From the outside, the colored frontage and design of the building catch the eye. But what most grabs the attention of those who visit the Escola Técnica Estadual Cícero Dias (the Cicero Dias State Technical School)/NAVE (Núcleo Avançado em Educação or Advanced Education Center) in Recife in the state of Pernambuco are the activities of the students.
With the friendly welcome of good hosts, the pupils describe their projects and talk enthusiastically about the routine of the school, which is a little different from that of other institutions. First of all, there is the full-time timetable, which runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., but which according to the students, is far from “slow.” “The day goes by so quickly. When I look up at the clock it’s already time to go,” says Maria Beatriz de Lima Santos, 16, a first-year high school student.
Interspersed between a Portuguese or a math or science class are time slots to study programming, photography, animation, design and many other technical subjects. “It’s different, because it means the day isn’t monotonous. There are no periods with just regular classes or just technical classes. Everything is mixed together to avoid boredom,” says Maria Beatriz, who has chosen to study the game programming course.
A school that turns students into authors
The school, which opened in 2006 through a public-private partnership with the Instituto Oi Futuro, began with the mission of adopting new methodologies for high school education, dialoguing with digital culture and the challenges of the twenty first century.
In the second year of high school and the head of the school’s student council, Isabela Vasconcelos, 16, is proud of the projects she has already created. “I never imagined that I could produce anything. Now I make animations, games and I’m even competing,” says the student, who studies multimedia techniques. Alongside her classmates, she produced the animated film “Menecas”, which deals with gender issues. The film will be shown at Anima Mundi Festival and was selected for competitive screening at the Festival Pequeno Cineasta (the Little Filmmaker Festival).
“We are always producing things. We try not just to remain in one world, but to put into practice everything we learn. I’m sure I learn more that way,” says Isabela, who declares she has more affinity with humanities subjects, such as arts, Portuguese and history. And although she doesn’t like physics as much, she says that she became more interested in the subject when she had to produce a video and a humorous version of a song.
Through hands-on activities, which often go beyond the technical limits of a subject, students say they feel motivated to learn core curriculum content. One example of this is Anderson Laurentino, 15. A first year student, he is programming a game based on Brazilian culture. “It was interesting because the game uses elements of stories from subjects that I don’t like, like history and philosophy,” recalls Anderson, who says he has improved his performance in history as a result.
Integration between core curriculum content and technical subjects
Anyone listening to these stories might think that integration between regular and technical subjects is a simple task. But connecting the two remains a daily challenge for everyone involved. “Often, we think that it looks like two different schools,” observes biology professor José Pedro de Souza.
Although the subjects are distributed across the timetable, he says he tries to find ways to work with content in an integrated manner. “I come to them and I say: here are my silly classes, with PowerPoint and Excel. With the content you have learnt, you should use the tools and instruments from the course to make games and applications that have more to do with you. And they accepted the challenge,” says José Pedro.
In order to facilitate this integration, NAVE teachers have a lighter teaching timetable than other public school educators. This frees up time each week so they can investigate themes that are part of the daily life of the school, such as the use of technology, management practices and interdimensional education. The teachers also try to construct methodologies that can be replicated elsewhere. “Every year we publish articles and research, always extracting what we can from our experiences,” says Luiz Araújo, pedagogical coordinator of the technical course and member of the team at CESAR (Centro de Estudos Avançados do Recife, or Center for Advanced Studies of Recife), a private innovation institute that is responsible for the vocational training of young people from NAVE.
Luiz recalls how on the same day that he started working at NAVE in 2010, the school received an on-site visit for the approval of the integrated technical course and high school curriculum. “When I got here, we did not have a technical training model in game development for young people. We had lots of ideas, but they still needed to be tested. We try to bring various approaches, methodologies, techniques and processes that are used in the workplace, but always contextualized with the proposals of the school,” he explains.
In contrast to the workplace, however, in applying practical skills to an educational environment, programming and design teacher Maurício Taumaturgo explains that, at NAVE, the assessment of student’s work is not in the final product, but in the journey they undertake to achieve their chosen result. “The workplace rewards quality and has the expectation that in the end the project will be completed. Here we are more interested in the process.”
