Distance Learning as access to Higher Education: The experience of the UAB pole, in the northeast of Pará

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ARTIGO ORIGINAL

CRUZ, Geanice Raimunda Baia [1], SILVA, Gimar Pereira Da [2]

CRUZ, Geanice Raimunda Baia. SILVA, Gimar Pereira Da .Distance Learning as access to Higher Education: The experience of the UAB pole, in the northeast of Pará. Revista Científica Multidisciplinar Núcleo do Conhecimento. Year 05, Ed. 08, Vol. 01, pp. 106-120. August 2020. ISSN: 2448-0959, Access link: https://www.nucleodoconhecimento.com.br/education/distance-learning

SUMMARY

This study investigated the process of implementation and implementation of the Face-to-Face Support Center of the Open University of Brazil (UAB), in Cametá, northeastern Pará region. It is an experience with higher education in the distance education (EAD) modality, seeking to identify the aspects tangent to the infrastructure and pedagogical nature aimed at the offer and development of the courses, as well as the difficulties, implications, concerns and the advances felt/experienced by students graduated from the Undergraduate Course in Mathematics, offered in a Pole of the UAB. This research took as initial a bibliographic survey in order to obtain important data and information about Distance Education and its evolution in the world and in Brazil. It was reported to official documents on the institutionalization of the UAB Pole, having as main north the Law No.  245/2013 – PMC/Cametá-PA. The research focused on the critical-dialectical approach because it allows analyzing the interaction between individual, object and research focus. As an approach, we chose the qualitative, case study type. According to the graduates of the Mathematics Course, class/2009, graduating from EaD was the opportunity found to access public higher education at a distance. With regard to the implementation of the UAB Pole, in the municipality of Cametá, it is observed its importance for the provision of higher education in our region, however, it should be noted that there were several difficulties encountered in its initial course, and many were met and others still persist.

Keywords: Distance Education, Open University of Brazil, face-to-face support center.

1. INTRODUCTION

This research was carried out with the aim of enabling a reflection on the determining factors of the scope of EaD  and enabling a better apprehension of its projection, expansion and its administrative, organizational and pedagogical functionality to support teaching-learning in public higher education from the distance modality, seeking to identify the difficulties, implications, concerns, challenges and advances pointed out by the graduates of the Degree Course in Mathematics of the UaB/Cametá Pole, in the period between 2009 and 2016, northeast region of Pará. To achieve the proposed objectives, we chose to develop the research with a qualitative approach and, thus, present a case study on the first class of graduates, from a UAB Pole, located in the municipality of Cametá, that is, the graduates of the Undergraduate Course in Mathematics at a distance from UFPA.

Therefore, some reflections are relevant in this educational field, because, according to Kuenzer (2006, p. 880), ensuring access is not enough:

[…] by the force of public policies ‘professed’ in the direction of democratization, it increases inclusion in all parts of the chain, but the educational processes are precarious, which result, in mere opportunity for certification and not qualification, which do not ensure neither inclusion nor permanence.

Based on the approaches exposed by the author, the following question is adopted as problematic for this study: How did the institutionalization and the process of implementation of the Face-To-Face Support Pole – UAB occur, in the educational context of the public school of higher education, through the modality in EaD, in the municipality of Cametá/Pa?

The research is anchored in the parameters of historical-dialectical materialism, since this type of approach, according to Kosik (2002, p. 39), allows us to understand that the dialectical relationship “is the method of development and explanation of cultural phenomena starting from the objective practical activity of historical man”. That is, one needs to seek the essence of phenomena, what is behind the facts (FRIGOTTO, 1991). Therefore, there is a need for the researcher’s detailed look so that the object does not appear superficially, in order to clearly express what is implied within, since for Kosik (2002, p. 27) “things do not show to man directly as they are and how man does not have the power to see things directly in their essence”.

In view of this, to analyze the object of this study, we used the following categories: mediation, contradiction and totality (CURY, 1985), in order to understand the complex, dialectical and expansive universe in which EaD develops in our society, because, as Marx (1982, p. 105) presumed, “[…] as well as the dialectical movement of the simple categories the group is born, the dialectical movement of the groups is born the series is born , and the dialectical movement of the series is born the whole system”. The methodological path consisted of a bibliographic, documentary and field research. The bibliographic research included the reading and analysis of the authors pointed out as a reference of the theme under study, such as: Marx (1982), Frigotto (1991), Belloni (2015) and Mill and Pimentel (2013), as well as texts and articles pertinent to the theme.

