Edvalda Pereira Torres
This profile was prepared when Edvalda Pereira Torres was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1994.
The New Idea
On the basis of her experience as a student and later as a teacher in public schools in impoverished rural communities in the Northeast of Brazil, Edvalda Torres is convinced that the educational needs of such communities cannot be effectively addressed in the absence of new teaching approaches that are directly relevant to important community needs and succeed in enlisting strong student interest and broad community support.Acting on that conviction and working under the aegis of a small community-based nongovernmental organization, Edvalda is spearheading the development of a new school in Ouricuri county, in the heart of the semi-arid interior of the state of Pernambuco, some 630 kilometers to the west of Recife, the state's capital. Located on a farm at a distance of sixteen kilometers from the county seat, the school's physical facilities were constructed by members of the communities that it serves, with limited material support from its institutional sponsor. The Rural School of Ouricuri opened its doors in 1990, and it currently offers instruction in grades one through four to some 170 students from nine surrounding communities.In close consultation with members of those communities, Edvalda devoted several months to the design of the school's curriculum and teaching approach. The outcome of those efforts is a course of study that is built around five major themes: agro-ecology; community organization; social consciousness; health and nutrition; and communication, culture, and humanism. Instruction in mathematics, natural sciences, and the Portuguese language is integrated into the treatment of those themes. The school's calendar is carefully attuned to the region's farming cycle, and its staff is made up of several young farmers who have completed primary and secondary education, a university-trained agronomist, and a small group of largely self-taught apprentices who have bolstered their knowledge through independent study. It also includes a 62-year old, barely literate farmer who is widely known and respected for his environmentally sensitive farming techniques and his deep knowledge of the region's plant resources.Edvalda and her colleagues place strong emphasis on continuing community engagement in every aspect of the school's development. Local farmers contribute with hands-on classes in their fields, and students' mothers prepare lunches in the school's kitchen and assist in instruction on nutritional and health matters. From its side, the school is a key participant in community health programsincluding cholera and AIDS prevention initiatives and immunization campaignsand other community endeavors.