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Education in the quilombola1 communities of Pernambuco reflects the general problems of Brazil´s school system. While the Ministry of Education states that close to 97% of the Brazilian children ages 7 to 14 have access to education, there is no precise data for the quilombola children. It is still common to see children and teenagers out of school, as well as illiterate adults. Schools are in very precarious conditions and they do not include cultural differences in their curricula.

Education in the Quilombola Communities of Pernambuco

Delma Josefa da Silva*

The state of Pernambuco has a population2 of 7,918,344. Of these, 6,058,249 are residents of urban areas and 1,800,095 live in rural areas. The afro-descendent3 population represents 67% of the total. Despite the fact that afro-descendents are the majority of the state's population, the Index of Human Development (IHD) of the United Nations (from October of 2003) reveals that there is a gap between blacks and whites, as presented in the chart below.

Differences between blacks and whites in Pernambuco
Index / Blacks / Whites
IDH / 0.671 / 0.749
Life expectancy / 66.7 / 66.5
Income per capita / 127.20 / 264.63
Average years of schooling / 4.34 / 6.05
Illiteracy between the ages 7-14 / 24.72% / 17.75%
Illiteracy among those 25 or older / 32.63% / 22.34%
Source: PNUD 2003 4

It is evident that the social and economic heritage of slavery still marks the lives of black people, even 115 years after it ended. This data does not show the specific inequalities suffered by women and quilombolas. However, it is known that they suffer discrimination in Brazilian society and that they have organized to fight back. And yet, such organizing and resistance have not made it possible to ensure their rights, such as the right to education and the ownership of their land, as the condition for the survival of future generations.

In Brazilian culture, resistance to subordination is related to the pursuit of freedom of expression, the right to life, health care, education, and political and social justice. The resistance of afro-descendents to the slavery regime made possible the construction of quilombos, and among them the quilombo of Palmares, which existed for over a century and became a reference point for political and social organization.

Pernambuco's quilombolas and education

There are over 40 quilombola communities in the state of Pernambuco. At the Second Gathering of the Quilombola Communities of Pernambuco in May of 2003, one of the conclusions was the need for an accurate diagnosis of the social, economic, political and cultural situation in which such communities exist, and of their main needs in order to propose public policies.

Education in quilombola communities of Pernambuco reflects the general problems of education in the country, only worse. While the Ministry of Education states that close to 97% 5, of Brazilian children ages 7 to 14 have access to education, there is no precise data for the quilombola children. It is still common to see children and teenagers out of school, as well as illiterate adults. For the quilombolas, the right to education is still an aspiration. Schools (when they exist) are in very precarious conditions and they do not include cultural differences in their curricula.

In order to change this situation, it would be necessary to ensure the access and permanence of quilombola students in schools; to value and bring back the culture of their communities; to formulate and implement educational public policies based on their own interests and needs. It is essential to recognize that valuing the ethnic differences in the realm of education strengthens the communities. In fact, it would contemplate the cultural diversity that exists in the country.

It's not possible to develop a multicultural education dissociated from the struggles of quilombolas in Brazil. This means "to acknowledge, observe, and analyze a peculiar way of looking at life, the world, and work; of living together and fighting for dignity for oneself as well as for all the descendents of Africans, and even more, for all those marginalized by society. It also means to know and understand the work and creativity of Africans and their descendents in Brazil, and to recognize their production in the construction of the Brazilian nation", as Petronilha Silva said.

The educational proposal of Conceição das Crioulas

If you want to know who I am
If you want me to teach you what I know
Stop being who you are
And forget what you know 6

Tierno Bokar

Education in the quilombola communities of Pernambuco is under generally adverse conditions, but there is an experiment in development in Conceição das Crioulas that indicates that change is possible. To further develop this process it is necessary that the community becomes the conductor of its own development and put into action the means to ensure its rights.

The experiment of Conceição das Crioulas - a community of almost 4,000 people - begun in 1996 with a research conducted in eight municipalities of the state, including Salgueiro, the town where the community is located. The process to define an education that takes into consideration the quilombola reality, based on its ethnic sense of belonging, has been under construction for over a decade by the teachers of Conceiçao themselves.

