What began as an informal chat soon became an insight into the situation in many Brazilian schools. Ana Clara Nunes,14, Arthur Rezende, 16, Cecília Azevedo, 16, Débora Pessoa, 18, and Derivaldo Jr., 19, opened Transformar 2017, the largest educational innovation event in Brazil, with descriptions of the reality of their school lives: a lack of laboratories and access to technology, schools that resemble prisons, and overheated classrooms with uncomfortable chairs. The event took place on May 4 in São Paulo (SP), and was organized by the Instituto Inspirare/Porvir, the Fundação Lemann and the Instituto Península. For the first time, students from the five regions of Brazil were invited to open proceedings.
The words of the students, however, made it clear that young people want more than just better infrastructure. They want 21st century learning connected with the world, practical activities, community interaction, and participation in school decision-making, as surveys such as the Nossa Escola em (Re)Construção (“Our School In (Re)Construction”) and Manifesto Voz do Jovem (“Voice of Youth Manifesto”), whose results the young people presented, show. At the end of the panel, they challenged listeners with the question “We are ready for change – what about you?”. It was the cue for the rest of the event, which included reports on successful classroom experiences both in Brazil and abroad, to begin. All the speakers shared the idea of making students the protagonists of their own learning, with a greater or lesser emphasis on the adoption of technology
This was evident from the words of Helen Walsh and Rachel Weiss, from the Seattle Public School Districts (USA), and of Willman Costa, from the Chico Anysio State School in Rio de Janeiro, who shared the stage during the “Developing 21st-century skills in schools” panel. In the US network, a program that promotes student self-knowledge has been established, resulting in personalized interventions by teachers to help young people deal with their emotions. In Rio, Willman Costa has used the students’ own knowledge to change assessments, which have adopted funk lyrics (“Who says school has to be difficult?”), and offers counseling sessions to alert youngsters about the dangers of drugs. “We’re not concerned with the Enem (the Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio, or National High School Exam), but in forming citizens. I always say that a genius who can’t relate to people will end up unemployed”. As a result of his work, the school has recorded zero truancy levels and more than half of its students have earned places at public universities.
Michael de Souza, principal of the design school Leadership Public Schools, in California, says that believing in students is essential if they are to become successful. “Innovations won’t work if we don’t believe that all our students are wonderful and capable of anything”. For the educator, who was the first of his family to go to university, one must value students’ self-esteem and constantly tell them that they can and should go to college. He says teachers and staff at his school seek to maintain a close relationship and dialogue with students.
Jill Lizier, a teacher at Swasey Central School in the state of New Hampshire, who took part in the “Prizes, games and portfolios: new ways of evaluating learning” panel, believes that is important to connect learning to real life. She showed how to create meaningful evaluations, which offer challenges to allow students to demonstrate their cognitive and socioeconomic abilities.
Involving students in practical activities is also the philosophy of High Tech High, a network of charter schools (public schools with private administration) located in California (USA). Tim McNamara, director of the Chula Vista unit and responsible for designing course projects in theatrical skits, journalism, poetry translation and game design, introduced a message to inspire those who are still taking their first steps in design methodology. “Whenever you can let the student take the lead, do it!” he said.
From the Green School, based in Bali, Indonesia, English, drama and yoga teacher Nicola Unite said that sustainable education is that which feeds the interior conscience. At Transformar, she divided the stage during the “Sustainable schools teaching sustainability” with principal Valnei Alexandre of the Erich Walter Heine State School in Rio de Janeiro, the first school in Latin America to receive a “green plaque”. “Educating with sustainability requires a model that analyzes the student in an integral form,” said Nicola.
Furthermore, the school success of students depends on the high expectations that teachers and principals have of them, said Nicholas Kim (read his interview with Porvir), executive director of the Tahoma unit of the Summit Public Schools network of charter schools, in California, during the final lecture of Transformar 2017. In a presentation that connected with the spirit of young people who see themselves as part of the solution rather than problems in education, Kim declared that: “If we give people autonomy to reach their goals, incredible things will happen”.