Paulo Freire and Sustainable Development – International Conference in Cuba

“Paulo Freire and Sustainable Development” – that was the theme of the 8th International Conference “The presence of Paulo Freire”, which took place from the 2–6 May in Cienfuegos, Cuba. 

250 participants from more than 15 Latin American countries took part in a mutual discussion of the topic “Popular Education and Sustainable Development – How can Mother Earth be saved?”

The conference was led and organised by the governing body of the Association of Cuban Educators (Asociación de Pedagogos de Cuba – APC), a partner of DVV International, in collaboration with Argentine, Brazilian and Cuban universities and other Cuban organisations.

The works and ideas of Paulo Freire continues to play a central role in Latin American Youth and Adult Education. It deals with education as a tool of social transformation in the interests of marginalised groups in society.

In view of climate change and environmental degradation, the conference concerned itself with the question of what can the approach of Paulo Freire induce in theory and practice in the fields of culture, sustainable development, environmental protection and climate change. In that respect, both the school and the extracurricular environment as well as the local community were taken into account. In Cienfuegos there are already many projects in which the APC governing body implements the approach of Paulo Freire. Eleven of them were selected in order to allow the participants an insight into everyday practice on the first day of the conference.

On the second and third day of the conference these project visits were discussed and evaluated. Then similarities between the various projects were garnered. This means that with the methods of participatory Popular Education which were presented, a rich, collective learning process is possible. Despite (or perhaps even because of) a lack of committed funds, creativity and the Cuban zest for life was palpable in all projects.

However, shortcomings and weaknesses were also identified. Generally, there is a lack of economic resources and many teachers do not have sufficient knowledge of the approach of Popular Education. There are also deficits as regards the equality of women, which can be seen, for example, in the widespread macho behaviour of men. And finally, there is often still ignorance about what sustainable development actually means.

Based on this, the participants made many constructive suggestions for improvement. So they reached the conclusion that, among other things, there should be enhanced education and training of teachers and parent representatives in the methods, contents and concepts of Popular Education. Better cooperation between the formal, very hierarchical school system and organisations that have experience with Popular Education was also encouraged. Seen as important is a Latin American theory of development, inspired by the concept of Buen Vivir from Ecuador and Bolivia, and a process of discussion about what sustainable development in Latin America means. According to the approach of Popular Education, not only new methods should be developed and applied, but above all political emancipation and social transformation should be at the centre.

The conference met with a positive response from all the participants. In light of the often-stated opinion that the young generation of Cubans is not interested in social change, the active participation and the great interest of young people during the conference was particularly welcomed.

For the next conference, which is planned for May 2016, the topic “Popular Education and Food Sovereignty or Solidarity Economy” has been proposed.

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