WEPP strengthens education on democratic citizenship and human rights in Brazil during COVID-19

In response to the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic, especially in the area of education, AIPG’s Warren Educational Policies Program (WEPP) has facilitated a series of initiatives since March of this year to support its community of educators. These activities were developed within the context of the Citizenship and Democracy in School project, which has been organized in Brazil by the Auschwitz Institute since 2018.

During the months of April and May, which followed the global interruption of in-person scholastic activities, the WEPP held a series of virtual meetings with teachers from São Paulo, Brasilia D.F., and Paraíba to create a shared professional space and facilitate exchanges between teachers who were working from home. These meetings also worked to identify how the WEPP could better support them during the pandemic. From June through September, the Auschwitz Institute responded to the outcomes of these sessions by adapting a series of activities from Citizenship and Democracy in School to the reality of distance classes, and also holding a competition for students with the aim of motivating them to stay connected to the school during this difficult time.

Following the publication of several studies on the negative effects that the prolongation of the pandemic is having on the mental health of teachers after months since the interruption of classes, in October the WEPP held another series of virtual meetings with teachers from São Paulo, Brasilia and Paraíba. This discussion event looked to continue the previous round of discussion on the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic, while also considering how to best handle the impending return to in-person instruction.

From these meetings, a series of distinct impacts were identified by the community of teachers who have been working collaboratively with AIPG. These include accumulated fatigue, work overload, and concerns about the growing lack of motivation in students who, little by little, displayed decreasing attendance in virtual classrooms. In addition, upon returning to face-to-face instruction, teachers reported feelings of fear and insecurity due to the possible health risks, as well as concerns related to a possible increase in school dropouts produced by the loss of the bond between students and their schools.

The teachers also emphasized the need to be able to talk with students when they return from classes about how they experienced the pandemic and the consequences they have experienced as a result of these months of interrupted school routine. In this sense, participating instructors suggested that the WEPP initiative could create new activities and a selection of support materials that will help them to address these issues.

In addition to meeting with the teachers of the WEPP educational community, program staff joined with the Secretary of Education of Paraíba to promote a new activity with teachers of the state’s socio-educational system during the last quarter of 2020. This initiative is aimed at promoting the discussion of issues such as racism, inequality, and human rights with the students whose freedoms have been limited by the justice system.

This proposal consisted of several thematic activities that culminated in the organization of an arts festival, which featured drawings that were made by the students after each discussion. In 2021, the Auschwitz Institute will create an electronic book to compile all of the student drawings to publicize the work and what the young people of the socio-educational system of Paraíba think about issues such as human dignity, prejudice, discrimination, and human rights.

According to Luciano, an educator who participated in this initiative:

It was very gratifying to work with such an important and significant project. I believe that we managed to reach adolescents with the proposal and that we planted good seeds for future work on the subject of human rights. Although we are constrained by the new practice of distance learning, I leave with the satisfaction of seeing the students expressing their will and the importance of human rights within our society. Ultimately, I think the school has only grown with the proposal.

Continuing with its activities in November, the Warren Educational Policy Program was invited to participate in Every Life Matters Week, organized by the Secretary of Education of the State of Ceará through a Colloquium on Human Rights and Violence Prevention: The School and Youth in the Construction of Citizenship. The two-hour activity brought together a group of teachers from Ceará to discuss the role of education for human rights in preventing violence.

Finally, between December 7-9, the Warren Educational Policy Program held its final virtual teacher training of the year. This event represented the WEPP’s first that was opened to instructors across Brazil. As a result, the Auschwitz Institute received 330 teacher registrations from 21 Brazilian states. This initiative was important to expand the diverse educational community of teachers interested in the Auschwitz Institute’s educational proposal. The high level of demand for this program has shown that there are many teachers interested in receiving training on the topic, in order to bring education for democratic citizenship to Brazilian classrooms.

Despite the many challenges of this challenging and atypical year, the Warren Educational Policies Program has managed to carry out a robust series of actions in Brazil that were aimed at strengthening the role of education in the construction of a more humane and empathetic society. For program director Dr. Clara Ramírez Barat:

Creating spaces for teachers to listen to each other, supporting them in carrying out activities that discuss issues relevant to reality, and carrying out training exercises are fundamentally important actions to support teachers and to reinforce that they are not alone at this difficult and complex time that we live in. Furthermore, all of the activities that we carried out have contributed to the objectives of the WEPP program and its determination to continue responding to the challenges facing Brazilian education. These efforts, and the results that they have produced, encourage us to continue our work in 2021 with even more strength, if possible.