The Working of a Fisher School
Lessons from Brazil
By: José Bittencourt da Silva
The School of Fisheries (CEPE) is a full-time primary and secondary level municipal public school for the Education of Youth and Adult (EJA), located in Outeiro, an insular area of the municipality of Belém do Pará in Brazil. The objective of the school is to integrate basic schooling processes with vocational education in fishery and related subjects. CEPE is focused on the training of children of fishermen and fishing workers in the island region of Belém. It aims to contribute to local development, reducing poverty and improving community relations with the natural environment.
From a pedagogical point of view, the school proposes to teach the content in an interdisciplinary way, using the teaching methods of Alternative Pedagogy. In this context, work is placed as an educational principle structuring the relationship between the teacher and students, based on thematic axes and the pedagogy of projects, all mainstreamed by Environmental Education. There are two different training periods:
1. School time – where students spend fifteen (15) days studying school, vocational content in a boarding school.
2. Community time – where students spend fifteen (15) days in their community, seeking to put into practice the learnings of the `school time’.
The objective of this article is to present and analyse the socio-economic and educational development of graduates from CEPE based on the current circumstances of former residents of Cotijuba Island. Has the training process in the school been useful for the development of its graduates and the place where they live? Or is it leading to merely certifying youngsters and adults looking for schools in the EJA mode? To what extent is it possible to create a link between vocational education in this school and the development of the social, economic, cultural and environmental conditions of its graduates?
This article works with a concept of local development involving individual, family or collective ventures that are in tune with the rationality of the `riparian’ (those who live by the side of Amazon river) people (Silva, Santos, Souza 2016; Silva 2009). These enterprises are not expected to aim only, or mainly, at the profits. It is expected that the concept of development that is internalized by the graduates of this school would take into account the strengthening and use of productive forces related to artisanal fishing, and; the methods of value-addition which increase of values that strengthen the ties of trust and solidarity, favouring self-actualization.
This article presents the material and research methods: a characterization of CEPE focusing on its historical, geographic and legal aspects that have shaped this formal educational institute; administrative and pedagogical aspects of the school, in which it was intended to briefly outline how it is constituted from the point of view of management and pedagogical practices, with special emphasis on the plan to have alternative pedagogy, and; an empirical and analytical presentation of the current reality of the school’s graduates, based on the information about those former students who live in the island of Cotijuba.
2. Material and Methods
According to Pires (2010), a sample for qualitative research can be understood as a determinate part of the objective reality, which will help empirical analysis of the objectives and questions raised previously. From this perspective, the sample of the island of Cotijuba was selected. The observations and statements of graduates of the school who live in this island provide the empirical basis of this research. These are reflected in the documents on the school processes and in the situations of the perceived reality, noted in field notebooks, questionnaire, voice recordings and photographs and a field survey conducted during the months of January, February and March 2018 with students who have graduated in December 2015 from CEPE, and who are residents of the island of Cotijuba, Belém, Pará, Amazônia, Brazil1.
Questionnaires with 12 closed-ended questions were used to collect information on labour practices, the current educational conditions of the graduates and some aspects related to the local social and economic organization. In the end, the questionnaire also tried to account the dreams and wishes of the six students who have passed out of the elementary and middle sections of this school. These students have certifications – a fundamental level with certification in Fisheries and Aquaculture and at the medium level, technical qualification in Fishing Resources. The views of the manager and the teachers of the school were also recorded during the visits to the school in October and November 2017.
The collected material was analysed to identify the development of the graduates (and their families) in terms of improved working conditions, the use of artisanal fishing, to the organizational and collective spirit that enhances the ties of solidarity among them, favouring self-realization and improvement of the educational and scientific achievements of young fishermen.
3. The School of Fisheries
The School of Fisheries (CEPE) is part of the Municipal Education System of
Belém. Though it was legally institutionalized on April 17, 2008, it became operational only from February 2, 2010. Its stated objective is the education of children of fishermen and fish-workers in the islands of the region with the aim of reducing poverty and improving the management of the natural resources of the Municipality of Belém / Pará (FUNBOSQUE, 2010, P. 10). The school (CEPE) is a teaching institute designed to serve preferably, students who did not have access to or continuity of studies in the primary and secondary education in their time (BRASIL, 1996, Art. 37). Hence, it aims at students in the age group of 15 to 24 years for elementary School, and those from the age of 18 and above for admission to high school, provided the student has completed the elementary education (BELÉM, 2013, page 27). The plan is to combine full-time schooling with vocational education and so students in the elementary school can complete their training course with the certification in Fisheries and Aquaculture, and at an intermediate level, schooling is integrated with technical qualification in Fisheries Resources.
However, the school is currently facing the problem of inadequate infrastructure necessitating the replacement of materials, repairs, painting of buildings and improvements in general for the smooth functioning and admission of the intended number of students. At present, the management of the school is linked to the group in power in Belem Municipality.
