Mining firm's cash strikes gold;Public-private partnerships;Briefing;International

4th June 1999 at 01:00

The financial muscle of an industrial giant is transforming ailing schools serving shanty-town children. Gabriella Gamini reports.

Angelina Alves school has swapped a drop-out rate of 30 per cent for a waiting list of children keen to enrol.

The 500-pupil primary in the Brazilian steel mining town of Timoteo had crumbling walls, a drab and dirty playground, shabby classrooms and poorly trained teachers.

Now the school - which caters for disadvantaged children in the Bela Vista shanty town - is brightly painted, its flower-beds are full, and there is no truancy.

Guaraciaba Araujo, the school's headteacher, said: "We were a place with no hope. All the classrooms were damaged and teachers hung around killing time with no incentives to overcome the poverty," she added. "Now they spur dynamic teamwork. Now the school has a mission with vision."

The transformation began when an experiment in public-private sector partnership was set up in Minas Gerais state. Now, having spread to other schools, it is looked upon with envy in other Brazilian states.

The involvement of big business, and other private-sector companies, in "cleaning up" Brazil's disadvantaged schools is now seen by most local educators as the only way to improve them, as they have little hope of receiving more government funds.

The revamping of Angelina Alves school began in 1996 when a local steel mining giant, Asesita, set up an educational foundation. It contracted Grupo Pit goras, which runs 155 private schools in Brazil, and one in Japan, to introduce a "quality control" programme. The aim was to transfer performance-enhancing skills used in industry to 21 schools around the Minas Gerais mining region, known as "Steel Valley".

So far the harnessing of private funds and expertise has benefited 18,000 pupils and 900 teachers in state primary and secondary schools, and other industrial organisations are keen to join in.

Under the Pit goras plan, teachers were put on a 40-hour-a-week training programme to update their pedagogical skills. Cleaners, gardeners, and cooks were also trained in quality control.

"It was the first time these teachers had ever been given new skills and updated methods to follow," said Guaraciaba Araujo.

The schools receive management training and curriculum advice. In some cases staff from private schools are seconded to work in state schools.

A spokesman for the Asesita Foundation said that the firm recognised that, if businesses wanted a better-educated workforce, they had to complement the government in contributing to educational development. This meant taking over the management of increasing numbers of poor state schools in partnership with state authorities and regional industry.

Last month Pit goras set up its own foundation - headed by Evando Neiva, an innovator in quality control in schools - to persuade more firms to take a role in education.

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