Almost a quarter of the population of Rio de Janeiro lives in favelas, slums within urban communities. Unsurprisingly, people living in favelas tend to have low education, including lower rates of literacy, age-grade disparities and higher dropout rates than the rest of the country.
The barriers to education in favelas include poverty, conflict and high population density. Urban poverty is a key feature of the landscape of many developing countries today. In Brazil, a debt crisis, high inflation, rising wage inequality and government policy have deepened the vast inequality between the rich and the poor. The urban poor settle in favelas in search of employment but remain trapped by the cycle of poverty, while also contributing to the massive population density in urban areas.
“Children of the street“ is the name given to the young people growing up in favelas. They have little to no access to public or private education, because more 50 percent of people living in Favelas are unemployed. Therefore, child workers, far more in demand for menial jobs, earn for their households instead of going to school. A 1995 survey of households in Brazil reported that almost five million children between the ages of 10 and 14 were working.
Trauma and violence conditioned into the minds of these children from a young age contributes to their inability to learn. In a community where gun crime, drug-related violence and domestic abuse are endemic, it is unsurprising that children are prone to stray from education. Even though public education is free in Brazil, there is a lack of resources to support students outside the classroom; when coupled with the students’ own reluctance to learn, this creates an inhospitable environment for any real education for the children of favelas.
The first step to changing the bleak reality of education in favelas, therefore, is to find new ways to engage students in learning. Yvonne Bezerra de Mello, a social activist and PhD in philology and linguistics, is taking a step in this direction by developing an innovative pedagogy that integrates neuroscience with didactics to fill in the learning gaps that block children’s capacity to learn. This approach involves teaching students the skills they need to learn how to learn, including self-esteem and emotional intelligence. De Mello acts as a therapist as well as a teacher, which allows children with disruptive home lives to work through their struggles while simultaneously learning how to engage within educational environments.
On a larger scale, the government of Brazil is attempting to rectify the lack of access to education in favelas by improving public education and creating more institutions of primary and secondary learning. In 2011, the government spent around 6.1 percent of its GDP on education, a large sum for a developing country to invest in one sector. UNESCO, too, is playing its role with campaigns such as Edisca and Making Room, aimed at refocusing youth attention towards the arts and away from drugs and other harmful behaviors. With these measures, it is possible that the children of the streets will grow to escape the favelas and the cycle of poverty.
– Mallika Khanna