Guilherme Bergamini investigates the broken Brazilian education system

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Selected from 2,377 submissions from 92 countries, spanning six categories – Portraiture, Landscape, Architecture, Photojournalism, Conceptual and Best Emerging Photographer – this year’s 30 shortlisted photographers for the Felix Schoeller Photo Award represent some of the best of contemporary photographic talent.
This year we gave you the opportunity to vote for your favourite nominee in the People’s Choice Award. Announced this weekend at the FSPA Awards ceremony in Osnabrück, Germany, the Award went to Brazilian photographer Guilherme Bergamini. His politically-charged photoessay Education for All, received a huge share of the popular vote, with 75 percent of all comments and shares across the 30 projects.
Dedicated to providing Education for All, the Brazilian government has succeeded at getting 3 million children into education each year. But the system itself is broken. Only a very small percentage of these students achieve a high enough level of maths and Portuguese to enter the job market. Borrowing its name from this official rhetoric, Bergamini’s winning project aims to highlight the country’s broken education system and act as a catalyst for change.

From the series Education for All © Guilherme Bergamini
“It is amazing to receive such widespread recognition and support for my work. I hope that winning the People’s Choice Award will draw attention to this pressing issue and mean my project reaches an even wider audience.”
Growing up in Brazil, Bergamini attended several private schools as a teenager; a guarantee of good education for those who can afford it. Despite a drive to keep children and teenagers in education, he observes how the public school system has been neglected since Brazil became an independent country with underpaid teachers, neglected buildings and an outdated curriculum, the content of which remains a point of contention between different social groups.
Practising photography for over two decades, Bergamini has dedicated his work to interrogating social and political issues at home and abroad. The school he documented for Education for All is located in the city where he was born: Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais state. Once housing one of the best public schools in the region, the classes were moved elsewhere while the government began a supposed revamp of the building.
From the series Education for All © Guilherme Bergamini
“The situation with this school is not an isolated case; it is emblematic of the government’s neglect of the issue of education. Meaningful investments in both the curriculum and physical structures of our public education system are seriously lacking. And it is only getting worse,” he observes.  
Capturing the vacant rooms of the derelict school building, the project is a visual metaphor for the state of Brazilian education. The empty classrooms are “proof of the lack of investment in one of the most important elements of democracy: education,” says Bergamini. The photographer also had the opportunity to visit the building where the students were relocated, finding that this too was completely inadequate.
From the series Education for All © Guilherme Bergamini
Driven by his determination to raise awareness around these issues, Bergamini invested a lot in encouraging people to vote for his work. “The Felix Schoeller Photo Award offers an incredible opportunity for photographers around the world to gain recognition for their work and the important subject-matter they address,” he says. From approaching individuals in his personal and professional life, to appearing on the Brazilian television network, Rede Minas, his project received the largest share of the popular vote, attracting over 75 percent of engagements in a Facebook poll that received over 15 thousand votes.
When he first began Education for All, 21 years ago, the work focused on highlighting the crisis happening in the public education system. “At that time democratic institutions were in perfect working order,” remembers Bergamini, “but this has changed a great deal from then to now.” With recent changes in Brazilian politics putting a strain on the drive for a fully functioning democratic society, the work has taken on new meanings. “Today I see my country in the process of decay. The fight for democracy is in jeopardy and the devastating destruction of the public education system is symbolic of that.”
From the series Education for All © Guilherme Bergamini
Sponsored by Felix Schoeller Group: This feature was made possible with the support of Felix Schoeller Group, a world leader in photographic paper since 1895. Please click here for more information on sponsored content funding at British Journal of Photography.