Since there is no election for the choice of managers, the management of the school depends on the preferences of the municipal mayor of Belém. There can be a change in the leadership of school as there is a change in the mayor of the municipality. This may lead to a situation where the pedagogic practices of the school may become aligned to the ideological preference of the people who rule Belem Municipality. Hence, it is possible to have a conservative/neoliberal or critical and transformative approach depending on the political game that shapes the educational process in the school.
A document that details the plan of the school, namely, the Political Pedagogical Project (PPP) indicates certain objectives about the trajectory of its students and possible relationships that must be established between the different subjects and educational activities. It also demonstrates the possible interfaces to be established with the social world outside the walls of the school. The current PPP was created and advertised in 2013. It proposes the use of the methodology of Alternative Pedagogy. It is influenced by the Brazilian Movement for a Field Education that emerged in the decades of 1980/90 within the framework of the struggles of the Landless Movement (MST).
The main objective of the alternative pedagogy is the possibility of integrating theory and practice in the education of students, especially those who live in non-urban environments. The holistic development of these areas/environments is the great utopia of this alternative educational methodology. It intends to reflect on multiple dimensions of the condition of students – their economic, social, political and environmental aspects which have direct implications on the life of the local community (ESTEVAM, 2001).
A very striking feature of the PPP is the idea that the school should contribute to the development of the riverside region. The word `development’ (in the way it is used here) is related to the processes of personal or collective improvement of the students. The PPP stresses the need for education to be seen as a set of important elements for the intellectual and social development of the student (BELÉM, 2017, p.11).
4. Schooling, Professionalism and Development
The island of Cotijuba is part of the municipal territory of Belém. With access only by river, the island presents a natural landscape of forest and beach by the Amazon. The place attracts nature-tourists and it has become the main economic activity in the area. Cotijuba is also important for artisanal fish production and family-farming and these are the sources of food and income for the residents (Silva, 2014).
A set of students of the School of Fisheries who live on this island were selected for this case study. They were aged between 22 and 30 years and have completed school education in the year 2015. Formally, these alumni have two certifications offered by the school, that is, a certification at the fundamental level in Fisheries and Aquaculture and another at the middle level, a technical qualification in Fishing Resources. However, it was found (through the interviews and discussions) that none of the former students had attended or participated in training courses in the area of fisheries. Only one respondent has claimed to have taken a course in the port authority on regulating small-boat drivers. It was noted that the school alumni in the island of Cotijuba have their main source of income linked to tourism, such as drivers of motorcycles and carriages, and; taking visitors to tourist areas on the island. They also work in civil construction, the extraction of acai fruits, and also as street vendors, workers in kiosks and tents on the waterfront.
Some of the responses include: To make a living, I do everything. I weed, work as a mason’s helper, work on the motorhome, on the carriage taking people to the beaches further […] (Interviewee 1)
I work in the motorhome and also in the period of the harvest, I help my family that has açaizal near here. I have a dream of getting a good job, but for that, I think it would be better if I were a fishing engineer, but I think this dream is very difficult. Because you need money, everything here is very difficult […] (Interviewee 2)
In the certificate of the high school diploma, it is stated that the student must present knowledge and skills in the ‘making of fishing gear and others’. In the elementary school certificate and in the school’s PPP (BELÉM, 2013, page 20) it is pointed out that the graduate should have expertise regarding the exercise of ‘sustainable fishing according to the code of conduct of responsible fishing’. When asked about these skills and knowledge about artisanal fishing, interviewees 4 and 6 stated that:
In the School of Fisheries, we had more theoretical (lessons) than practice. For example, we were going to have a training to build a fishing net. Then the teacher gave a theoretical lesson. But if you ask me to make a fishing net, ……I do not know how to do. Because we did not practice these things. What I can say I have a little more knowledge about is the breeding of fish in the tank….But I still need more training today because we do not practice after we leave school and we forget. (Interviewee 4)
We have studied all these subjects, mathematics, history, sociology […] and also subjects on fishing, but all very theoretical. If the teacher were to talk about the size of the mesh, the types of fish, the types of tides, these things, were all of (oral). There was nothing practical. (Interviewee 6)
The island has a fairly interesting set of social organizations. These are the Association of Producers of the Island of Cotijuba (APIC), the Cotijuba Island and Adjacent Islands Residents’ Association (AMICIA), the Belém Islands Women’s Movement (MMIB), Cooperativa dos Charreteiros de Ilha de Cotijuba and others. All these should have been considered as enabling/objective conditions for a local community development, based on the principles of solidarity. However, none of the graduates said that they are a part of any of these organizations. They were not part of a colony of fishermen, an association or a workers’ cooperative aimed at fishing or aquaculture, nor were they affiliated with any political party. They seem to have a certain rejection of this sphere of human life. Of all the interviewees, only one claimed to be associated with the Cooperative of the Charreteiros of the Island of Cotijuba, but that interviewee too did not know the provisions of that organization; he only knew that this would help him to perform his activity as a hitchhiker more safely.
