Entrepreneurs who complain about the impenetrable structure of education departments need to learn to take a step back and control their momentum before presenting their digital solutions. In the first meeting of the CONECTE-C series, an initiative of the Centro de Inovação para a Educação Brasileira (Center of Innovation for Brazilian Education) that seeks to bring together different actors involved in the education innovation ecosystem, entrepreneurs and representatives of the public sector, sought to fine tune the debate surrounding the subject and recognize the peculiarities of this “ocean liner”.
The comparison was made by Julia Sant’Anna, special advisor of the undersecretary for infrastructure and technology of the Secretaria de Estado e Educação do Rio de Janeiro (the Rio de Janeiro State Education Department), to explain public sector behavior when faced with entrepreneurs hungry for contracts that will guarantee their digital products access to the classrooms of the education system. “Education Departments are slow ocean liners, carrying hundreds of thousands of students. We move very slowly, but we have a huge per capita scale. If we can plan on a long-term basis, then perhaps we can work together,” she said in a speech addressed to entrepreneurs at the Cube co-working space in the south zone of São Paulo (SP).
For Julia, the creators of solutions are like “jet-skis performing pirouettes” around the government, trying to impress. “Our effort is to be ever lighter and plan on an increasingly long-term basis to be able to take in these jet-skis. At the same time, it is very important that the other parties reduce their speed slightly when talking to the ocean liner”.
To illustrate what she meant, Julia recalled a scene from a meeting between the technical sector of the department and a group of startups, which she describes as “very interesting”. “In the end, it all worked out, but I noticed that the person who spoke more to us was not the creative genius or the leader of the group, but the individual who was more sensitive to our needs. Often, while his colleagues would be talking about server speed, he had already learnt our names and asked us what our main problems were.”
According to Julia, there is a shortage of questions and too much sales talk in meetings with entrepreneurs, confirming the distance between the two sides. “It’s very difficult. We cannot give up on something that largely [works] for us, because if we do, we’ll have questions from the Public Prosecutor, from the Federal and State Audit Courts, from the Public Defender, from the unions … so if it basically works for us, either the individual will have to listen to me or I’ll have to get rid of him, because buying something that I already have will create problems,” she said.
If it basically works for us, either the individual will have to listen to me or I’ll have to get rid of him, because buying something that I already have will create problems
To ensure harmony and make negotiations easier, the representative of the Rio de Janeiro education department recommends that entrepreneurs carefully read the legislation governing government procurement processes, which falls under Law 8666. In addition, she says it is worth seeking out tenders with terms of reference similar to the product that is being offered and to understand contracts, so that possible risks can be anticipated.
Anna Helena Altenfelder, director of Cenpec, the Centro de Estudos e Pesquisas em Educação, Cultura e Ação Comunitária (Center for Studies and Research in Education, Culture and Community Action) spoke about some myths involving education, such as: all teaching practices are analogue and traditional; technological resources are a threat to teachers; and technology stimulates impersonality in relationships. Ana said that the main role of technology is to help change teaching practices, not replace copying from the blackboard by copying from a screen, as happened in one school where the institution installed a project.
To explain the point of view of the entrepreneur, Felipe Rezende, founder and CEO of EvoBooks, an interactive content platform, described his experiences in fundraising and his relationship with educators. First, he highlighted the importance of working with co-founders with different skills, including teachers – and not just specialists in management and technology.
“Having a teacher as a co-founder in the Edtech sector is becoming more common in the United States,” he said. When he created EvoBooks, Rezende did not have such a figure and “struggled a lot” because of it. In these situations, he explains, one must look at the vision of the business plan and assess the flexibility of the product in terms of being adapted for the reality of schools and teachers. “In 2013, we pivoted [a radical change in strategy] to improve pedagogically. I made a new business plan, raised more capital and hired 60 people from the education field.” As a result, Rezende estimates that today its platform has evolved to have a greater reach, ranging from analog books to interactive content involving virtual reality.
Later in the session, in an activity that brought the speakers together with groups of entrepreneurs, teachers and representatives of educational institutions, suggestions were made to improve the connection between public bodies and entrepreneurs. We list some of these below:
1) Map the problems and technological solutions of education departments
2) Define standards and the integration of solutions that support dialogue and the access of innovation to networks
3) Create a platform with a catalog of educational technologically based products for government
4) Create parameters for the evaluation and selection of digital solutions
Translated by James Young