To carry out the documentary research, the following official documents were used: Cametá-PA Commitment Term, no. 29,373, of 03/28/2008; Pole Assessment Reports – SEED/MEC/UFPA Supervision 2009/2010/2012; Cigip/DED/CAPES/2010 monitoring visit reports; Pedagogical Project of the Mathematics Course – EaD/UFPA/2009; Municipal Law of Creation of the Pole UAB /Cametá No. 245 of 09/20/2013 and Management Plan of the Pole UAB/Cametá/2013. We highlight as subjects of the research: students graduated from the Mathematics Degree Course of the 1st graduating class – 2009, professors/tutors who worked teaching the subjects in the Mathematics/EaD/UFPA Course, General Coordinator of distance education advisory AEDi/UFPA and the General Coordinator of the Institute of Exact Sciences and Mathematics/EaD/UFPA.

The field research was developed through semi-structured interviews, containing open questions about various aspects of the UAB Pole and the existing conditions both infrastructure and pedagogical for the development of academic activities. For the treatment of data, bardin’s conception (2011) was used – content analysis, because it allows the apprehension of the phenomenon and the object of study through other views and interpretations. The proposal is relevant because it presents data necessary for the reflection of EAD as a process resulting from the democratization and universalization of education, in this process, its expansion throughout the Brazilian territory. It is hypothesized that, in a dialectical way, EaD is beneficial, and at the same time implies certain challenges and problems, especially with regard to the access and permanence of students in distant regions such as ours, in the State of Pará.

2. THE EXPERIENCE OF EAD IN POLO/UAB/PARÁ

Distance education originated and developed as a response to an important accumulation of educational needs. Literacy needs, “[…] of increasingly early incorporation in the world of work, of the population isolated from urban centers or unable to have access, for various reasons, to conventional forms of education” (LITWIN, 2001, p. 40). Thus, it is urgent to ad anew mold, because only providing or enabling other alternatives for access to systematized knowledge is not enough, but, and especially, should be based on principles such as decentralization, democratization, universalization and accessibility and that are the main guidelines of proposals and programs to meet the needs of training and emancipation of the worker student. According to Oliveira e Araújo (2005, p. 18),

It seems that the great challenge of the current historical moment, with regard to the right to education, is to make it beyond guaranteed and effected through measures of universalization of access and permanence, an enriching experience from the human, political and social point of view, and that consubstancies, in fact, a project of emancipation and social insertion.

Given this panorama, in this globalized world in which qualified labor is required, it is necessary to fight for the right to a quality education, whether by the bias of the face-to-face as that of distance learning, resisting the “ready packages”, not submitting, therefore, to standardized teaching models, which are more alienated than they educate.  Since then, there is a growing expansion of the offer of courses in Distance, mainly through the private sphere, from the opening of courses with possibilities to meet a greater number of students, with few specific infrastructure requirements for the realization of courses, reduction of teachers’ contracts and use of tutors, and also with the possibility of being contemplated with the help of the federal government from the availability of federal public funds.

On the other hand, due to the need for more intellectual and investigative training in the context of public higher education, quality benchmarks are demanded so that the distance modality can be used effectively and effectively, especially with regard to pedagogical elements, human resources and infrastructure. These are fundamental aspects for the implementation of the teaching proposal advocated by the EaD. Thus, it is worth mentioning that:

It is necessary to advance the discussion on the subject and move to another level: experiences of EaD will only bring benefits, if they comply with written criteria of accessibility and quality. The offer of distance learning cannot be confined to palliative experiences, private institutions of uncertain prestige or more or less marginal groups in large universities, but must be implemented in an integrated manner to face-to-face teaching (BELLONI, 2015, p. 7).