When he was 23, Maurício returned to the school where he had been a student between 2008 and 2010. For him, working at NAVE is a different experience. “It was gratifying to see that the school continues to change the lives of other students, just as it changed mine. When I graduated, I was left with a sense of belonging to the school and a desire to give back what I had learned over the three-year course,” he says. Because of his experience, he was hired to work at CESAR shortly after finishing high school.
Hands-on learning for everyone
In a summary of the major changes that have taken place at the school since he studied there, Maurício says that implementing the technical curriculum across the entire school has facilitated project development. When he was a student, not every class studied professional disciplines. “While I had programming classes, the other students continued with Portuguese and math classes,” he recalls.
As the school has changed to allow other students to have contact with new subjects, now everyone can experiment, develop skills and discover their potential, like Maurício himself did. He might have followed a military career like his brother had he not discovered an aptitude for technology.
This is not to say that students’ choices are limited to the digital world. Despite studying programming, his learning activities at NAVE stirred a passion for biology in second year student Vinicius Breno, 17. “This idea is really important here, that you have to produce what you’re really interested in. They’re very interested in the autonomy of young people. You develop yourself, doing the things you want to do. The teachers only help to guide you on the right path,” says Vinicius, who dreams of being a teacher and doing his teaching practice at the school – and perhaps being hired to work there after that.
Impact on human development
Valuing students’ choices and autonomy is one of the pillars of the school, which, even with its focus on digital culture, has not lost sight of the importance of a wider education. “They leave here very well-trained citizens, both in terms of work and for applying the techniques they learned during the course, as well as their development as people,” emphasizes school principal Aldineide de Queiroz.
While students apply hands on techniques to produce games, animation, illustrations and even media projects, they are also encouraged to develop skills such as respect, collaboration and responsibility. Learning to work as a team is also key. “When they have to work in teams they don’t just work in groups that they choose or with people that they have affinity,” explains the principal.
The distribution of groups occurs through a computer system that also considers the main skills of each student, identified through daily observations and an evaluation that takes place when they join the school. Just like in the workplace, students work with colleagues who have different skills, and help bring new perspectives to the project. Those who are good at programming work together with those who have more difficulty in that area, but have a more design-oriented outlook, for example.
“Learning to work as a team is one of the most important elements of the school,” says former student Guthemberg Silva, 22, who graduated in 2011. A recent graduate in design from the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (the Federal University of Pernambuco), he believes that this experience has made a difference in his academic and professional life. “I realized in college that people have difficulty working as a team, they just want to work with a certain group. There [at NAVE], we learnt to be more flexible.”
Soon after finishing high school, Guthemberg was chosen for a highly sought after position at CESAR, where he currently works as a systems technician. “At CESAR we hire a lot of people from there because they are really good young people. They have a very different perspective,” says Aldreycka Albuquerque, business manager of the private innovation center. And this reputation also helps fill the institution’s auditorium when NAVE students present their projects to professionals in the area. “Everyone here wants to hear them talking. They really are a working team, sometimes better than some of the ones we know,” adds Marie Neves, manager of educational operations at CESAR.
The results of this training are not only visible in the job market. The school has also excelled in external evaluations, achieving first place among technical colleges in the Enem (National High School Examination) table and good positions in the Idepe (Education Development Index of Pernambuco) ranking. In 2013, NAVE was recognized internationally by Microsoft in a list of innovative schools from around the world.
For Roan Saraiva Lima, media education coordinator at NAVE, the high marks and accolades are also the result of the identification the students have with the institution. “They feel very comfortable here and have the freedom to use all the spaces [science labs, programming and design rooms, audiovisual production studio, among others],” the former student says.
NAVE students have also achieved prominence at festivals and competitions. In 2015, five students went to California to participate in the final of the Technovation programming championship. Their app, The Last Drop, was the result of a problem they identified together at school. “We wanted to take part in a girls’ competition and noticed that many of the participants suffered from a shortage of water at home. So we decided to create this app to solve the problem,” says Leonor Monteiro, 17, who is currently in the first year of engineering at the Faculdade dos Guararapes (Guararapes University).
Like the project developed by Leonor’s team, every year other students explore new resources and produce creative solutions to solve problems in their environment. “You create meaning in fields of knowledge through the curiosity of young people. The motivation doesn’t come from less interesting goals, such as grades,” observes the co-founder of the Joy Street company from Pernambuco, Luciano Meira, who accompanied the design of the NAVE technical courses when he was part of CESAR’s innovation project team.
* Translated by James Young