Cemaden Education, a network of schools and communities in disaster prevention: the case of the Paulo Virgínio State School


This case study deals with the experience of the Paulo Virgínio State School, in the municipality of Cunha, in the region of Vale do Paraíba – SP/Brazil. Cunha was the scene of disasters in 2010 due to heavy flooding and landslides, which are repeated every summer and cause loss and damage.

This experience is part of the actions of the Cemaden Education project implemented in 2014 by the National Center for Monitoring and Alerting of Natural Disasters, of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications – Cemaden/MCTIC. This was a pilot school, with which each step of the project was built together, with a view to expand it to high schools in Brazil. The project’s website (http://educacao.cemaden.gov.br) is open, containing suggestions for research activities, media library, and campaigns.

The objective of Cemaden Education is to contribute to the generation of a culture of perception of disaster risks, in the broad context of environmental education and the construction of sustainable and resilient societies. The idea is that each participating school becomes a micro-local Cemaden: a space to research, monitor the environment and climate, share knowledge, understand and issue disaster alerts, in addition to participatory management of interventions with their communities.

The Paulo Virgínio school has a total of 1054 students, 617 of whom are in high school (INEP/MEC School Census, 2016), and are aged between 14 and 18 years, in rural and urban areas of the municipality. During the 2015/2016/2017 school years, the school adopted the theme of disaster risk reduction and involved the high school faculty, guided by pedagogical coordination, and more than 1600 students from the 17 high school classes, in research groups. The culmination of the process is dedicated to the theme of monitoring phenomena that potentiate disasters and the perception of risks, in the annual seminar “Citizenship Dialogues in the Prevention of Social and Environmental Disasters”.

The source of funding was found by the school from resources of the Ministry of Education (MEC) allocated to public high schools: they used part of the resources of the Innovative High School Program (ProEMI/MEC) for the scientific initiation activities of the project. This resource funded the technical visits to rural schools and the study of the watershed, the students’ snacks during the technical visits, and the funding of consumables such as screws, banners, stickers, and material for the organisation of the annual seminar. The complementary resources for the organisation of the seminar were collected from the community sale of food to the school community. The school also had the support of a scholarship from the Institutional Program of Scientific Initiation Scholarships of the National Research Council – CNPq, through the Forestry Institute/State Secretariat of Environment – SP, in partnership with Cemaden Education.

For the development of the Cemaden Education project, the school also sought other partnerships: it involved the local NGO Serra Above (work with sustainability and agroecology), a geologist from the Federal University of ABC who lives in the municipality, and the Forest Institute/State Park of Serra do Mar – Núcleo Cunha.


The Cemaden Educação project makes available on the website pedagogical activities with research methodologies, such as oral history, social cartography, rainfall monitoring, and watershed analysis, to measure the vulnerability of the school. It encourages local pre-scientific research (citizen science with young researchers) in vulnerable communities. Students interact directly with residents of urban risk areas (youth, adults and the elderly) and with small landowners in rural areas. The transforming proposal of the project, by introducing research themes involving sustainability, unsustainability, resilience and climate change in curriculum learning, became the basis of studies in high school. This happened as a result of annual evaluations of the project, which obtained 100% approval from students, teachers, parents and the community. The teachers deepened the learning of research in their disciplines. Each year, new classes enter high school and work with rain gauges, oral history and the watershed. Older students research the vulnerability of municipal school buildings. All are deepening their research and creating new ones. As the research is done with the local communities, they are directly involved. With the oral history activities, the students receive praise for the school's actions in the community and for the new forms of education that did not exist before. We observed that each year the students' presentations demonstrate a greater perception of the risks and vulnerability of the local communities. This generates deep feelings of solidarity, such as was seen among a group that raised funds for a basic food basket for an elderly woman interviewed. There are also proposals for interventions in the municipality's public policies.
The students have a low and medium income socioeconomic profile, with parents with low education, in a situation of high socioenvironmental vulnerability. Among them are young people, children of small family farmers and many residents of areas at risk of flooding and land slippage. Elementary school students (EF I, 6 to 9 years old and II, 10 to 13 years old) also participate in the project, but in a different way and appropriate to the age group. They have environmental education activities related to conservation, solid waste, landscape studies, and vegetable gardens. And they interact with CBDRM and disaster risk reduction education (DRR) in a peer learning process that applies the knowledge generated. During the heavy summer rains of 2016, high school students monitoring the rainfall gauges (handcrafted and a semi-automatic one donated by Cemaden), took initiative to give weather alerts in primary school (EF) classrooms. At that time, they explained to the younger students how the rain gauges work and asked them to stay in school until the alert ceased. In 2016, they also worked with families living in areas susceptible to the slippage of land in the urban area. A rain gauge research group installed handmade equipment in the residence of a lady from the periphery, located in a place susceptible to the risk of slipping. When they found out that she was illiterate and could not fill out the monitoring worksheet with the data collected, they remade the documents using symbols, icons and colours.
The whole project is an enormous learning experience in action research and CBDRM/ERRD for all participants, who become subjects of action at their local level. In the case of the Paulo Virgínio State School, all activities were built, tested and adapted to the school reality, by the pedagogical coordinator, Prof. Shirley Monteiro, who assumed the challenge of turning the school into a research space in Education for Disaster Risk Reduction, involving high school teachers. The proposals to improve the activities of the educational site were incorporated by Cemaden Education, in order to improve communication with the other schools in the country in the challenge of expanding the project to other schools. Each year, there are new learnings in this dialogue between schools and Cemaden. One example happened with the monitoring of rainfall with handcrafted rain gauges (PET) installed in the homes of students and georeferenced. In 2017 the experiment was carried out in a timely manner, while the research of the monitoring groups lasted. However, starting in 2017, it was defined that each rain gauge made by the 1st year classes will be monitored for three years, throughout high school. The idea is to monitor the climate and compare the annual precipitation values.


