Taking stock of the Latin American Pedagogical Movement to better advance free public inclusive quality education

published 10 May 2022 updated 30 May 2022

A 10-year review of the Latin American Pedagogical Movement (MPL, Hispanic acronym) has been conducted by Education International Latin America (EILA) regional office.

The MPL proposes educational public policy from the perspective of education unions and the education community. It is promoted by the EILA Regional Committee and operated by the EILA regional office. The MPL also aims to strengthen education unions, enhancing their capacity to reflect, undertake research, and propose educational and pedagogical public policy. Its proposals cover areas such as alternative educational public policy and alternative pedagogy, influenced by the work of Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire.

The research evaluating MPL outlines the impact of this process on organisations in the region. It also stresses ways to alleviate weaknesses that emerged during the development of this organisational political strategy.

“This strategy, initiated in December 2011, has been developed throughout the region and in each country through national and regional activities,” explained EILA Chief Regional Coordinator Combertty Rodríguez.

This evaluation was conducted with financial assistance from Lärarförbundet/Sweden and Utdanningsforbundet (UEN)/Norway. These unions also finance the development of this process throughout the Latin American region. The public university, the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), was chosen to evaluate the MPL, he said.

Imagining the public education we want

“The objective of this strategy is to analyse public education in the different countries of the region, to build educational public policy with a vision from the unions and the educational community,” Rodríguez said. It was aimed at “imagining the public education we want and thinking about how to build it”.

The MPL has established the need for each organisation affiliated with Education International to analyse their country’s public educational system in order to create a proposal for an alternative educational public policy to the neoliberal one. This alternative should be one that comes from the grassroots, from teachers who deliver education every day.

“It is important to underline that the MPL is a unique effort within Education International on a worldwide basis. For this reason, it was decided that it is essential to analyse the results obtained along with methods used in order to draw conclusions for the future. As a cutting-edge initiative within Education International, the findings of the evaluation could also be useful for a similar project in another region, to maximise the use of best practice,” Rodriguez insisted.

Great societal objectives to be pursued

The research underlines that “Latin America has experienced a strong attack by those in favour of neoliberal policies which have sought to discredit and dismantle the role of the state in social sectors. This has not, however, prevented private actors from taking advantage of public resources to finance commercial activities. The education sector is one of the sectors where these trends have been most evident.”

For Rodriguez, “the pedagogical movement is an important experience. However, as a new experience and as a social and union experience, it makes progress, then takes steps backwards. It is not linear.”

The research also reiterates that, for a long period of time, the trade union movement focused its struggles on defending the basic conditions of workers. In the different countries, the historical practice of unions formulating public policy proposals for the education sector came to be abandoned. As a result, international actors, both from intergovernmental and private sectors, have had a significant impact on the formulation of national public policies which, in many cases, reversed achievements made many decades ago.

The research outlines that “the MPL is a political-organisational strategy to propose educational public policy from the union perspective. It seeks to propose a transformational alternative to public education built together with educators from the classroom and involving the educational community including teachers, students, families, and others in a participatory manner in order to have an impact on educational policy”.

Starting in 2012, all the national unions affiliated to EILA were invited to participate in the MPL. This strategy is not exclusive to teachers but must reach out to involve the rest of the educational community, including students and parents.

The ultimate goal remains to build public, free, secular quality education, guaranteed by the State as a social right.

The EILA Regional Office has carried out different types of activities to facilitate the affiliated organisations in their operations within the MPL:

  • National meetings are held, work being undertaken directly by the education organisation's executive committee on objectives and working methods.
  • Sub-regional meetings are also held in which the organisations share their progress, review the work, and make new commitments to advance in their countries.
  • Finally, regional meetings involving the unions affiliated to the EILA are organised, to share progress, challenges, objectives, and discuss future steps.

MPL achievements

The research highlights the MPL’s achievements:

  • The affiliated teaching community knows about the MPL and its reflections on non-commercialised educational policy.
  • In countries where an education policy proposal has been developed (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Paraguay), this proposal has been validated through debates and reflections with the rank-and-file membership and in some cases, these have been built from the bottom up.
  • Short-term alliances have been forged with social organisations.

However, the evaluators stressed, “despite the fact that these forums have worked to document alternative pedagogical experiences, effectiveness is lost since the fieldwork found that this has not permeated sufficiently into the grassroots, who are the ones dealing with the needs, the scope and limitations of their work. involved, nor of the strategic alliances that have been made with other social and popular organisations.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also had an impact on the MPL. The report noted that “the already existing persistent inequalities regarding access to and permanence within the education system and the right to quality public education are deepening in the context of the health emergency. Virtuality is challenged by gaps in internet access and quality, and this infrastructure must be strengthened in the face of future challenges.”

Crucial role of women’s network

Evaluators mentioned the connection and coordination achieved with the Women Education Workers' Network, which preceded the MPL and inspired this initiative. “The mainstreaming of the gender perspective and the inclusion of intersectional perspectives is not an easy task, but rather the product of the decisive, clear action of women who are part of the Network. This is a task that has permeated the MPL, as seen in the statements made by people on the issue of gender.”

They added that young and Indigenous Peoples must be better targeted, as “the fieldwork revealed difficulties in working with the territories in general, especially in incorporating the needs of the rural community and Indigenous peoples”.