Belloni (2015) alludes to the search for quality demands the displacement of the idea of “modality” to “method”, which implies thinking about the way in which teaching has been offered, and also in the ways of fostering teaching and learning from the use of technology, because electronic devices are the greatest allies of EaD. By envisioning how the offer of distance higher education takes place in Brazil, it is possible to obtain that it began around 1996, a period in which the EAD was legitimized by the Law of Guidelines and Bases of National Education, Law No. 9394/96, although regulated only on December 20, 2005, by Decree No. 5,622 (BRASIL, 2005).

In addition, in 2006, through Decree No. 5,800/06, the Open University of Brazil (UAB) System was established. This institutionalization allowed, among other things, the significant expansion of EaD, with the objective of democratizing and universalizing higher education, as well as meeting specific interests and needs inherent to the training of education teachers, and it is also a possibility of expanding opportunities for admission, and also of permanence of many subjects in the academic space. In this sense, it is worth noting what the Decree, in its Article 1, determines:

The Open University of Brazil – UAB System is established, aimed at the development of the modality of distance education, with the purpose of expanding and internalizing the offer of higher education courses and programs in the country (BRASIL, 2006).

And it presents as objectives of the UAB System:

I – to offer, as a priority, undergraduate and initial and continuing training courses for basic education teachers;

II – offer higher education courses for the training of leaders, managers and workers in basic education of the States, the Federal District and the Municipalities;

III – offer higher education courses in different areas of knowledge;

IV – expanding access to public higher education;

V – reduce the inequalities in higher education supply between the different regions of the country;

VI – establish a broad national system of distance higher education; And

VII – to promote institutional development for the modality of distance education, as well as research in innovative methodologies of higher education supported by information and communication technologies. (BRASIL, 2006).

After its institutionalization, there are varied options for access to training along the lines of EaD and its purposes are substantial to the access and expansion of higher education with regard to the provision of undergraduate and graduate courses, in order to serve teachers, managers and other basic education workers. Thus, initially, the creation of the Open University of Brazil derives from a government strategy that, regulated by Decree No. 5,800 of June 8, 2006, establishes the Open University of Brazil (UAB) System, which enabled the expansion of EaD, in the name of universalization and democratization of higher education. This decree establishes the recognition in the official education system of the courses offered, and also accredited by the MEC. However, although the UAB is a promising scenario, it should be considered that:

The Brazilian proposal for an Open University built by and in conventional universities seems to be a very appropriate way to expand supply and democratize access ensuring academic quality. Such optimistic scenarios depend, however, on energetic, realistic and generous public policies that are not based on the mistaken and illusory principle that The EaD allows to save financial resources (MILL; PIMENTEL, 2013, p. 255).

Given this panorama, the UAB is used by higher education institutions as a way for the supply, expansion and democratization of public higher education. However, it should be highlighted that it is essential to maintain a pedagogical organization (with guarantee of all favorable environments for favoring the teaching and learning process) and financial (guarantee of a framework of human and material resources necessary for its operation), so that the quality of the process of entry and permanence of the student in the academic space is the main objective of the proposal of distance education. All this context served as a parameter to highlight that the path to the aed by the Federal University of Pará- UFPA, through the poles of support for teaching, was an arduous path full of mishaps.

Only from the signing of agreements, adhering to programs and establishing exchanges with the federal government through CAPES is the EaD unveiled at the Federal University of Pará – UFPA: from both the expansion of the use of radio networks, television, the use of information technology, as well as due to collective and individual, governmental and institutional efforts. The idea is bold, and also innovative, as described in the reports of the Distance Education Advisor at that time. To him: “It wasn’t an easy thing, because when we walked around and talked about it, people looked at you like you were a Martian; I mean, today, it’s something that’s there, everyone knows, but at the time things were very difficult, and viewed strangely within the UFPA itself” (VELOSO, 2018).

The CES 670/98 opinion of October 1, 1998, approved by the National Council of Education, alludes to that the Mathematics Course was authorized to operate at UFPA, in Belém. However, other elements interfere with the expansion and efficacy of DS. However, the document stresses that duties must be shared between different sectors: funding is the responsibility of SEED/MEC; the courses to be implemented are the responsibility of the HEIs and the Face-to-Face Support Centers are run by the maintainers of the municipalities or states. It should be emphasized that the process of implementing EaD in the context of the UFPA was slow, mainly due to the lack of financial resources necessary for the physical adequacy of the space necessary to carry out activities.

