As Contagem’s new mayor, my decision to take over and redimension the UNESCO learning city programme is based, above all, on a vision for the future for our city and on the conviction that it has the potential to produce means and resources for lifelong learning through the integration of various public and private facilities, guaranteeing the quality of life of its inhabitants in a sustainable, safe and peaceful environment.
Alexis José Ferreira de Freitas, Mayor of Contagem
Building a learning city
Contagem’s success in building a learning city stems from its strategy to foster community development and provide constant support to families. The city faces major challenges with regard to social exclusion, urban migration, racism, intolerance, juvenile violence and drug abuse. To tackle these challenges and to encourage inhabitants to learn, the city, in 2015, established the Community Educators Project, which promotes the strategic role of teachers at the interface between communities and city departments. With the 2016 elections and the change in municipal government in 2017, this programme was enlarged and renamed, becoming the Community Speaker Project, which is now one of the actions of the Contagem Learning City Programme. After completing specific training, teachers become articuladores comunitários (community speakers), serving as ambassadors in their communities. Close, long-term collaborations with local families enable them to give ongoing support to young people facing difficulties, while promoting the value of learning within the neighbourhood.
The community speakers maintain constant links with management committees that bring together representatives from various city departments, including those responsible for health and education. Even in a short period of time, this cooperation enabled shared actions concerning health, education and the provision of safety equipment to improve the quality of life of children and adolescents.
To complement this innovative way of bringing learning closer to communities and families while tackling significant social challenges, Contagem has been developing a learner-friendly environment across the city. In January 2017, the Student Pass (Meio Passe Estudantil) was launched, serving 400 students. On Sundays, bus ticket prices were reduced by 50 per cent to facilitate the mobility of the population of Contagem across the city, also increasing their access to cultural facilities. The new management will expand the subway by five kilometers, providing more mobility to the population. Cultural events take place in various learning venues, and a wide range of informal learning activities ensure that learning benefits citizens in all of the city’s neighbourhoods. In February 2016, Contagem’s campaign to build a learning city was launched. In 2017, efforts in this direction were intensified through a set of inter-sectoral policies encompassing the fields of education, environment, health, culture, sports, work and income, among others.
To increase the efficiency of its learning city campaign, one of Contagem’s primary objectives was to break down the barriers between the city’s 17 administrative departments, focusing particularly on health, education and human development. This first step led to integrated public policies, interdepartmental projects and greater efficiency overall. To lay the foundations for a learning city, it was necessary to gain a deeper understanding of the specific needs of the various communities spread out across Contagem’s 67 neighbourhoods.
In order to comprehend and address citizens’ learning needs more effectively, the municipality started to encourage learning within its own administration, and to offer training to public servants throughout their careers. School staff at all levels, social leaders and municipal guardians are in constant contact with inhabitants, which requires a profound understanding of the issues at stake in the respective neighbourhoods. The In-Service Training Programme (Programa de Formação em Serviço), which serves as a network and offers training in the workplace, has focused on the specific challenges that staff face on a daily basis. In 2017, this programme changed focus to promote the improvement of students’ learning in the municipality of Contagem. The move was based on the idea that education is necessarily linked with the development of the country and that training for citizenship presupposes the construction of knowledge and the development of skills and competences that allow individuals to make choices and create a plan for personal and professional life.
In addition, Contagem cultivates a culture of learning throughout life and offers its inhabitants a wide range of learning activities, including non-formal learning opportunities, designed to address the challenges facing the city. It has developed a guide to equality-related education policies that supports the creation of an inclusive society. Courses on disability, gender and racial equality further promote mutual understanding. The city’s efforts to build a more inclusive society are also complemented by the provision of diversity training to working groups within the municipal services sector, and by offering Portuguese language courses for refugees.
- Developing a plan
Contagem’s city administration is carrying out actions to address the challenges it faces, including urban migration, racism, drug abuse and juvenile violence.
One of its main goals for the years ahead is to support disadvantaged families and expand early childhood education, especially among the city’s most vulnerable population. By May 2017, 790 new places had been created for children aged 0 to 5. They receive quality education, nutritious meals and health care, thereby allowing their mothers to work and pursue a career. By 2020, 19 city schools will have been built to cater for around 3,600 children.