There was also no evidence of the presence of young people in the consultations nor in the leadership. This limits the integration of these groups in the near future, both in terms of affiliation and in the leadership levels, they wrote. It is necessary to integrate an inclusive thematic agenda of specific topics of interest that meet the needs of its diverse affiliates.

Recommendations for the future of the MPL

The researchers made the following recommendations for education unions to push the MPL forwards:

  • Analyse the transformations that the MPL wishes to achieve in the short, medium, and long term.
  • Establish a five-year strategic planning process jointly with trade unions in each country, in a process starting from the grassroots and working up to the EILA Regional Committee.
  • Undertake a strategy for the incorporation of other groups that can be key actors in the achievement of the MPL's transformational objectives.
  • Integrate the needs and demands put forward by the Network of Women Workers into the MPL.
  • Carry out dialogue on the construction of policies from the grassroots up, which implies engaging in political action drawing on non-traditional alternatives.
  • Clearly define a series of pathways (not only through alternative educational policies) according to the economic, political, and social reality of each of the countries to achieve the ultimate objective, which is a change from the neoliberal commercialised educational model to a model of free, quality education promoting solidarity.
  • Implement a training programme incorporating a seminar on Paulo Freire’s views, to recognise that change in education is achieved from classroom practices.
  • Improve processes of leadership training for young education unionists, so that they can be appropriate successors to current leaders. Young people should be mentored by people with more experience and a process to transfer knowledge and skills required for the formation of new leaders should be put in place.

A new logic leading to new results

“The reality of Latin America today is not the same as it was years ago when we started the pedagogical movement,” Rodriguez commented. “The parameter to consider is that, when the pedagogical movement was born, the Latin American scenario had more progressive governments that had no issue talking about public education policies, had no problem engaging in dialogue with education organisations to define public education policies.”

He said it is important that a debate takes place with organisations to retake this pedagogical dynamic.

The challenge now is implementing the recommendations. “We are facilitators, as Education International, in the global and regional offices, national organisations are the ones tasked with implementing the recommendations on the ground. It is a key point.”

Rodriguez insisted that “we will start with a new logic that will lead to new results”.

However, two essential changes need to be made, he added.

  1. The pedagogical movement must serve to revitalise organisations.
  2. In terms of pedagogy, the pedagogical movement as a political perspective must continue to defend the idea of quality public education and talk about the pedagogy of the future.

He concluded: “We must have our own proposal with our own vision concerning what we need to do in terms of educational policy. We also need a pedagogical proposal on how to make public educational policy work in every country. We must make proposals for public educational policy because private companies, the World Bank, the OECD, and others are themselves playing a role in proposing public policies.”

A positive, multi-layered movement and social movement in many ways

According to Rune Fimreite of the UEN, teacher organisations in Latin America “have gone through a big change, from being more than fighting unions. Teacher unions have become professionalised and now have to find a common path forward”.

The pedagogical movement is not only a professional movement, but also a “positive, multi-layered movement” and a social movement in many ways, i.e., for social justice, a revolutionary idea of freedom education, he said.

He also explained that the MPL aims to make the organisations talk as equals with governments when it comes to education issues. It is about getting organisations ready for social dialogue.

Also, he was adamant that, “even though there were different levels among unions, they learned from each other. There is a South-South cooperation component in the Pedagogical Movement. You can lean on colleagues in other countries, that energy is contagious. And because the concept is now clearer to everyone, the political will is stronger.”

He went on to stress: “Education is a mission, teacher unions have a broader commitment to society, we are educating the young generation to manoeuvre in their daily lives and lead good lives.”

Need to broaden the movement outside of the unions

Joakim OIsson, International Secretary of Lärarförbundet, another development cooperation partner supporting the MPL, also acknowledged that he was “positively surprised by the report done by FLACSO”.

Referring to the origins of the MPL, he noted that “this was a totally regional initiative, with a regional meeting in Bogota, drawing on Colombians’ experience in proposing policy for 30 years already. They are so experienced, as in Argentina and Brazil. They wanted this shared at a regional level.”

He added that “the neoliberal assault leading to the privatisation of education can be held back. The more we are engaged at regional level, the stronger we are at national level”.

He also underlined that unions that have made a difference in the region have been able to:

  • Involve their membership.
  • Create alliances with forces outside the trade union movement, such as student movements, at secondary and university levels, or with parents’ committees.

“More progress has been achieved where there were ways to broaden the movement outside of the unions, such as alliances with Indigenous Peoples’ groups,” he said. “The regional perspective is more of a tool needed to do this exchange of experiences between national federations, to learn from success and failures.”

Spotlight on Freire

One vital recommendation of the evaluators, he found, was that, after 100 years, Freire is under the spotlight, but he is not influencing the pedagogical proposals of organisations. The report therefore proposes that a taskforce be set up, a working group on the pedagogical movement, that can continue working on proposals.

Lärarförbundet is interested in continuing its financial support to the MPL for the next four to five years at least, as “there have been huge setbacks politically in the region government-wise”. Olsson acknowledged that he “understands that EILA’s Regional Committee will reflect on this report and how to be more effective in the coming period”.