The Emmaus Recife group in Brazil runs a liberating education programme through the Emmaus Luis-Tenderini school. This school provides political education courses, a component that is considered essential for the professional training courses offered.
Upon entering the Emmaus School in Recife, Brazil, applicants may be a little unsettled. The professional training offered there is free, of course, but the set up differs considerably from traditional teaching. In addition to acquiring technical skills in the field of electricity, refrigeration or IT, pupils also attend a weekly class on ‘political education’. This involves teaching them a critical approach to society, its social structures, its political mechanisms, to encourage them to think and, potentially, to choose to get involved in the public affairs of the city. At the end of four months (the duration of a training course), the teaching team hopes to see them leave with a clearer, and more aware, view of society.
At the start, most of the students are confused about this course. Would they be discussing political parties? Would the course lead to a clash of opinions? The first lesson given by the teachers involves establishing a broader understanding of politics and citizen participation. This compulsory course is an integral part of the school’s vision of ‘education that liberates’. And the students’ feedback at the end of the course, over the years, confirms this as an experience that some class as “very important”, particularly in light of the political situation facing Brazilian society over the last two years.
Furthermore, this citizen-based approach is embodied in the group dynamics established by the Emmaus School. Around one hundred students who graduate each year take responsibility for one of the management tasks, according to the principle of joint responsibility. The group is, for example, asked to organise and carry out the cleaning of the classrooms and the toilets that they use. Similarly, the students are encouraged to discuss participation and democracy, with a practical exercise of collective management of a common fund, in line with the method that each group has defined for itself. Everyone pays into the fund according to their means and the collection is used to fund snacks between classes or additional costs, such as transport for field trips to a visit a company, for example. If funds remain at the end of the year, the group jointly decides how to use it.
The teaching team and management not only invite each year to support the school system, but they also listen to and take into account ideas put forward by the students. Critical feedback has meant that the political education course has evolved and become more relevant to the issues that motivate students. For example, the teachers now meet every fortnight to evaluate the process, ensuring constant dialogue between teachers and students.