The Cemaden Educação project at EE Paulo Virgínio is still in progress, as it is a continuous process. It is worth mentioning that it is a project of voluntary adhesion of the school, and that it has been maintained for 3 years, under the coordination of Prof. Shirley Monteiro. During this period, it encouraged the teaching board and many teachers and trained hundreds of students, always adding new partners. Through the project and the new teaching methodologies, the school was able (not without difficulties) to change from the inside, modifying its rigid times, spaces and contents, transforming itself into a world of discoveries, innovations and creativity. However, 2018 will be a challenging year for the project at EE Paulo Virgínio. The coordinator was approved in a public contest and will be the Director of a school in Guaratinguetá, a municipality 50 km from Cunha. But she has already committed herself to the teachers of the old school to monitor the project on a weekly basis.
The project worked on two fronts: production/dissemination of knowledge on local ERRD and community intervention actions. Its developments are unpredictable. All high school students (approximately 1600) participated in lectures/classes on ERRD, sustainability, agroecology, forests, riparian forests, environmental legislation, and permanent protection areas. All developed their scientific research on risk areas in the municipality of Cunha - SP. They also shared and received information from their parents and members of the communities surveyed. In 2016 a family living in an area at risk of slipping was 'adopted' by the school. It received donations from the school community, because it was affected by the rains and the family needed to move from the condemned residence, but had nowhere to go. The students and the coordinator organised a campaign in the community, went to the radio and the local church, found another house and collected furniture and utensils. In 2017, rural farmers together with students participated in a native seed fair and agroforestry training workshops (with support from the NGO Serra Acima). The students took advantage of the learning to elaborate the social cartography of the rural property relating CBDRM/ERRD and environmental conservation, with a focus on siltation of rivers and riparian forests. For this action they had the support of a PIBIC - Graduate Scholarship from the Instituto Florestal/State Secretary of Environment (IF/SMA-SP), in partnership with Cemaden Educação. Also in 2017, the students investigated the susceptibility conditions of public buildings, daycare centres and elementary schools, in view of the different socio-environmental dangers (floods, landslides, etc.). They researched from the methodology of the activity 'Is our school vulnerable?'. In 2018, the groups will compile the results obtained in each of the buildings for eventual actions of public managers and other responsible people. And the school has already been invited to present the result of this work in a public hearing at the Cunha City Council.


In Brazil, there are normative instruments that establish some concepts and principles related to international frameworks, although they are often outdated and indirect. They are found in the laws on Environmental Education - National Policy on Environmental Education (PNEA - Law No. 9.795/1999); Climate Change - National Plan and Policy on Climate Change (2009); in the National Policy on Civil Protection and Defense (Law No. 12.608/2012) / National System for Civil Protection and Defense; and in the Joint National Protocol for Integral Protection of Children and Adolescents, Older Persons and Persons with Disabilities in Situations of Risk and Disaster (2013). There are practices developed by universities and civil defences, but they are punctual and fragmented. CBDRM and ERRD public policies need to be urgently implemented in the country to promote the questioning of the social causes that increase disaster risks, in addition to adaptation to climate change. At this moment, we are following the setbacks consolidated by Law No. 13,415/2017, which determines the reorganisation of secondary education. Among the approved retrogressions, Law nº 13.415/2017 revokes article 29 of the National Policy of Protection and Civil Defense, which was an achievement that altered the Law of Guidelines and Bases of National Education - LDB (Law nº 9.394/1996, article 26, paragraph 7), which determined the inclusion of the principles of protection and civil defence and environmental education in an integrated way in the mandatory contents of the curricula of primary and secondary education. The LDB now states that this determination was replaced by a generic text of 'transversal themes', and refers to the Common National Curriculum Base (BNCC). The new BNCC, recently approved in December 2017, ignores the theme and delegates responsibility to state and municipal education systems. The Cemaden Educação project, created in 2014 by the National Center for Monitoring and Alerting of Natural Disasters, of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications - Cemaden/MCTIC is a unique initiative in the country. Cemaden is awaiting the signing of a Technical Cooperation Agreement (TCA) with the Ministry of Education. Although the project does not have a formal institutional framework, it is considered fundamental. The project is currently being extended to Cemaden in the Society and involves action research, citizen science and crowdsourcing through an application for mobile phones (APP), in alpha testing.