In order to offer a higher quality education, consistent with the challenges of the contemporary world, Contagem has launched the Full-Time School (Escola em Tempo Integral) project, which follows an educational approach based on an integrated curriculum, including a strong technological dimension and extended school time, comprising more than six hours of daily activities. The project will provide students with access to foreign-language courses, sports, computer science classes, vocational courses and other activities. The schools will also benefit the wider community by allowing inhabitants to use school facilities, such as sports venues, auditoriums and libraries. The construction of the first school with a sustainable architectural plan will begin in 2017 with the first educational activities scheduled for August 2018. By 2020, eight schools will be built in socially vulnerable areas, each capable of accommodating between 560 and 620 students from the local community and approximately 2,000 students from the surrounding areas. The current government also invests in school safety. All 115 educational institutions in the city rely on security cameras. The equipment records for 24 hours. In addition, the civil guard is active, inside and outside schools, in ensuring student safety. Through these actions, crimes, such as thefts and robberies, were reduced by 70 per cent. To improve students’ learning environments, all the schools in Contagem are being renovated.
- Creating a coordinated structure involving all stakeholders
At the heart of the learning city initiative in Contagem are management committees responsible for creating a dialogue between the municipal departments and citizens.
These committees comprise representatives of government departments (notably those for health, education, human development, and social security), neighbourhoods, private universities and local associations. Committees meet once a month to discuss the issues faced by students and their families. Drawing on reports from community speakers, they discuss priority cases related to learning, as well as to social or health care. Having established an ongoing dialogue between citizens and city departments, the management committees can react in the most efficient manner possible to help at-risk children and young people.
Contagem values this dialogue with its citizens and seeks to include them when defining its public priorities
In August 2016, participants at a conference on children’s education, including representatives from schools, universities and local communities, discussed the positive effects of the Community Speaker Project and the improvements that needed to be made. Discussion enhanced understanding of the impact of community speakers on the development of a learning city in Contagem, while simultaneously promoting their activities.
Additionally, social programmes for schools are being developed in partnership with private companies. Arcor, for example, schedules training sessions with municipal schoolteachers in order to develop successful educational practices, while BelgoMineira Bekaert is involved in developing projects in schools related to sustainability and the environment.
- Mobilizing and utilizing resources
Within the city’s In-Service Training Programme (Programa de Formação em Serviço), community leaders work with staff from different departments (including education and health) and private-sector bodies to support the concept of lifelong learning. To support the dynamic use of resources, universities share the cost of the Community Speaker Project (which is part of the In-Service Training Program) with the city. They also provide rooms for conferences, meetings and workshops for public servants who are members of management committees. In addition, psychology students support community speakers in their work in the 10 schools involved in the project.
Schools, churches and public squares are used as venues by the city during learning events such as the June Festival or Students’ Day, in August. Both events offer cultural activities for children and adults, centred on food, music, art, theatre and circus performances.
Through the No Limit Programme (Programa Sem Limite), the city supports individuals with restricted mobility and insufficient financial resources by offering them free transportation to learning venues and health care institutions. The scheme provides vehicles adapted to users’ needs and is run jointly by the secretariats of health and education. To increase accessibility for people with hearing impairments and to integrate them into society, the municipality offers interpretation services courtesy of the Brazilian Sign Language Service (Central de Libras.
- Making learning accessible to all
Contagem has established numerous programmes and local initiatives to provide citizens with access to learning opportunities. The Community Speaker Project plays a particularly valuable role in helping underprivileged students and their families. A number of teachers have attended courses and seminars coordinated by the Secretariat of Education and are now part of an after-hours programme, working as community speakers. They visit students at home, gaining a deeper understanding of their situation and providing them with individual support. In 2015 alone, 2,100 families received support from a community speaker. This service mainly targets socially vulnerable students.
In 2017, another activity was included in the Community Speaker Project, aimed at listening to the community and to young people while planning actions that help the community to face their difficulties. This activity is directed by the councils of parents and students. The councils are organized by school units and aim, through monthly meetings, to address issues pertinent to the educational context of the community. Every two months, representatives of the councils meet with the secretary of education with a view to thinking about strategies for improving the quality of education in the city.
