Cynthia Figueiredo Camargo

Emprendedor social de Ashoka
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Fellow desde 2003
This description of Cynthia Figueiredo Camargo's work was prepared when Cynthia Figueiredo Camargo was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2003.


Through a classroom-oriented radio show in which teachers, students, and community are the protagonists, Cynthia Figueiredo Camargo has made radio into an educational tool with a direct impact on the quality of teaching in the public school system.

La idea nueva

As what is arguably the most widespread communication medium, radio goes into every house and speaks with assurance and credibility to children, young people, and adults. As such, it is able to be a great ally in building citizenship. Knowing this, Cynthia created the "Listening and Learning" Show ("Para Ouvir e Aprender"), which uses radio as an educational instrument inside the classroom. Broadcast three times a week for 30 minutes, and at two different times, the program supports changes in teaching methods and involves the entire community. The parents, students, and teachers become protagonists in the shows by sending letters, asking questions, and participating directly in production.
Cynthia believes that giving the public a channel to express themselves, allowing them to build their own education beyond the curriculum set by government education ministries, contributes to the democratization of education.

El problema

Brazil has 5,507 cities, most of them in remote areas. Because of its low cost and Brazil's oral culture, radio is one of the most effective instruments to reach widely dispersed communities and connect them to information. The potential of radio can be demonstrated by comparing the number of television to radio stations: there are 10 major television networks in the country and 2,826 licensed commercial radio stations. In addition, there are an estimated 1,000 community radio stations throughout the country and around 5,000 low power stations.
According to the 1996 PNAD (national survey by household sampling), 83.9 percent of Brazilian households have radios, whereas 68.1 percent have TVs. In the countryside, homes with radios greatly outnumber those with TVs–77.7 percent versus 35.2 percent. With its appeal of speaking directly to the public, radio creates an opportunity for mutual identification with the public. It integrates with the daily life of the community and holds great potential to mobilize, disseminate, and educate.
The potential of radio to improve teaching by disseminating new techniques, drawing on community knowledge, and increasing interaction between teachers and students from similar communities is still little recognized. Few radio stations in Brazil dedicate programs to educational content. Thus, an alliance between public schools and radio can expand the capacity of creative strategies for high quality education.

La estrategia

Since 1999 teachers and students from the first to fourth grades in the municipal public education system in Santarém and Belterra in the State of Pará have participated in the Radio for Education Project. Cynthia developed this project in partnership with the Santarém Diocese through Rural Radio and the Municipal Education Secretariats of Santarém and Belterra with support from UNICEF.
One activity of the project is the program "Listening and Learning" that involves 12 alternating classroom sessions addressing the reality of the Amazon and focusing on Santarém and Belterra. Today, there are more than 39,000 students and some 1,100 teachers using the radio in the classroom and being monitored by the Municipal Secretaries of Education.
Regional peculiarities have a great influence on the conception and design of the final project. The local context provides the narratives, stories, interviews, and experiences that are broadcast through the show. The process of learning from a community's existing knowledge evidences improvement in the quality of teaching and more enthusiasm on the part of students being in the classroom discussing familiar topics. The participation of children, educators, and residents raises self-esteem and contributes to a more citizen-based education. Those responsible for production of the radio program identify the texts and music to be included, in partnership with the staff of the Secretariat of Education. Interviews are conducted and letters are received from teachers and students as the shows are broadcast. Following the success of the project in the Amazon region, where it was adopted by the Secretary of Education, Cynthia moved to the South of the country. She plans to implement the methodology there, thereby testing the project in two distant sites as a basis for implementing it in other regions of Brazil. To this end, she has been working with organizations, radio stations, and schools to implement the project in the north of Paraná.
In Londrina, in the state of Parana, the municipal public school system is the project's target population, today involving around 2,100 teachers and over 35,000 students from the first four grades of primary school. The next step is to expand the project to informal and seasonal workers, squatters, indigenous people, and populations displaced by large dams.
The principal strategy is to expand the project through community radio stations located in the outskirts of large urban centers as well as in small towns, drawing on support from the local population, teachers, students, and governmental and citizen sector organizations that work in the area. In Londrina, Cynthia is already establishing solid partnerships with, for example, the municipal government and a university FM radio station.

La persona

With a degree in journalism, obtained in 1986 from the School of Philosophy, Sciences and Literature of Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais), Cynthia has worked in various related areas. Between 1986 and 1993, she worked as a press assistant for the Government of Minas Gerais and at the same time in citizen organizations like the Minas Gerais Workplace Safety Engineers Association and for the Inter-Union Association of Ouro Preto in Minas Gerais.
From 1994 to 1997 Cynthia was the representative for the Brazilian Popular Video Association (ABVP) in Santarém, Para. During this time, she worked in the communications and Environmental Education plan of the Iara/Ibama Project, proposing new communication methodologies for disseminating research in the region. In 1997, while coordinating the Rural Radio's journalism area, she presented a proposal for a radio program directed to children and youth to the regional office of UNICEF in the Amazon, which had already been in contact with Rural Radio for some time seeking to disseminate its activities. The proposal served to integrate the plans of both institutions and was the basis of Radio for Education (Rádio pela Educação) Program. She planned, coordinated, and carried out the project with the production team for three years.
The approach proposed for this new work draws on Cynthia's experience as a journalist concerned with educating through informing. After working in press offices and newsrooms of newspapers, radios, and television, she resolved to use the content of media reports as a source for a more ethical and citizenship-based education. Thus, together with a team of educators and another journalist, she undertook a project to experiment using the language of radio in developing an educational process. She now wants to transform her day-to-day work into something that can contribute to improving quality of life and provide a democratic space within media, to show that media can also educate.