Courtesy Musuk Nolte/Plan Selva Catalog
Shawi girl at Balsapuerto school, Loreto

An ‘Education Revolution’ at 7,000 Schools

Dominique Godrèche

The Peruvian Pavilion at this year’s 15 International Venice Architecture Biennale was awarded Special Mention for the Best National Pavilion. Our Amazon Front Line curated by architects Jean Pierre Crousse and Sandra Barclay featured an audacious architectural and educational project titled Plan Selva, which is a multicultural program in the heart of Amazonia dedicated to its Native communities.

Initiated by the ministry of education, the project is a new look on a population abandoned by the state, and validates their territory by setting up innovative schools, so that they can keep their local knowledge, and stay home. The Peruvian Amazon occupies 61.09 percent of the national territory, comprising 303,168.09 square miles, the villages connected by an inland navigation network.

Out of 7,000 schools scattered in the Amazonian jungle, 10 have been rebuilt since 2015: Plan Selva‘s goal is to build more schools, and launch a new approach to education for the 15,000 Amazonian groups, preserving 47 Native languages and traditional knowledge, using modern resources.

Seventy-nine schools are under construction, and 100 more planned over the next few years, dealing with the dispersion of the population in an immense territory, only connected through inland navigation. Before building, meetings with the community take place, collecting its traditions, and ancestral knowledge. This innovative educational model, launched to empower the communities, aims to integrate Native communities to society as important actors, taking into account that 6 out of 10 Amazon inhabitants are aged 6 to 17, and with most elders being over 70, a huge cultural heritage would vanish when they leave. Plan Selva wishes the Amazonian culture to be part of the world’s cultural heritage by making education accessible while helping save Amazonian culture, and the land itself along with it – thus, the schools become an essential space for the community.

Plan Selva schools throughout Peru (Courtesy Plan Selva Team/Minedu)

What are those new schools characteristics?

They are made of modular kits, to build a classroom, a dining room, or a living room, according to the necessities of each community…The kits are put together on site, because the transportation is done by small boats to remote places in Amazonia. The government decided to use metal structures with wood, for environmental and financial issues: the production of certified wood in Amazonia is limited, so building only in wood would favor the illegal destruction of the forests. One of Plan Selva’s novelties is also the sleeping areas inside the schools, so that the children can stay after classes, because the average transportation time from their homes is five hours. The teaching is in the Native languages and Spanish. The program was conceived in consultation with elders, so that traditional cultures are part of the teachings: created only for Amazonia, it mixes Western and Native knowledge.

How do the Peruvians relate to Native peoples?

Peru is multicultural – the Incas represent 30 percent of the population. But Amazonian Natives were always marginalized, as historically, Amazonia was a virgin territory, so the communities of the jungle did not exist for the mainstream society. Amazonia is a frontier – all the big cities end there.

What were the reactions of the communities to Plan Selva?

Roughly 15,000 schools are in a state of emergency – built in the ’90s, on the ground, they might be flooded, as it happens regularly in Amazonia. The buildings being at risk of flooding, the floors of the new schools are elevated above the ground to protect the walkable surface from the damp, vegetation, animals, rainfall and river overflows. Most of the old buildings are in bricks, with no ventilation, and should be demolished. Today, 10 new schools are finished: the communities are happy, as they finally enjoy schools with electricity, the recycling of wastewaters. … Where the children can study without the risk of getting water on their knees!

Are many young people leaving their homes?

Work opportunities are concentrated mostly in gold or oil extractive activities, so if they wish to do something else, they have to leave. And this is where Plan Selva comes in – the communities can develop their territories and stay home. Thus, it becomes possible to keep one’s identity, and be part of the society. With the introduction of the computers in the schools, the children have an opening to the world, but they can stay in their communities, and keep their culture. The Western society does not know how to interfere with the environment without cutting the forest – it is all about extraction. But Native peoples know how to develop local productions while keeping the forest intact. Amazonia was never studied. With the Native knowledge, and the new school system, it will change. This innovative program’s goal is to replace 7,000 schools, to provide education to the very young population of Amazonia, where 60 percent is five to 18 years old – Plan Selva is revolutionary.

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