Such challenges are materialized in the speech of Leite (2010, p. 25), because he alluded that “[…] the land was not ready, it would be necessary to plow the land and thus cast the first seeds of distance learning in the UFPA”. That is, it was certain that the walk would be long and much still to be done, however, there was a need to continue the project and one of the first actions was the articulation with the coordinators of courses of UFPA and with the municipalities of the municipalities to operationalize the proposal, starting with the organization or disposition of a physical space for the offer of courses in EaD.

From then on, the need for the Pole to support distance learning is configured. In this context, we highlight the Face-to-Face Support Center – UAB/Cametá as a leading space in the offer of EaD in the municipality of Cametá, seeking, from it, to analyze how the process of its implementation and implementation occurred, as well as the reflection of teaching in the education of young students in the northeast region of Pará. Andrade (2010) articulates a very interesting and favorable discussion about the importance of the Face-to-Face Support Center, seeking to understand that:

The Face-to-Face Support Centers are proposed as buildings that have rooms, computers, internet access, laboratories, so that this student approaches a university context. However, the subject who seeks EaD brings with him doubts, difficulties to access and continue studying. In this sense, it can become a bridge that will facilitate the course of this student, or, contrary, will put more difficulties to this process (MILL; PIMENTEL, 2013 apud ANDRADE, 2010, p. 124).

That is, the pole is a support space for the modality in EaD and it needs to be equipped with sufficient structure to meet the needs of students. Next, we make a small stop to situate the reader about the knowledge of the city where the pole is located, being a way to clarify why the choice of our municipality for the implementation of the Pole UAB / Cametá / PA. Cametá is a city in the state of Pará, Brazil. It is located at a latitude 02º14’40” south and at a longitude 49º29’45” west, being at an altitude of 10 meters. Its estimated population in 2017 (IBGE) was 134,100 inhabitants. According to ibge/cametá/pará data, recently published on the portal, the estimated population for 2019 was 137,890 people. It has an area of 3 081,367. The city of Cametá is located in the Northeast of Pará and thus integrates the Tocantins region.

In the educational aspect, according to 2018 data, Cametá presents 208 elementary schools, with 28,556 students enrolled; 13 high schools, with 6,096 enrollments; there are also 1,511 teachers working in elementary school and 2018 teachers in high school. In the cametaense context, public higher education is offered by public institutions, highlighted: Federal University of Pará (UFPA), State University of Pará (UEPA), Federal Institute of Pará (IFPA) and The Open University of Brazil (UAB), which justifies the importance of the UAB/Cametá Pole, since the institutions that offer higher education in our region are insufficient to meet the demand of students who want to enter a higher education course.

The Face-to-Face Support Center of the UAB of Cametá is part of the municipality of Cametá, in the northeast of the state of Pará. For this region, the UAB/Cametá Pole, according to the Management Plan/2013, aims to provide access to means that may be able to foster professionalization from distance learning courses. These should be quality and free, thus meeting the demand of the municipal and regional market. The methodology and space must adapt to the context of the students. Moreover, the UAB/Cametá pole was constituted as a reference space for studies in AD for other subjects from other surrounding municipalities and even from the capital. The UAB/Cametá Face-to-Face Support Center is located at Avenida Gentil Bittencourt, 1582, in the Central neighborhood, with the ZIP Code 68400-000, in the municipality of Cametá, state of Pará.

Its educational activities began on August 22, 2009, when the this center was inaugurated, with the presence of illustrious local authorities and the capital. The first course offered was the Full Degree in Mathematics, by the Federal University of Pará / UFPA, providing only 50 vacancies. Its organization chart is organized as follows: it has a pole coordinator officially linked to CAPES, tutors who carry out their activities according to UFPA regulations.

In the administrative aspect, it can be seen that the Pole is connected to the Municipality of Cametá (PMC), following the guidelines emanating by the maintainer of the pole, in this case the mayor in office. In the legal aspect, it follows the rules contained in the management plan of the pole and in the law of its creation, which institutionalizes it. Its location is easily accessible and is installed in a central area of the city, next to the building of the Municipality of Cametá.

