, adding that “emancipatory education will never be racist, homophobic or colonialist”.
Combertty Rodríguez stressed the need for the movement to be alert in the context of a right wing that is mobilised and determined to intensify the privatisation processes in the education sector.
To illustrate this point, the participants were provided with the opportunity to listen to the inaugural presentation of Bruno Altman, journalist and founder of the Opera Mundi project, who gave his analysis of the current situation in Latin America. The full presentation can be viewed in the video below.
The journalist referred to the second cycle of the 21st century that is now underway and, in the context of the crisis of neoliberal governments, has led to the victory of progressive projects in several countries in the region, such as Argentina, Chile and Colombia.
He nonetheless warned that “if these governments are not capable of breaking with the neoliberal model, they will pay the price for the damage that this model generates. The left must find ways of securing political and social strength, because the Latin American bourgeoisie and the imperialist states will react.”
He added that there is currently a growing sense of destruction: “We don’t know what we want to build in its place and the far right is capable of capitalising on that feeling. The discourse of reconstruction is another of the cultural, educational and political challenges we have to meet. We need to educate people to become a social force of emancipation.”
The event drew to a close with virtual addresses by Susan Hopgood, president of Education International (EI), Mugwena Maluleke, vice president of the EI Africa Region, and Hugo Yasky, president of the EILA regional committee.
Hopgood stressed that “in a world where leaders fail their people, education remains the solution”.
Malukele’s message to Latin America highlighted the shared struggles: “Our struggle against tyranny and oppression must continue. Our struggle for public, free and quality education must continue. Our struggle for our profession must continue. Our struggle for social justice must continue.”
The event ended with the message from Hugo Yasky, who reminded those present that school has to be a continuation of life, not a vacuum that doesn’t reflect the issues society is facing, and that Freire’s legacy should be remembered “not with nostalgia, but with an eye to our present and future struggles”.