Sergio believes the nation’s future can only be guaranteed by greater investments in the current agents of change: young people and adults who are excluded from the educational system. For that reason, he has spent the past 25 years, promoting and defending education as a universal human right, regardless of age, race, sex or class. Driven by principles of social justice, participatory democracy and sustainable development, he has championed the field of youth and adult education in Brazil. After successfully leading an effort to include youth and adult education in the new Brazilian constitution, Sergio created Ação Educativa (Educational Action) to make that commitment a reality. The organization trains teachers in youth and adult education throughout Brazil and its operations are founded on four pillars: Promoting and implementing youth and adult education; supporting a culture of entrepreneurial youth; creating links between popular culture, education and civic engagement; and affecting lasting change in laws and public policies through the legislative, executive and judiciary branches of government. Ação Educativa distinguishes itself from other organizations by combining knowledge production and research with the implementation of new teaching methodologies and policies that improve educational levels and foster a true culture of civic participation. Furthermore, it has affected the lives of over 12 million people and is greatly responsible for the creation and implementation of Brazil’s most important laws and norms in public education, influencing everything from the national budget for public education to teachers’ freedom of expression.
In Brazil, human rights are still restricted to the civil and political. The “second generation” of human rights – which include economic, environmental, cultural, and social rights like education – have yet to be accepted, and their violations often fail to be recognized as judicial infractions by the state and by the general population.
Consequently, educational rights are not guaranteed for the vast majority of Brazilians. Although primary education is increasingly available, in 2003, there were 739,000 children between the ages of seven and fourteen who were not in school, and 31.6 percent of children between the age of four and six did not attend pre-school. Moreover, only 59 percent of students that begin their primary education actually complete the eighth grade, and 70.7 million of youth and adults do not have access to youth and adult education programs. Approximately 16 million of these individuals are illiterate, ranking Brazil poorly among Latin American countries, despite its comparatively higher GDP.
Although public schools have opened their doors to more students, the quality of the education delivered has not improved. There are too many students in each classroom, teachers are not qualified (roughly 50 percent have not completed university studies), their salaries are insufficient, and teaching materials are inadequate. As a result, drop out rates have nearly reached 20 percent nationally, but reach high as 27.5 percent in the North and Northeast regions of Brazil, due to greater social inequalities.
History has demonstrated that illiteracy among youth and adults can be overcome through a combination of three factors: fundamental quality education for all, structured programs targeted for youth and adults, and processes of social mobility that link education to social development. Sergio is seeking to accomplish these objectives through his organization Ação Educativa, in which he works to institutionalize the right to education in Brazilian society and ensure that youth and adults receive the education they are entitled to.
Sergio first implemented the Youth and Adult Education program to make education accessible to an audience that, for social and economic reasons, has either never had access to schooling or has never been able to navigate through the traditional educational system. Through the YAE program, Sergio’s organization produces and disseminates teaching materials specifically targeted towards this audience, offers consultancies for basic education programs throughout Brazil, trains teachers in appropriate YAE methodologies, and offers practical literacy and post-literacy courses. The Live and Learn Collection teaching materials that were developed through this program speak about issues of relevance to the target audience’s lives and have been used in the schooling of more than 10 million young people and adults throughout Brazil.
Another initiative Sergio has championed is the Ação na Escola (Action in School, AiS) program to develop and implement teaching methodologies that make education culturally and socially relevant to marginalized populations’ needs. Breaking away from traditional education models, AiS conducts research and evaluates studies around relevant themes and uses that information to cater their methods to the educational needs of the marginalized communities they serve. AiS has concentrated its research on such topics as educational policies for youth and adults, functional literacy, the education of Afro-Brazilian populations, and education in rural settings. Through this program, Sergio has also created the Indicators of Quality Education initiative to give communities tools to evaluate and improve the quality of education delivered in their schools.
In addition to advancing formal education efforts, Ação Educativa has also led the way in promoting informal avenues for education. Through its Juventude (Youth) program, Sergio’s organization has recognized the importance of recognizing youth and the contributions they can make to society rather than marginalizing them. Juventude gives support to groups of marginalized youth in order to strengthen their capacity to work collaboratively on projects of common interest. The program also encourages young people to contribute to the transformation of formal education by sharing their needs, concerns and expectations with teachers in dialogue sessions.
All of Ação Educativa’s initiatives are driven by the conviction that education is a universal human right that must be guaranteed to all individuals regardless of their age. In order to defend this right, Sergio has been leading the way to create, change and oversee the implementation of laws and policies related to education. At the legislative level, Sergio’s leadership was instrumental in seeing youth and adult education included in Brazil’s new constitution in 1988, and this commitment was reinforced with as the inclusion of youth and adult education in the new Education Law in 1996.
Sergio’s efforts have spanned the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, as Ação Educativa continues to employ more than 50 professionals, has 350 partners and operates on an annual budget of roughly US$2.7M.
Sergio is a trained economist and has a PhD in education from the University of Sao Paulo. After being involved with social and progressive pastoral organizations of the Protestant church, he started working with the Ecumenical Center of Documentation and Information, one of Brazil’s first citizen organizations (COs). At CEDI, Sergio created a program in Popular Education and designed teaching courses and materials, as well as literacy courses for the working class.
Deeply committed to Brazil’s re-democratization and convinced of the country’s need to protect its citizens’ rights, Sergio founded Ação Educativa in 1994 with his colleagues from CEDI. The organization focuses on educational and youth rights, and while leading it over the past fifteen years, he has helped it become respected and renowned throughout Brazil. In 2002, Sergio assumed the position of National Court Reporter for the Right to Education and was thus able to work in another capacity to make education a basic human right in Brazil.
Sergio has also served as the head of the Brazilian Association of Non-Governmental Organization (Abong), a network of close to 250 COs, and is currently its Director of international relations. He sits on the international boards of Greenpeace and the International Council of Adult Education, and has been one of the World Social Forum’s main organizers since its inception. In 2006, with the most influential defenders of human rights, Sergio created the Brazil Fund for Human Rights, the first private foundation that supports individuals and small organizations promoting and defending human rights.