I had never considered air conditioning such an important classroom technology until I visited Escola Municipal Engenheiro Gastão Rangel in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. The sweltering heat, sparseness of the facilities, 30 teachers between 1000 students and overcrowded classrooms make this a brutal and challenging environment to teach and learn in. Within these tough conditions, however, are clear signs of deep and meaningful progress.
On the stage of the small assembly hall of the school stands Rafael Parente – a rare example of an Education Technology visionary who can actually “walk the talk”. Rafael works as Deputy Chancellor in charge of strategic projects in Rio’s Municipal Department of Education, where he developed Educopedia – a portal for lessons and content. Educopedia has 32 digital lessons for each curriculum area – one lesson for each week of the year – and provides opportunities for teacher-lead and independent learning. The Rio MoE are now in the midst of acquiring 100k netbooks for students’ use, and projectors, speakers and Wi-Fi connections in more than 400 classrooms so that Educopedia’s lessons can be projected by teachers.
The first phase of the Educopedia project took place with a large group of pilot schools between September and December 2010, and the feedback was very positive. The task for Rafael now is to win over the teachers in all of Rio’s schools. This means visiting as many schools as he possibly can to directly persuade the teachers to use Educopedia in their lessons. As in most Brazilian public schools, air conditioning, electricity, security and connectivity are all high priorities, so Rafael’s task is far from easy.
What’s happening in Rio is indicative of what is happening across Brazil. There are an increasing number of pockets of innovation across the country, fueled by a growing acceptance for the need to modernize, and sustained support for ICT from the Federal and State Governments.
Brazil’s schooling system has benefited from sustained Government education reform over the past 15 years. According to “Achieving World Class Education in Brazil”, published by the World Bank in December 2010, the 2009 PISA results show substantial progress in education in Brazil. For example, since 2000 students have effectively gained a full academic year of Maths mastery. A key contributory factor to this progress is the increased use of data. A comprehensive index of school performance called IDEB (Indice de Desenvolvimento da Educacao Basica) is now used across the country. With an IDEB score for all but the smallest of Brazil’s 175,000 primary and secondary schools, 5,000-plus municipal school systems, 26 state systems and the federal district systems – every single segment of the Brazilian education system can benchmark how well its students are learning and how efficiently its school or school system is performing. Few other large federal countries in the world have achieved this.
However, Brazil still trails the OECD PISA average so there are no grounds for complacency. In order to sustain progress, Brazil needs to modernize further still – and with 50m in education, modernizing Brazil’s schooling system represents one of the biggest education challenges on the planet.
Taking a direct and comprehensive approach to modernising Brazilian public schools is Planeta Educacao – the education arm of Vitae Futurekids. With 900 staff and headquarters in Sao Paulo, Planeta Educacao recognizes the interconnectedness of everything in schooling systems. Roberta Bento, Vice President, Planeta Educação is a passionate believer in Brazil’s public schools – “Our programmes comprise a series of effective actions that involve students, directors, technicians, teachers and parents, promoting real changes in education. Our goal is the improvement in the performance of the student”. To that end, Planeta Educacao supply a total and integrated set of schooling services – infrastructure, technology (including products such as Office for Kids), programs and learning systems.
Other challenges that Brazil face are extreme distances and difficult-to-reach towns and villages. However, the Roberto Marinho Foundation – partners in the Educopedia project – has educated more than five million young people through high quality courses delivered through a combination of the television network, excellent books and trained teachers. Through the Telecurso project teachers were able to use satellite technology to interact with classrooms in the Amazon Forest.
In Pernambuco – in the north-east of the country – a network of schools called Procentro initiated in 2001 by Marcos Magalhães, president of electronics firm, Philips do Brasil, is proving that Public Private Partnerships can work in Brazil. Procentro has an annual dropout rate of 2%, much lower than the 17% average for Pernambuco’s regular state schools. Click here for details.
To underline the growing importance of ICT in the Brazilian Schooling System, Brazil has developed its own version of BETT. This year, Interdidatica will attract approximately 15k people to its tradeshow and 2.5k paying customers to its forum.
This year the theme of Interdidatica is “Innovation” – totally appropriate in a country with a strong tradition of engineering and innovation, e.g. aerospace giant Embraer. According to the World Bank, literally thousands of creative new programs and policies are being tried out at this moment across Brazil by dynamic, results-oriented secretaries of education. Few other countries in the world have the scale, scope and creativity of policy action that can be seen today in Brazil.
An inspiring example of innovation is Nave in Rio – a new high tech high school built out of a PPP between a Oi Futuro Fnd the State Government of Rio, aiming to prepare young people for careers in digital, entertainment and creative industries.
Not surprisingly, Brazil has a growing Education Technology Industry and a spectrum of innovative companies serve a growing education market. Gestar, for example, a Sao Paulo firm who developed the concept of “SRM” – Student Relationship Management built on CRM.
Then there is Grupo Positivo, the tenth largest computer manufacturer in the world who focus on education. They produce education software; run education portals; provide teacher training and educational and technical support for partner schools. Positivo even has its own university near its headquarters in Curitiba.
A significant success story coming out of Brazil is CDI – the Centre for Digital Inclusion founded by Rodrigo Baggio. Brazil’s first campaign for donated computers was founded by Baggio, who then opened the first “Information Technology and Citizens Rights School” (ITCRS) in Dona Marta, a slum area in Rio De Janeiro. From these beginnings CDI grew to provide access to ICT to 1.3 million people 13 countries.
Right at the heart of ICT innovation in Brazil and with a string of successful implementations is Microsoft Brazil’s Education team, lead by Emilio Munaro. Working with all the major players, and innovative customers such as Instituto Ayrton Senna, SENAC, SENAI, SESC, Anhanguera, FIA, USP, Porto Seguro, Colégio São Luis, Microsoft is pushing the boundaries of using technology for maximum effectiveness in education helping deliver increasingly personalized learning services.
A concern raised by the World Bank in Achieving World Class Education in Brazil is that education spending is outpacing results. Brazil spends more on education than Mexico, Chile, India and Indonesia, which have similar demographic profiles. This means that there is a lot of scope for increased effectiveness from spending, and ICT, of course, can play a major role in this.
With the advent of Cloud computing, the prospect of providing anytime anywhere learning for all is becoming realistic. It’s now time to consider how massive, cheap, and highly available computing services can be combined with a range of access technologies and high quality learning content, to open up learning opportunities for those in Brazil who are in the greatest need of it. Proof that access to ICT works for the poorest in society comes from some of CDIs case studies. With the prospect of the 2016 Olympics and the World Cup going to Rio; the discovery of oil off the coast of Brazil; a booming economy; and determined and innovative people pushing hard; there is every reason to believe that the next decade will see Brazil make significant progress towards achieving world class education for all.