When asked about the question of `association’ as an aspect of learning in the context of their school education, all the graduates showed a lack of conceptual or practical understanding of this subject. The following is one such response.
On cooperatives, we have had very little discussion on this. I do not even remember that very well. It was only in high school that we saw this first. I do not remember much about it. What I remember more or less is that cooperatives have to have more people to function and the association does not need a lot of people. I do not remember very well, practically do not know anything. It was our fishing teacher who told us about it. (Interviewee 4)
In fact, what was observed in the field was the uncertainty of the jobs of the graduates, reflected mainly in the legal insecurity of their labour relations. They have degrading remuneration, non-existent labour rights and no guarantee of social security assistance. On the other hand, the graduates do not have initial financial conditions for the much-publicized individual entrepreneurship (BELÉM, 2013), access to credit for the purchase of materials needed for trips to the high seas, to buy fish-catching instruments, and to arrange logistics for the storage, transport and marketing of fish in local markets or elsewhere.
The alternative would be the creation of cooperative enterprises, which would require, in addition to capital and credit, a certain accumulation of the values of trust and mutual solidarity, the capacity to form networks of cooperation, normative mechanisms and rules of behaviour that can improve collective actions (PUTNAM, 1996). These collective values are generated historically in the context of horizontal organizational practices (unions, cooperatives, associations, clubs, etc.), in which face-to-face relationships that improve trust between people are established. The greater the time spent in organizational participation – in meetings, deliberations, tasks to solve community issues, etc., the more the groups are strengthened in terms of trust, solidarity, mutual recognition, self-esteem and enabling actions towards collective agreements.
It is in this sense that the daily experiences in social, political and economic organizations are fundamental to the process of building social bonds that contribute to collective actions which are necessary for local development. As there is no orientation to (co-operative) organizational development in the education, the graduates can only think of individual enterprises, in a manner similar to the social relations of capitalist enterprises in fishing, and hence end up being locked in dreams which are very distant from their reality.
For this reason, it would be of great value if this fishery school uses `cooperativism’ or `associativism’ as an important component of their training program, putting into practice what is written on the document of high school diploma. The vocational component of the schooling here should guarantee the knowledge and skills of the different forms of social organization of fishing professionals. With regard to primary education, it is worth emphasizing that the students who pass out should be able, among other things, to ‘[…] know and distinguish the different forms of organization of fishing professionals in associations, unions, cooperatives, colony and federation of fishermen’ (BELÉM, 2013, page 20). This responsibility cannot be neglected by the school.
If we take the school in isolation, it is possible to affirm that it presents possibilities for the realization of a quality and innovative education for the sons and daughters of the workers of the remote parts of Belém, in terms of their pedagogical autonomy, as well as the commitment to provide quality education to the targeted set of students. However, what has been observed in this case study of its graduates was that there is a huge gap between the local development objectives of this school and the lived reality of its graduates.
What was seen in reality was the instability of employment of the graduates, with legal insecurity in their labour relations, appalling remuneration, denied labour rights, no guarantee of social security assistance and distance from what they have studied for years as the students of the CEPE. Precisely, CEPE alumni work as drivers of motorcycles, in construction, cleaning of residential areas, as street vendors and even as waiters in bars and kiosks of food and drinks in the beach areas.
The graduates of this school cannot access higher levels of education. They cannot afford the initial financial expenses to individually or collectively undertake business ventures. So, the only possibility of generating income for their livelihood and to support their families is in informal services. Moreover, they demonstrate a very low organizational capacity and this limits the development of trust and solidarity beyond the family.
The school should become a learning space to teach its students their position in the social, political and economic structures of the social formation (capitalist society). The students need to critically understand the way this society works, its social relations of production and cumulative rationality of dominant wealth and, thereby be able to reflect on the concrete reality of the people of Amazonian tributaries in general and the Belenians, in particular.
It is not presumed here that the education provided can solve all problems related to the socio-economic and educational development of either its graduates or the riverside communities. There are other variables that need to be put in this context. However, the school cannot neglect the problematic, the need for critical and creative learning, revealing the social reality of its students, even showing that development is a worldview, which can be capitalist or solidarity-based. This information is essential for the reflective understanding of local problems and to think about possible propositions and alternatives in terms of community-based riparian development so that it is socially just and environmentally sustainable.
José Bittencourt da Silva has Post-Doctorate in Education from the Faculty of Education of the Federal University of Bahia (FACED / UFBA, 2016); PhD in Environmental Sciences, Federal University of Pará (UFPA, 2007); Master in Development Planning from the Federal University of Pará (UFPA, 2003); Currently, he is Associate Professor level II of the Federal University of Pará, acting in the graduation (Faculty of Education-FAED) and post-graduation (Curriculum and Management of the Basic School-PPEB) programs.
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