Figure 1 – Image of the UAB/Cametá-PA Face-to-Face Support Cent

er
Source: Image recorded by the author (2013)

It should be noted here that due to the location of the Pole, its structure must respect the demands of the region and the place, as well as the characteristics of the courses to be offered. Aspects and needs of different areas of knowledge related to the courses should be carefully analyzed. Therefore, when offering the courses, it is necessary to look at the context of society more attentively, favoring, therefore, courses that can contribute to the social, economic and cultural development of the region associated with the Pole. CAPES, for its part, understands that:

The UAB Pole is an academic structure of pedagogical, technological and administrative support for the teaching and learning activities of distance education courses and programs – EaD, under the responsibility of higher education institutions – HEIs. The UAB pole is preferably located in medium-sized municipalities, which have a total of inhabitants between 20 and 50,000, and which do not have public academic facilities of higher education. (CAPES/Polo UAB, 2018).

It is necessary, then, that the units propose certain face-to-face activities, since the requirement is provided for by law. Evaluations, defenses of final work of the courses, practical classes that require the use of laboratories, the fulfillment of mandatory internships are essentially face-to-face activities. Tutors and advisors should make use of video conferencing to assist students. Issues related to the Infrastructure of the Pole demand that the spaces are adequate so that students can perform the required activities. These spaces also need to be suitable for people with special needs:

General spaces of the UABT Pole

a) Room for coordination of the UAB Pole (mandatory);

b) Room for secretariat of the UAB Pole (mandatory);

c) Meeting room (optional);

d) Bathrooms (at least one female and one male) with accessibility, according to the requirements of Laws 10,908, of December 19, 2000, and 11,982, of 2009;

Support spaces of the UAB Pole (required).

(a) computer laboratory with adequate electrical installations (stabilized network);

b) Physical library, with space for studies;

Academic spaces

a) Multipurpose room – for teaching, tutoring, proof(s), video/ webconferencing(s) etc.;

b) Pedagogical laboratory (when it fits) (CAPES/Polo UAB, 2018).

Thus, all the dependencies of the pole constitute as necessary spaces to ensure adequate conditions for the study. The lack of these spaces causes pedagogical difficulties and, consequently, can compromise the quality of the activities offered. Thus, the center is considered as a fundamental support point for students to develop laboratory activities, so that they have access to the library collection, so that they have contact with tutors and so that they can perform evaluations. According to Mill and Pimentel (2013, p. 196), “[…] it is the way the course is implemented, the support network for students, including the Face-to-Face Support Center, which guarantees the quality of teaching by the EaD”.

In this sense, from the process of institutionalization of the UAB/Cametá Pole and through the signing of the Term of Commitment of No. 29,373/2008 among the parties involved, the implementation in the municipality in question was continued. The process had its opportunity with the permission of CAPES in terms of the granting to other physical spaces. The term in question, signed in 2008, was agreed between the Unity Council and the Pole Coordinator. The space once belonged to the Gean Municipal Elementary School, however it granted the space for the Pole to be established. The Aforementioned Term of Commitment, in addition to defining the parameters for maintaining the Face-to-Face Support Center, also presents other recommendations in relation to the attributions of each sphere of government:

The guarantee that the Municipality has a budget allocation for the renovation, construction of the building (when necessary), acquisition of equipment […];

Provide human resources with the necessary actions for the proper functioning of the physical, technological and human resources infrastructure indispensable to the provision of courses of the Open University System of Brazil – UAB, according to the Quality References for Distance Higher Education of the Ministry of Education. (BRAZIL, MEC/Cametá-PA Term of Commitment, no. 29.373/2008).

Thus, in order to guarantee the affection of the academic proposition of the activities of the pole, the commitments need to be assumed by the federative entities, either from decrees, agreements of technical cooperation, creation of laws for their legitimation, or through the financial resources necessary for their maintenance. Thus, in view of the implementation of the training project by the UAB from the face-to-face support centers for the implementation of teaching in DISTANCE, it should be considered that the success of a distance course depends on the conditions that the Face-to-Face Support Center presents. These essential characteristics should be carefully considered.

They are accessibility and sustainability, in which the following points stand out: adequate physical resources to meet the needs of the courses offered by the HEI; human resources, with professionals trained to manage the pole and develop the courses; the availability of technological resources and equipment necessary for the operation of laboratories and teaching environments; links that allow efficient connectivity with the teaching platforms and a dynamic collection and completed with bibliographic sources for consultation and reading available linked to the courses offered in the pole. As for the sustainability of the pole, it must provide its own financial resources. Therefore, these points constitute a basic configuration of an appropriate and favorable model to promote quality teaching in distance learning courses.

