Dr. Carlos Alberto Torres, the UNESCO UCLA Chair in Global learning and Global Citizenship Education travelled to João Pessoa, Paraiba, Brazil to join the Zé Peão School celebration of 25 years teaching building workers. This initiative of workers’ education is a formidable and lasting experience of collaboration between universities and trade union in promoting literacy at the grass root level. Inspired in the work of Freire but also with a very original approach, which has been nourished in the work of Timothy Ireland, the UNESCO Chair in Education of Youth and Youths, and a team of teachers-activists.
The Zé Peão School (PEZP) was created in 1990 in response to a demand from the Building Workers’ trade union (SINTRICOM) in João Pessoa (Brazil) concerned with the high levels of illiteracy and functional illiteracy among its members. The building workers are nearly all men, although recently some women have joined the ranks, and are predominantly migrant workers from the countryside who come to the city in search of work. Difficulties in accessing the school system mean that many workers have little formal schooling and practically no urban professional qualifications.
The school is based on a partnership between the SINTRICOM and the Federal University of Paraíba and is part of the University’s extension program. It offers two basic programs, Alfabetização na Primeira Laje (APL) for those workers who are illiterate or functionally illiterate and Tijolo sobre Tijolo (TST) for those who have a basic command of reading and writing. Teachers are all university students from different courses. Classes are held for two hours a night from Monday to Thursday in classrooms situated in the building sites.
During the last quarter of a century, PEZP has reached more than 5 thousand building workers, and indirectly their families and formed more than 400 students as adult educators. It has also been the object of many research projects which have produced final monographs for undergraduate students, master’s degree dissertations and doctoral theses.