Demóstenes Romano Filho
Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil
Fellow Since 1997
Central do Voluntariado de Minas Gerais
This profile was prepared when Demóstenes Romano Filho was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1997.
The New Idea
When Demóstenes became aware of the extent of the Brazilian education system's failure, he could no longer stand on the sidelines and watch an ever-deteriorating school system. After witnessing firsthand the inefficacy of government and NGO solutions, Demóstenes determined that the missing link was the active participation of ordinary citizens. He insisted that citizens themselves can and must improve their children's education, rather than wait for or rely on the government or other institutions to do so for them. He turned this mandate into action by developing a way for citizens to effectively address the most urgent problems Brazil's education system faces.Demóstenes developed the "Minas Pact for Education" and enlisted the active participation of a wide array of government, community, private, religious, and independent associations. He based his work on the principle that each citizen is responsible for the full upbringing of every child in their community, and that this requires a concerted and coordinated effort among all social agents. The "Minas Pact" translates this principle into concrete objectives and a straightforward methodology that each community develops and maintains through their own efforts.Demóstenes began mobilizing parents, pupils, teachers, politicians, the business sector, public servants, workers, liberal professionals, actors, people's movements, communication media and all citizens prepared to contribute as much as possible to achieving the following goals by the year 2000:Ensure the admission, permanence and success in school of all 7 -14 year olds;·reduce the average repetition rate in the first eight grades and reduce the average drop-out rate;·encourage and develop education programs for children between 0 and 6 years of age;·guarantee specialized school attendance for the handicapped;·adapt the teaching to the pupils' social reality; ·provide basic schooling to 14-19 year-olds, as well as undertake projects and agreements with companies and industry in order to eradicate illiteracy in this age group;·ensure a 50% drop in the percentage of adult illiteracy.Demóstenes first tested the Pact's implementation in small communities in the interior of Minas Gerais, following a traditional maxim: "With hot soup, first you sip from the edges." Through open fora, he encouraged community members to take on the challenge of solving the problems presented by a failing education system and develop methodologies tailored to their specific circumstances. Some common patterns emerged: community members typically saw their primary role as complementary to the formal school system, and decided to take on full responsibility for all children once outside the classroom. They developed volunteer corps to guarantee every child's matriculation and attendance at school, run extracurricular activities, tutor students with the greatest needs, monitor and follow-up on homework, and provide psychological counseling to at-risk children. Demóstenes engages citizens who are concerned about the situation by modeling and inspiring an "I can" attitude, and enabling them to take on active roles as social changemakers. He is thus changing the prevailing Brazilian belief that students' and schools' failure is natural and inevitable.