When the subject is education and culture, the exchange between Brazil and the Middle East and Eastern Europe is still below what it could be. This is what the Brazilian minister of Education, Fernando Haddad, told reporters during an interview to foreign correspondents in São Paulo, in southeastern Brazil.
"Our presence in the Middle East and Eastern Europe is still insufficient, although cooperation is growing with regard to the Middle East, even due to the ties we have," said Haddad.
By "ties", the minister meant the strong Arab presence in Brazil, where immigrants and their descendants are currently estimated at 12 million people. He himself is an example of this connection, as his father is Lebanese and his grandparents on his mother's side are also from Lebanon.
Haddad was in Lebanon and in Syria in 2006 to discuss cooperation. He recognized, however, that exchange in the area of education takes time to become reality, although some ideas launched during the visit have already been implemented, with the creation of a Portuguese course at the University of Damascus, the promotion of a seminar between Brazilian and Lebanese professors in Brasília last year, and the opening of a selection process for Brazilian professors to teach in Lebanon.
"These relations are not made concrete by the 'umbrella' agreements themselves, but by theme agreements made between states, cities and universities," stated the minister.
He pointed out that in Brazil today there are more universities that teach Arabic than institutions that teach Portuguese and Brazilian culture in the Arab world. "But there is also interest in this cooperation there. This is essential to create an environment that is more appropriate to cultural exchange," he added.
Haddad pointed out, however, that the priorities of foreign policy of the government in the area of education are more focused on integration of Latin American countries, especially in South America, and in relations with other nations that speak Portuguese, mainly the African ones.
In this respect, he mentioned the law that has already been approved and that obliges the offer of Spanish courses where there is demand in Brazil and the establishment of the Federal University of Latin-American Integration (Unila), a project that, according to the minister, should be approved by the end of the year at the National Congress.
The idea is for the university to be installed in Foz do Iguaçu, in the state of Paraná, where Brazil borders Argentina and Paraguay, and which should start operating in the second half of next year. The objective, according to Haddad, is for the institution to be bilingual and to include positions for foreign students of Spanish.
"Part of the lesson time will be turned to regional integration, no matter what the course, as there is potential for formation of an intellectual nucleus considering this theme in an integrating manner," stated the minister.
Haddad also spoke about the importance of adopting a spelling agreement with all the nations that are members of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP): Brazil, Portugal, East Timor, Angola, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau. With it, the language should be unified in its written form.
"The agreement is a statute we need for Portuguese to recover its space, so that it may be adopted by foreign organizations, which is impossible without uniform spelling," said Haddad.
In the same area, he recalled another project that is being discussed for the establishment of a university, the Federal University of Afro-Portuguese-Brazilian Integration (Unilab), to be installed in the city of Redenção, in Ceará.
The organization should have 50% of its seats open to students of African origin. The idea is for these students to do the last year of their course in their countries of origin, with tutors. "To collaborate with the development of their country," stated the minister.
Haddad also spoke about the intention of the government of Brazil to use oil extraction revenues in the pre-salt layer to finance education in Brazil. Planalto Palace (the seat of the federal government of Brazil) is still studying how to explore the reserves recently discovered in Santos Basin, on the southern coast of the country, and how the revenues will be used. The president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has already elected education and poverty alleviation as priorities.
According to the minister, on Saturday, September 13, Brazilian President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva asked for the formation of a Ministry of Education (MEC) commission to elaborate a report of where funds from the pre-salt layer should be turned. The committee should complete the report by the end of the year. "He wants to start negotiations with the society regarding this matter early next year," stated Haddad.
The minister mentioned some priority areas, like the strengthening of the current Plan for Development of Education (PDE), which establishes targets for 2011; the increase of the offer of positions in infant education, including the universalization of preschools and greater access to preschool of newly born babies and children up to the age of three.
Other priorities are the opening of 1.5 million positions in university, with 40% to 50% offered by public institutions; the opportunity for each youth to be granted technical education in middle school, as well as making secondary school compulsory, as is the case with primary school; and providing adequate remuneration and training to teachers.
When asked about the percentage of pre-salt revenues that the ministry would like to receive, he answered: "One hundred percent." According to Haddad, Brazil currently invests 4% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in education, a share that may reach 4.5% next year.
In the past, according to him, even in periods of great economic growth, investment did not exceed 2%. Haddad said that the current total is still too little, and that it would be ideal for investment to reach between 6% and 7% of GDP.
The current PDE, according to the minister, includes 40 actions that contemplate from nursery schools to post-graduate education, which he called a "systemic view to education".
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