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS

From the data obtained and analyzed in this research on the experience of EaD in a UAB Pole, in Pará, we tried to answer the following question: How did the institutionalization and the implementation process of the Face-Face Support Center – UAB occur, in the educational context of the public higher education school from the modality in AEd, in the municipality of Cametá/PA? It seems clear that although EaD is initially seen as a possibility of democratization of Brazilian education, it also brings with it numerous challenges, concerns and problems, especially for our reality in Pará. The results of the discussions presented in the research allowed us to understand the functionality and effectiveness of the UAB Cametá pole, because it is not enough just to have access to schooled knowledge, there is also a need to effectively have a training proposal that relates to the existential form of the young student and that has respect for their human, social and local condition.

As a disclosure of the results found, we highlight some relevant points: First, the municipality joined the Distance Education program by the UAB System, in partnership with the MEC, as another possibility to provide initial and continued training for teachers in exercise in regular education in the city of Cametá, due to the lack in some pedagogical areas. Second, the Camtá Pole was, at the time of its inauguration/implementation, and even after the initial two years of activities, with many difficulties and challenges, both at the structural and pedagogical level, according to the Evaluation Reports of Monitoring Center of CIGIP/DED/CAPES – SEED/MEC/UFPA Supervision in the years 2009/2010/2012.

Its adequacy after the requirements of these institutions depreed a new management that, in that period (2013 to 2016), when its institutionalization occurred, presented another conception in relation to the purposes of the UAB/Cametá Pole. During this period, the Pole made significant progress, since it made available all the resources necessary to develop the academic activities by the modality in Distance, such as investments focused on the physical structure of the pole, such as the construction of more classrooms, implementation of the physical space of the library, and, in relation to the pedagogical aspect, it was relying on the availability of compatible internet for access to the study platform and, in the legal and financial aspect, it is worth pointing out that there was the creation of the Academic Council of polo and the Approval of the Law of Creation of the Pole, PMC Law, no. 28/2013, to manage the possible funds from the Federal Government.

This is because the education project that was held for that moment was based on a public university, free and quality for all – the UFPA. Third, we highlight that meeting all the specificities that the Degree course in Mathematics requires (course chosen to meet a municipality’s shortage), is still a constant challenge for the Cametá Pole, because this course was still offered in 2011 and 2013. Enabling an environment conducive to the process of teaching and learning, aimed at meeting the needs of training in our Amazon region/northeast of Pará, is also.

The class of the Mathematics Course, considered the pioneer because the students have experienced a first experience with EaD, present a history of struggle and daily persistence, marked by difficulties of adaptation, concerns about the search for alternatives to ensure the quality of the course and challenges regarding its specificity, as well as deficiencies in the use of the laboratory and library in the Pole. However, this class was victorious, because despite the adversities encountered, the perseverance demonstrated in studies in EaD was a latent characteristic in the class. It also involves feelings about what return they will have after several years of studying and whether they will get a place in the job market from the training in Mathematics.

Finally, we conclude this study by pointing out that the Center of classroom teaching of UAB/Cametá, based on the analyses presented by the graduates of the Mathematics/UFPA course, class/2009 and the law that created it (Law No. 28/2013), was not only constituted as a physical space, a brick construction, but is a legal and real representation of training at a higher level, being also a way to change the trajectory of life, but, at the same time, it must be ensured a favorable environment for learning, with structure and conditions suitable for the development of quality of the courses offered by the Pole.

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[1] Master in Basic Education / PPGEDUC- UFPA / PA. Specialization in Environmental Education – UFPA / PA; Management in Distance Education – UFF/RJ and Pedagogical Coordination (FAEL). Full Degree in Pedagogy -UFPA/PA.

[2] PhD in Education from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (2005); Master’s degree in Education from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (2002); Specialization in History of the Amazon from the Federal University of Pará (1993) and graduation in Pedagogy from the Federal University of Pará (1992).

Sent: June, 2020.

Approved: August, 2020.

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