In 2003, the Quilombola Association of Conceição das Crioulas (AQCC), in its institutional plan, created five issue-oriented committees 7 to improve its work. One of them was the committee on education, which has been holding monthly meetings to discuss theoretical basis and methodologies to elaborate a differentiated curriculum proposal The law 10.639/03, signed by the president on January 9 of 2003, which amends law 9.394/96, included a mandatory subject of Afro-Brazilian History and Culture in the national official curriculum of the school system.

Discussion of the law supports the legal construction of a specific proposal of education for the quilombola communities.

The investment of the community of Conceição to advance in the educational field has been a priority and makes the community a reference for others in the National Commission of Quilombola Communities (CONAQ). The community has a number of schools serving the quilombolas; the principals come from the community itself, as well as most of the teachers. In 2003, 22 teachers entered higher education, and some are getting ready to start graduate studies.

In August 2003, a traditional community celebration included a cultural event set up by the Luiz Freire Cultural Center and the Gesto Cooperative from Porto, Portugal. The event mobilized artists 8 to exchange experiences in theater and fine arts, and brought the Majê Mole Afro Ballet from Olinda for dance workshops, as well as the first African History workshop 9. The workshops highlighted the importance of including the teaching of African history in the Brazilian schooling program, "because the current formulas are very harmful to Brazilian and afro-descendents' identity, as well as to the understanding of democracy and citizenship".

Culture and education, as Forquin 10 says, are inseparable and the result of the culture workshops caused an enormous impact within as well as outside of the community.

Overcoming the reproduction of euro-centrism is a fundamental condition to build respect of diversity within our society. To think and to practice education in the quilombola communities, there is a basic requirement: to know how to listen and to be sensitive to the educational needs of children, youth, elders, leaders, women and men rooted in the most diverse cultures, "because those who are wise recognize that different nations have different conceptions of things" 11. One of the challenges we face as a society is to be able see the world with multiple eyes - the ones that are similar and the different ones, and envision a new possibility of an existence where respect for others is the base of living in community


BRANDÃO. Carlos Rodrigues. O que é Educação. Ed. Brasiliense. São Paulo. 2001.

CCLF. Educação Trabalho e Pobreza. Centro de Cultura Luiz Freire. Nov. 1996. Olinda.

CUNHA. Henrique Jr. África-Brasil no Pensamento Escolar. Kàwé Pesquisa. Ano I-
nº 1 - jan/dez. 2002.

FORQUIN, Jean Claude. Escola e Cultura.Porto Alegre. Artes Médicas, 1993.

Jornal do Commércio. Caderno Cidades. 26.09.2003. Recife.

Lei de Diretrizes e Bases da Educação. Brasília. Dezembro de 1996.

MACHADO. Vanda. Ilê Axé. Vivências e Invenção Pedagógica: as crianças do Opô Afonjá. Salvador. 1999.

SILVA. Delma Josefa. Afrodescendência e Educação: a concepção identitária do Alunado. Dissertação Mestrado. Centro de Educação. UFPE. Recife, Maio-2000.

SILVA. Petronilha Beatriz Gonçalves e. Aprendizagem e Ensino das Africanidades Brasileiras. Rio Grande do Sul. 1995.

* Delma Josefa da Silva is a sociologist with a Masters degree in Education. She is a participant of the Local Development Program of the Luiz Freire Cultural Center.

1. Quilombolas are those who are part of a quilombo, or a community founded by runaway slaves. Under the 1989 Constitution, descendents of the original quilombolas have been granted the same status and protections reserved to indigenous populations.

2. Census IBGE 2000

3. Includes blacks and mixed race.

4. Jornal do Commércio. Caderno Cidades. Page. 4 . Recife, 10/4/2003

5. MEC. 2000

6. In Ilê Axé. Vanda Machado

7. The other four commissions are: Heritage, Health and Enviroment, Income Generation, and Communication

8. Mônica Farias and Iva Mariana (Fine Arts students from the University of Porto) and Rogério Manjate (Mozambiquean writer and actor, winner of the 11th Guimarães Rosa Contest, and of the Latin Union price pf French radio International of 2002).

9. Workshop led by Henrique Cunha Jr., UFCE professor.

10. Jean Claude Forquin. School and Culture

11. Carlos Rodrigues Brandão in What is Education.