The Special Education Service (Atendimento Educacional Especializado), which offers specialized care for children and teenagers, is another important way of supporting social inclusion in Contagem. Schools have been provided with multifunctional classrooms to assist students with both physical disabilities and developmental disorders. In the second half of 2017, the Reference Centre for Inclusion and Special Education Service (Centro de Referência em Inclusão e Atendimento Educacional Especializado) will be created, by a partnership of the secretariats of education, health, social development and human rights and citizenship, to qualify and expedite the care of people with disabilities, seeking to provide this in an integrated way. In addition, the training directory of the State Secretary of Education (SEDUC) aims to promote discussions related to ethnic and gender diversity within the school curriculum. Other diversity initiatives include the March against Racism, which takes place annually. In 2017, 12 schools and approximately 500 students who have worked on related projects will take part. A new scheme will target refugees and immigrants to help school-age children and adults gain language skills and integrate into society and the labour market.Other projects, such as sports projects and school/community gardens and the Trampos Project, developed by the Lara Tupinambá Foundation, which offers free professional qualification courses for young people aged 15 to 29 (at the Municipal School of Apio Cardoso, in the Nova Contagem neighborhood), promote child and youth development, contributing to civic education, social inclusion and better quality of life, giving priority to students living in socially vulnerable areas.
- Organizing celebratory events
In early 2016, the Contagem Learning City campaign was launched and a series of cultural programmes announced, promoting Contagem as a learning city to its inhabitants.
For a number of years now, yearly festivals and events promoting learning activities have been making inhabitants more aware of their cultural and artistic heritage. The Arturo Community Festival celebrates the significant heritage of the descendants of black Angolan immigrants, considered to be one of the country’s earliest communities. The festival is devoted to the Virgin Mary and the black Saints, and supports the community in overcoming the challenges of everyday life.
During the June Festival, musical and artistic events take place in schools, churches and squares around the city. The festival invites all members of the community to come together to showcase their culture and traditional cuisine. Meanwhile, Students’ Day offers learning opportunities (including theatrical performances, a circus and educational presentations) in numerous public spaces across the city.
Finally, Citizenship Day organizes a number of educational and awareness campaigns to provide local people with information and services. On that day, various events and activities are held to bring the government and the community closer together.
- Monitoring and evaluation
In 2016, Contagem evaluated the first steps of its learning city strategy, focusing particularly on the Community Educators Project that it had launched a year earlier. The assessment was based on data provided in online forms filled out by families; a qualitative and quantitative study carried out by the Secretariat of Education; and information gathered during conferences involving multiple stakeholders.
The results of the first year of the project proved extremely positive for the 2,100 students and families supported by the scheme. Students underlined the fact that they felt supported during the learning process and in their daily lives, while families recognized the significant positive impact on educators within their communities. These outcomes were supported by the findings of the study led by the Secretariat of Education.
Two 2016 conferences discussed Contagem’s progress in building a learning city: the management committees conference and the children’s education conference. The first brought together leading scholars and members of various management committees to assess the outcomes of the project’s first year and the way forward. The second engaged with representatives from schools, universities and local communities to foster a discussion of their respective roles within the community. The children’s education conference furthermore carried out a broader assessment of the way in which learning activities had improved across the city.
Following the new management’s evaluation of the project in 2017, it was renamed the Community Speaker Project. The project maintained its main characteristics, but expanded the participation of the community by instituting parents’ and students’ councils, which, as previously mentioned, meet every two months with the Secretary of Education to discuss and make proposals for education in Contagem. The purpose of these councils is to increase the participation of the community in debate about education in the municipality and in the country.
- Achievements and the way forward
Contagem’s social and cultural development is reflected in its communities’ increasing autonomy and the involvement of various public and private-sector professionals as advisers, social leaders, counsellors and municipal guardians. In addition, communication between the city departments has been facilitated, leading to increased efficiency and a better use of municipal resources. This has had a positive impact on learning and education, while also benefiting the health and social sectors.
Furthermore, the municipality is elaborating an Action Plan for the Learning City of Contagem. The Secretariat of Education is actively collaborating with other secretariats in order to link and integrate their various actions more effectively. These include, among others, the annual March against Racism, the No Limit Programme (carried out in collaboration with the Secretariat of Health) the Vegetable Garden Project (in cooperation with the Secretariat of the Environment), and the Street is Ours (A Rua é Nossa) programme (Sports, Leisure and Youth Secretariat).
By implementing an innovative strategy and following up closely on the issues at stake in its neighbourhoods, Contagem has proved that the positive impacts of a learning strategy extend far beyond the limits of education and learning; an outcome that Contagem is committed to consolidating in the coming years by reinforcing the various actions it has initiated to date.
Ghisene Santos Alecrim Gonçalves
Director of Continuing Education, Municipality of Contagem
Official city website