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Building bridges: a journey towards inclusive education in Brazil and Mexico

Perkins' teams in Mexico and Brazil collaborate to develop inclusive programs and practices, sharing valuable lessons to ensure quality education for all children.

In a school gymnasium, a photo shows a large group of children, teachers, and Perkins staff posing for the camera along the wall.

Pedro, a lively child from Brazil, attends second grade at Abrao Salomão Domingues, a public school in Suzano, an industrial city on the outskirts of São Paulo. Known for his sociable personality, Pedro takes pride in completing his homework quickly and assisting his classmates.

In the same vibrant classroom, Bernardo, a 7-year-old, occupies a larger desk on the side with Tania Pereira, a classroom assistant who works with Bernardo daily, supporting him in completing his activities and other tasks. Despite sharing the same classroom, Pedro and Bernardo differ in one aspect – Bernardo is a student diagnosed with multiple disabilities.

While children like Pedro and Bernardo would be enrolled in different schools in other countries, Brazil stands out as a pioneer in inclusive education in Latin America. Since the enactment of the 2015 law promoting inclusive education, all public schools in the country have embraced the practice of students with and without disabilities sharing the same learning environment. Brazil has emerged as a leading force for inclusive education in Latin America, and although the system is not flawless, it offers valuable lessons that can be learned for improvement.

Every child can learn: Perkins’ inclusive approach

Abrao Salomão Domingues School in Suzano is part of Perkins’s Model Program Approach, a program that is setting new standards and making education accessible for all children. By collaborating with local governments and selected public schools,  Model Programs provide expert guidance, coaching, and mentoring to teachers and parents on the special skills they need to help children in their learning journey.

Since its inception in Latin America in 2019, Perkins Model Program Approach has had a real impact on education, reaching approximately 300,000 children across Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico in 2023 only. In Mexico, particularly, the program has played a significant role in enhancing educational quality within special education schools. 

A photo of Andrea, seen from behind. She is kneeling to be at the height of the student Bernardo, who is wearing a blue and white school uniform. Bernardo is holding Andrea's hand and smiling

Today, Mexico special education is concentrated in two services: the Multiple Attention Centers (CAMs) that serve children with disabilities from early childhood to transition to adult life and the USAERs, which are technical units of special education that ensure that students who face learning barriers and are at risk of exclusion receive the support they need at Mexican regular schools. Now, as we enter 2024, the Perkins Model Program Approach in Mexico will be working with six regular schools that are supported by USAERs, underlining Perkins’ commitment to fostering inclusion.

Learning from Brazil’s inclusive education model

As part of its growing strategy, Perkins’ Mexico team traveled to Brazil last November, immersing themselves in a visit to Suzano’s schools to learn about the inclusive education model of the country.

During this visit, the Mexico team had the opportunity to witness firsthand the embodiment of an inclusive school environment. According to Andrea Rocha and Carlos Orizaba, Perkins Education Coordinators for Mexico, the socialization between students with and without disabilities happened organically, fostering an atmosphere characterized by respect, freedom, and collaboration. They were struck by the absence of reported bullying incidents, as a school administrator revealed that such cases were virtually non-existent, which demonstrates how deeply ingrained inclusion had become within the school’s culture.

In addition to observing school practices, the Mexico team delved into learning from the Perkins team in Brazil. They shared insights into the legal frameworks supporting inclusive education and gained an invaluable understanding of the strategies employed at Brazil’s Model Schools to cultivate teacher commitment within the school environment. Of particular interest was the implementation of individualized programs tailored to meet the unique needs of each student, ensuring accurate monitoring and fostering optimal growth and development.

At the end of visiting three public schools in Suzano, an exchange was carried out with school principals and professionals responsible for the school’s Multifunctional Resource Room, a school space equipped with resources designed for specialized assistance to students in inclusion. The professionals from Suzano’s public schools had a chance to share strategies highlighting collaborative work between school teams and their continuous professional development practices to support the needs of students with disabilities.

The power of change that social inclusion holds is significant. A society sensitive to diversity is needed, with daily coexistence, to fundamentally change practices in all sectors, such as health, education, work, etc. Gradually, this should become a way of life, not isolated practices or specific strategies.

Andrea Rocha, Perkins Mexico Educational Coordinator

In their conversation with the Secretary of Education of the Municipality of Suzano, Mr. Leandro Bassini, he emphasized that true change begins when individuals with disabilities are not only acknowledged but also actively included and celebrated within society. He underscored the critical role of fostering a culture of respect and inclusivity, wherein every individual is valued for their unique contributions. 

For Andrea Rocha and Carlos Orizaba, it is essential to have a rights-based approach where not only students with disabilities are included, but all children. For them, it is also important having a school staff that caters to the diversity and needs of all its students, including leaders who are sensitive and approachable, caring for the well-being of the children. 

In a classroom, nine adults are seated at desks while a woman stands in front of them, gesturing with her hands and speaking. In the background, a chalkboard and another woman is standing, reaching her hands towards a wall fan.

Building bridges between Brazil and Mexico

Although Mexico has included students in regular schools for many years, the exchange trip between Perkins teams showed how Brazil’s current policies, culture, and inclusive practices can be generated when governments, educational authorities, and professionals are committed to the development of all students, instead of thinking that the responsibility for the education of students with disabilities lies solely with special education services.

The valuable insights gained from Suzano’s inclusive education model and Perkin’s technical assistance serve as a guiding light, illuminating the path toward a more inclusive and equitable future for all students, regardless of their abilities or backgrounds. The cross-cultural exchange highlights the power of collaboration and shared knowledge, ensuring that each child, like Pedro and Bernardo, can succeed in an environment that celebrates diversity and fosters learning and collective growth.

Together, we are building bridges to inclusive education, creating a world where every child’s potential is recognized and nurtured.

Your support helps children with disabilities find their place in the world.

Inclusion is not a place— it’s a process, a mindset. Together, we can help the 240 million children with disabilities around the world access their rights and define their own success.

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In a classroom, a round table with a teacher and four students engaging in activities. On the table, there are various school materials such as notebooks, pencil cases, pens, and water bottles. In the background, other students are sitting at desks, facing the chalkboard."
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