Oswego State faculty members Alfred Frederick and Tania Ramalho were the only representatives from the United States to attend the 2014 National Conference of Education in Brazil. The conference took place Nov. 18 through 23 and was held in the nation’s capital, Brasilia.
Representatives from the 26 states in Brazil attended to discuss a variety of topics related to education. Frederick and Ramalho were not daunted by being the only U.S. citizens present at the conference.
“We both felt it was an honor to be invited,” Frederick said. “It was very exciting. There were over 3,000 people with all the diverse populations of Brazil represented.”
Frederick, a distinguished service professor who has taught at Oswego State since 1985, was invited to the conference because he has been a consultant and visiting professor to Piaui since 2013. Frederick teaches there from May to August before continuing his education classes at Oswego State. Frederick first became involved with
Brazilian society and culture when he worked at the Federal University of Santa Maria for seven years as a professor.
At the conference in November, Frederick gave a presentation titled “Education and Diversity: Social Justice, Inclusion, and Human Rights.” Experienced in this field, Frederick has lived on four continents and has conducted cross-cultural curriculum research. He was personally interested in the topics of multicultural education discussed at the conference and in the proposals that were accepted on that subject.
Frederick said he feels a Eurocentric curriculum doesn’t give developing students a positive self-image because a significant part of society is excluded from school curriculum. He feels strongly that it is vital for the contributions, history, struggles and heroes of underrepresented people to be highlighted in future curricula.
Other topics discussed during the conference were education, work, and sustainable development; education quality; democratic administration; popular participation and social control; valuing professionals in education; financing education; and the national education plan and the national education system. Some proposals were rejected, but many were accepted and changes are in store for the education system of Brazil.
“There is a serious effort being made to reform the educational program in Brazil,” Frederick said. He believes that all societies, whether Brazilian or American, need to interact with, appreciate and understand diversity and that the curricula used in schools must reflect this appreciation.
“The conference was being organized since 2010,” Ramalho said. “It involved near 3 million Brazilians in the education sector at all levels. Administrators, teachers and professors, parents, and students were part of the process, including student unions that sent their national leaders to the conference in Brasilia.”
Ramalho explained that these 3 million participants in the conference deliberated for two days to come up with recommendations to address national education concerns. In their recommendations, they emphasized the importance of Brazil remaining committed to achieving excellence in public education.
“‘Education is not merchandise’ was a teachers’ union slogan signifying resistance to privatization and increasing influence of for-profit education corporations in the educational sector,” Ramalho said.
Student leaders also participated in the conference and contributed their opinions.
“For me, as a Brazilian-American, it was important to see the show of democratic participation and concern for the country’s education by educators and students who are politically conscious about the global forces trying to shape education into a for-profit industry,” Ramalho said. “The most clear and impassioned voices were those of secondary (high school) and college student leaders. They gave me hope for a democratic future.”
Frederick hopes that moving forward from the National Conference, educational systems will seek to reflect the realities of the country’s demographics. He believes that this will help students feel more capable to contribute and become more active participants in their education.
He noted that these issues of social justice are relevant not only in Brazil, but throughout the world, including at Oswego State. Marginalized groups are often underrepresented in school curricula, and he believes an important component of social justice lies in culturally relevant teaching.
“We all deserve the same privileges and the same opportunities to study and learn and develop whatever talents we have, regardless of our race, social economic status, religion, or gender,” Frederick said. “Whatever category of diversity that exists, these are all human beings. They’re all members of the society and deserve social justice.”