From Indigenous Peoples in Brazil

Indigenous scholar education

From Funai to Education and Culture Department (MEC)

By Luis Donisete Benzi Grupioni

The transfer of responsibility and coordination of educational initiatives in Indigenous Territory from the indigenous organ (Funai) to the Education Department [working with the state departments of education upon decree of the President of Brazil (no. 26/91)], is the cause of many of the changes in the sector. This transfer made it possible - even though it has not actually happened yet - for the indigenous schools to be incorporated into the country's educational system and for the "bilingual monitors" to be formally educated and respected as education professionals; it also made it possible for the fulfillment of the educational needs of Native Brazilians to be treated as a public policy, responsibility of the State. The transfer of responsibilities from the indigenous organ to religious missions in order to meet the educational needs of Native Brazilians marked the end of a period.

This is an ongoing process. It is possible to list several positive aspects of this responsibility transfer which triggered the involvement of other public sectors, opening new communication channels for the Native Brazilians. It is also possible to point out the reluctance of these very sectors to accept the indigenous schools and respect the right of Native Brazilians to special education, a task which requires new theoretical, methodological, and administrative approach== Parameters of a national policy ==

When assuming responsibility for the coordination of educational actions in indigenous lands, MEC's first task was the creation of a document which would define the parameters of a national policy on this type of education, in order to guide the work of several agencies. Thus, in 1993, the "Directives for a National Policy on Education for Indigenous People" document was issued, establishing as guiding pedagogical principles - in a context of cultural diversity - specificity, distinctiveness, intercultural aspects, use of mother tongues, and global aspects of the learning process. This document, elaborated by the National Committee of Indigenous Education - made up of representatives of both governmental and non-governmental organs which work with indigenous education, and representatives of indigenous teachers - was based on innovative experiences carried out by non-governmental organizations which work with different indigenous peoples. Those experiences - motivated by the need of presenting  autonomy alternatives to indigenous peoples facing the State's integration policy - generated a distinctive qualification model for indigenous teachers, in order to qualify them to teach at and run their schools. In its turn, this model was embraced by MEC as a system to be disseminated nationwide.

General coordination of indigenous education

Other important initiatives were added to this new context. A general coordination of indigenous education was consolidated in the Education Department and the creation of management levels in state departments of education - to take charge of schools and qualification of indigenous teachers - was stimulated. At MEC, it was elaborated a project financing program for indigenous education to support plans developed by indigenous support organizations and universities. Also, FNDE financial resources were invested so that the state departments of education could develop specific action plans in this field. With that, the importance of the role of non-governmental experiences in the qualification process of indigenous teachers was acknowledged, and at the same time it raised the possibility of creating new qualification courses, this time by governmental initiatives. Another significant action took place with the support to the publishing of pedagogical material elaborated by indigenous teachers themselves, an important step to their qualification process and also an opportunity to increase the number of literary texts written by indigenous teachers.== National Curriculum Standards for Indigenous Schools ==

Consolidating this scenario, a new document was presented to indigenous schools nationwide: the National Curriculum Standards for Indigenous Schools (RCNEI), a guideline of new practices elaborated by specialists, technicians, and indigenous teachers. It is long and detailed, containing general observations about indigenous education based on historical, legal, anthropological, and pedagogical aspects which support the proposal for an indigenous school which should be special,  intercultural, and bilingual. The document also contains work suggestions which may help elaborate a specific curriculum, closer to the reality of different communities, in order to integrate ethnic knowledge with selected universal knowledge.

In a field characterized by innumerous concepts and different practices, the RCNEI compiles and systematizes consensual ideas which may lead to several interpretations and proposals for autonomous curriculum and pedagogy. To make it so, educational agents must be professionally qualified, and administrative flexibility in the state departments must be achieved, opening new communication channels where indigenous communities may have an active part in the definition of their schools' pedagogical and political project.== Indigenous School Census ==

An indigenous school census - both quantitative and qualitative - is being taken in the administrative field, with long-awaited results: the inclusion of indigenous schools in the educational system, and the creation of records of schools and indigenous teachers, which will make the evaluation of difficulties and advances possible as far as governmental actions are concerned. Data are not available yet, but some figures were issued by MEC based on information from state departments of education. There is still a lot to be done for the inclusion of indigenous education in the national education system. According to those figures, there are 1,666 schools in indigenous areas, of which 631 are state schools and 1,035 are municipal ones at different legal stages. Very few are acknowledged as indigenous schools, despite the creation of this category by CNE's 3/99 resolution. The great majority is deemed as rural schools or urban school extension rooms, following their calendar and curriculum.

According to MEC, there are 4,000 teachers working in those schools: 959 non-indigenous teachers and 3,041 indigenous teachers. Little is known about these teachers' profile and qualification. Out of 24 state departments of education, which have either state or municipal indigenous schools, fewer than 10 have elaborated indigenous teacher qualification programs aimed at their graduation. The majority carries out preparatory courses with different methodology, theme, and duration. This is directly reflected on the school's performance: with the exception of one state, in which all indigenous schools have their own curriculum proposal, most of the country's indigenous schools have no specific curriculum proposal. They follow the curriculum of  regular state schools. In fact, most of the schools in indigenous territory are not even acknowledged as indigenous schools.