Professionals working in the education sector are treated with contempt by the Brazilian authorities in a country where privatisation is on the increase
Rubber bullets and stun grenades were flying everywhere in the Brazilian city of Curitiba on the 29th of April, 2015. The target?
Teachers protesting against proposed changes to the state pension.
The events that left well over a 100 teachers injured as a result of clashes with police outside the Congress Building form part of a bigger picture of a government in crisis and general discontent among the population. Brazilian demonstrations have been a topic of international news since the country erupted in protest in 2013 when more than a million marched against excess spending on the World Cup and poor public services. This year international news has centred primarily on the Petrobras corruption case and economic inflation, which resulted in a number of street protests months after President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election.
Petrobras, Brazil’s oil producing giant, is an important contributor to the country’s GDP, and Rousseff’s Workers’ Party’s implication in the Petrobras kickback scheme has dramatically lowered her approval ratings. Together with the corruption scandals involving the Worker’s Party and economic crisis, tensions have been heightened by austerity measures, which include cutting pensions for teachers. The images of teachers bleeding or injured in Curitiba are only an illustration of the daily disrespect and neglect faced by professionals working in the educational sector.
Despite the well-known precarious working conditions and undervaluation of their profession in Brazilian society, there is still a discourse that accuses teachers of victimisation. Such dismissive remarks and the trashing of public education often interweave as they reduce teaching to a mechanical profession, thereby transforming education into a product. The association between education and product is not new in a country where privatisation in the educational sector perpetuates the social inequality that holds the country back. Those who cannot afford private education are left with little choice but to learn in an infrastructure characterised by lack of desks, chairs, supplies and safety. In this context, teachers, and the education system in general, are a threat to the functioning of a wider framework which relies on marginalisation to work.
While both national and international media reference Brazil’s natural resources and high potential for economic growth, they cannot hide the country’s educational gap which is clearly highlighted in international indices of educational efficacy, such as the ones published by the United Nations and its children’s charity UNICEF. It is, therefore, not hard to understand why Brazil’s history has been marked by so many swings between hopes and pessimism. The Viennesse writer Stefan Zweig moved to Brazil during the period of Nazism in Europe and called it “the country of the future”. This expression is now often extended to include “and always will be” in stiflingly sarcastic fashion.
Indeed, how can a country be booming while educators are transformed into state enemies and there are discourses that demonise teachers instead of highlighting their social role? Aiming rubber bullets and tear gas at teachers are examples of the distorted priorities of Brazilian authorities. Politicians appear too occupied with extricating their parties from the latest corruption scandal, or organising the next international mega-event, while the Brazilian educational system creates scenes that are reminiscent of warzones.
Image from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-32527969
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