Participatory education based on empowering students through their active involvement in their community is an essential tool for fighting corruption in the long term, according to Myriam Anzola. Anzola was head of the Merida Politechnical University Kleber Ramirez (UPTM) and is currently the coordinator of the open studies program at the university. She researches social-linguistics, scholastic exclusion, poverty culture, and the integration of people with disabilities. She is also a doctor of education and has a masters in linguistics. Tamara Pearson of Venezuelanalysis.com interviewed Anzola yesterday. Pearson is one of the recent graduates in the alternative pedagogy program and a teacher at the Alternative School of Pueblo Nuevo.
VA: What are the alternative schools and how are they different to traditional ones?
MA: I would say that the alternative schools are informal educative spaces that are guided by the national Bolivarian curriculum, but apply it with a more open and flexible methodology, without prerequisites or ranking students, and allowing them to advance at their own speed.
VA: In July, the first alternative pedagogy teachers in the country graduated. For those who don’t know, what is alternative pedagogy, how is the course structured, and what is its objective?
MA: Alternative pedagogy is centred on the empowering of students within their socio-cultural context. It allows them to develop their individual talents within a shared project that has a theme that interests all the participants and which responds to the idiosyncrasy of the locality.
VA: What has your experience been of the alternative schools that already exist?
MA: In Merida twenty alternative schools were created by the education ministry and the state government. Currently there are seven schools that are operating, as the education ministry hasn’t maintained the necessary technical support. Those that are operating within this framework involve a diverse range of projects that respond to the characteristics of each school community. For example, there’s an agro-ecological school that encourages children to study and learn within a conservationist and environmentally friendly dynamic. There’s a science school which receives assistance from the science and technology museum in order to develop children’s interest in scientific studies. There’s a school that incorporates children with disabilities. It functions as an example of integration in order to increase the sensitivity of the school population towards differences. Another school that was born out of the alternative schooling model is centred around a project of interpretive systemology and develops an interest in building meaning through reading; analysis and reflection are encouraged in all of the learning activities. There’s also a school for artistic development which stimulates children through creative activity, as they develop plays with puppets.
The school of community organisation and communicational development in Pueblo Nuevo promotes an awareness of community surroundings and develops means of social integration in the children. It encourages self-management in all school based and non-school based activities. The teacher team of this school is the first to graduate in the plan of alternative pedagogy, and the school has become a research centre in that area.
I think the experiences are different in each school. However I think there is a common factor, which is a breaking with the scheme of routine study that is pre-established through a curriculum. In all the schools there is an environment of freedom and of active participation by the children in their own learning and developing of school projects. Without a doubt, this favours deeper and more pertinent experiences from an epistemological point of view. It prioritises the ability to think above memorising and repeating content. But beyond that, such a model favours the creation of spaces where students are involved in their surrounding reality, generating social consciousness.
VA: How then can alternative education eliminate corruption?
MA: Corruption is a consequence of the need individuals have to accumulate material goods in the short term, and is also a product of greed. Traditional education which is competitive and individualistic teaches people to stand out above their peers, and seek personal benefits. Cooperative learning however encourages solidarity, understanding of others, and mutuality in the exchange of knowledge between all the members of the school community. This breaks with the selfish model of only achieving personal goals through education, and it deepens the real mission of educating, which is based on the socialisation of human beings for the common good.
VA: Do you think then that alternative education can have that sort of impact on adults today in Venezuela?
MA: I think it’s difficult if they don’t expose themselves to a process of reflection about their practices and their social role. They would have to be incorporated into collaborative contexts where the interest of the majority to satisfy common needs prevails. Within the experience of the open studies universities, learning communities of adults have been created. Although these adults were educated through the traditional education system, they have gradually gone about building a new relationship with schooling where they don’t obtain grades or individual benefits, but instead share responsibilities to research in order to resolve problems with the group.
VA: Is the campaign that the government is waging at the moment against corruption effective? Why or why not?
MA: Somewhat, because it gets rid of impunity. But in the long term, something more than punishment is needed. A process of humanist education is required which promotes new values from an early age.
VA: Isn’t it necessary to combine alternative education with other means, such as grassroots power, the communal councils, the workers’ councils, alternative and community media, in order to eliminate corruption?
MA: Yes, of course. Alternative education only makes sense when it’s part of community reality. Communities should participate as a fundamental aspect of the education process, and every state institution should have a project of permanent education in order to promote values such as solidarity, cooperation, respect for differences and tolerance, which are values and principles that aren’t stimulated in traditional workplaces, places which in reality function just like schools.
VA: How can we eventually have a national system of alternative education in place, and what obstacles are we going to face along the way?
MA: Well, I think education should be just one thing, it doesn’t need last names. If traditional education were to prioritise student learning within a framework of freedom and respect for the capacity of each person, alternative education wouldn’t be necessary. But there are too many factors that go against a model of education that is different to the established one; the training of teachers in the traditional universities which promotes competition and personal success based on a misunderstood meritocracy, the administrative system of primary education which is bureaucratised and sectioned into grades which sometimes don’t respond to the cognitive capacities of the children, a pre-established and dogmatised curriculum, and lastly, families which hope to see their children do better than their companions, without worrying what they learn.
Educational change requires a collective consciousness regarding the importance of learning in a meaningful way in order to: reflect on reality, seek answers, and construct concepts within the logic of solidarity. Also, in order to resolve the inescapable objectives of the human species: to save the planet, to create a peaceful culture, seek solutions to the social problems in the cities and rural areas, food productivity, and technological development according to the needs of the times, without attacking the dignity of the peoples.