Since early March, AIPG has monitored the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having around the world. Emergency conditions around the world have had consequences on countless individuals and societies in areas well beyond public health. As an organization that works on the prevention of mass atrocities, the Auschwitz Institute is aware of the challenges wrought by the pandemic in terms of heightened social tensions and other risk factors. Additionally, as with many pervasive social crises, COVID-19 will affect groups in vulnerable social situations the most heavily. The increase in discriminatory attitudes and behaviors feeds brings with it an increased risk for human rights violations which, in turn, presents significant challenges for democratic governance. Overall, the situation has made the work of the Auschwitz Institute as essential as it ever has been.
Since 2016, AIPG has been working on the Citizenship and Democracy in School project with the objective of creating opportunities for the promotion of a pluralistic dialogue based in the respect for, and recognition of, diversity in the Brazilian public education system. This functions as a tool for preventing higher levels of prejudice, intolerance, discrimination, and promoting the participation of young people in the construction of a most tolerant, democratic, and solidarity-minded society. Thus far, the project has involved a total of 124 educators and an average of 3,000 students across the states of Sao Paulo and the Federal District of Brasilia.
Within the context of the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, education has suffered enormously. According to UNESCO, approximately 1.5 billion students in 190 countries without schooling. In Brazil, schools are closed, and many young people are isolated in their homes, without being able to study or pass the time with their peers.
Since March, AIPG’s Educational Policy Program (EPP) has been making great efforts to continue its work, with the importance of education and the ability to bring students relevant project information in mind. To this end, the EPP has not only sought out ways of advancing its project during this time of social distancing, but also methods for ensuring that the contents of its programming are maximally relevant to the current situation and sensitive to the ways in which the pandemic has affected levels of respect, discrimination, human rights, democracy, fake news, solidarity, and cooperation.
In April, the EPP created a webinar called “Strengthening the Educational Community during COVID-19,” which works to assist teachers who participate in AIPG ‘s programming to navigate the current moment. The webinar discusses how the pandemic context affects their work, helps educators identify how AIPG’s EPP can best assist them, and importantly, upon a return to the classroom, how to address the social effects and other consequences of the pandemic in Brazil.
In total, AIPG organized 5 two-hour online sessions in April and May, bringing together a total of 30 educators from the Brazilian states of Sao Paulo, Brasilia, and Paraiba. Following Citizenship and Democracy in School’s pedagogical framework, the virtual seminar considered themes like prejudice, discrimination, human rights, democracy, and solidarity in the time of COVID-19 and how they relate to the current reality in Brazil.
At the conclusion of the online sessions, AIPG asked the participating educators to fill out a questionnaire in order to collect inputs for the development of educational materials and, in general, to learn more about how the Educational Policies Program could help them, both during the current period of social distancing and at the time of a return to classrooms. With the collected data, AIPG prepared a report (in Portuguese), highlighting topics such as: an increase in prejudice and discrimination, inequalities in access to rights during the pandemic, the danger of fake news and the importance of democratic citizenship, in addition to issues related to physical and psychological health. The participating teachers touted the utility of suggested readings and videos related to the project themes, as well as the development of lesson plans to support their discussions of these topics with their students.
The sessions were evaluated highly by the participants. They expressed the importance of these meetings as opportunities to exchange experiences and support their activities during the difficult time that they are going through. Furthermore, they emphasized the necessity of holding more events such as these and continuing to work on the themes of the seminar. Guided by data it has collected, AIPG’s Educational Policies Program will work to develop supporting materials to continue collaborating with the participating instructors to introduce the sessions’ themes into the classroom, contributing to confronting the current moment which has reemphasized the importance of developing more humane values.
Additionally, the EPP is continuing to develop its broader project in a secure manner that maximizes its relevance to the education system, despite the challenges posed by current circumstances. On June 15-18, AIPG will hold a training session for teachers in Brasilia via videoconference. Registration is currently available through June 5 at the following link: https://forms.gle/WuGuJ4rpmnc5fY9c8.
Finally, the Auschwitz Institute is beginning to work with its partners at various Secretariats of Education in Brazil to find ways of reaching students directly, due to the exceptional context. This would involve the use of virtual tools and the adaptation of traditionally formats to meet the needs of the new reality.