More information in Portuguese about this award-winning program.
Despite a strong agricultural history, currently only 4.9% of Araraquara's population lives on farmlands. However, orange and sugar cane production are still the municipality's main economic activity. In 1998, the municipal government began to take over elementary schooling, previously state-funded. In 1984, the municipality had 31 state rural schools catering from 1st to 4th grade. The transferal of pupils to city schools brought about the closure of most of these schools. In 2001, when the current administration took office, only three rural schools were functioning.
The Rural School Program was developed with the following aims: to build an educational project tailored for the rural zone; make access to education a democratic process; promote student self-esteem; and develop a model of sustainable agricultural development which encourages citizens to remain on the land. This educational project, focused on the specific needs of the rural areas, was created with help from educators, parents and pupils, besides collaboration from university students (from Unesp, USP and UFSCAR), representatives from the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem-Terra (MST - Landless Rural Worker's Movement), the NGO Brincadeira de Crianca and the Land Institute of the State of Sao Paulo (Itesp). The Department of Education also invited the population in general to take part in the process.
The Rural Schools have 540 students enrolled, with an average of 18 students in each class. They offer pre-school and elementary schooling (up to 8th grade). Despite the smaller number of pupils, only the four and five year-olds share a classroom. The rest have one class per grade, different from the multi-grade classes common in Brazilian rural schools.
The yearly cost of the Program is R$ 923,000.00, with Fundef as main financial source. The cost of each student enrolled in the Rural School Program is around R$ 1,710.00 per year, higher than in city schools, where costs are around R$1,100.00 per student/year. The difference is due to the higher transport costs and fewer students per class and per teacher.
The Rural Schools work with an innovative curriculum, developed according to thematic complexes, worked on not only in class but also on the land. In experimental cooking, for example, while a dish is prepared, the teacher creates links between different theories, such as mathematics, history, geography and biology. Portuguese language is developed afterwards, with students reporting on the process of food preparation. Another common practice at the schools is the visit to settlement lots, where the property owner, usually the parent of a pupil, explains the different activities carried out. Rural and city students often visit each other's environment, closing the gap between the two spheres and reducing prejudice.
By encouraging involvement with school activities, the school often becomes the central nucleus of the community. In the Bela Vista neighborhood, for example, the school became the local postal center, thanks to mailboxes set up there. The Program and its partners also develop activities for the community in general.
The Program's initial results show that Araraquara's three Rural Schools attend 100% of school-age children in the area. Since the Program's implementation, no children have abandoned school, a contrast to the latest data from the National Institute for Educational Studies and Research (Inep 2003), which point to only 40% of students finishing elementary school in rural areas.