Preliminary Considerations about the Implementation of the School of the Future Program in Brazil

[In May 2006 2006 Microsoft organized, in its Headquarters in Redmond, WA, USA, the the Microsoft School of the Future (SOF) Quarterly Meeting/Briefing. Microsoft Brazil was represented there, with a delegation of four: Ana Teresa Ralston, Senior Academic Program Manager, Fernando Almeida, then President of the Lumiar Institute, Mônica Gardelli Franco, a vendor, and Eduardo Chaves, member of the International Advisory Board of Partners in Learning. The document below was written by Eduardo Chaves, on behalf of the Brazilian delegation, to express Brazil’s intention of participating in the School of the Future (SOF) program — later renamed Innovative Schools Program (ISP). A portion of this material that has to do with the “Mosaic” was incorporated into the article “Lumiar: The ‘Mosaic'”, which was just made available here.]

Despite the timing, just at the close of Fiscal Year 06 [May 2006], Microsoft Brazil brought a small delegation to participate in the Microsoft School of the Future (SOF) Quarterly Meeting/Briefing conducted in Redmond on May 22nd-23rd. This was done to reiterate Brazil’s interest in the program and to gather subsidies to submit a formal proposal.

I. The general context, as we see it

As we preliminarily see it, it is possible to divide the SOF Program in some basic components – some of which have been the object of “Discovery Briefs” by the Philadelphia project:

a) The idea of creating a “new school” for the 21st century, different from, and much better than, the schools we presently have, as an effectively learning environment for children that have been born and certainly are going to live, exercise their citizenship, work, and – why not – have more and more time for leisure in the global knowledge economy

b) “Methodologies for Strategic Planning”, that is, a set of concepts, principles and methods (tools) that are very important in the process of conceiving and planning the “new school” – this was the object of Discovery Brief 01

c) “Principles of IT Infrastructure Planning”, that is, a set of concepts and principles that are important in the process of planning the role that technology will have in the “new school” – this was the object of Discovery Brief 02

d) “Key Attributes of Architecture”, that is, a set of concepts and principles that should help planners and decision makers choose the best organization for the physical space of the “new school” – this was the object of Discovery Brief 03

e) “Strategic Leadership Selection”, that is, a set of concepts and principles that should help planners and decision makers choose the best personnel for the “new school”, especially its leadership – this was the object of Discovery Brief 04

As much as we consider important the last four items (the ones that were the object of the four Discovery Briefs), we felt that a “Discovery Brief” on the pedagogical concepts and principles that should help us organize the “new school” as an effective learning environment – something that involves much more than the material infrastructure of buildings and technology – is noticeably missing. And this is exactly the area which the Brazilian team considers the most critical success factor.

It was stated in one of the presentations that not everything can be critical. This means that, when resources are limited, we have to choose the most critical success factors and invest time, money and other resources in it.

This is what we intend to do, in the hope of creating a School of the Future in Brazil that will:

a) Be an important contribution, in terms of pedagogical model, for Brazil and also for the School of the Future program, especially for countries that do not have the financial resources to invest in expensive buildings (new or renovated) and in the most sophisticated technology infrastructure imaginable;

b) Make full use of the of the subsidies provided by Discovery Briefs 01-04;

c) Make this model easily transferable to the public school system of Brazil and, therefore, scalable.

We asked the organizers yesterday if it was possible that Philadelphia’s School of the Future, despite the amazing features of the physical and technological infrastructure of the new school, could, except for the pedagogical vision and commitment of those presently involved in the project, one day be the scenery of very traditional and conventional pedagogical practices. The answer was yes. We hope to reduce this chance by suggesting a pedagogical model that, in our view, seems to answer the hopes and desires that, for a long time, have been expressed in the educational community.

II. The challenge regarding the pedagogical model

A few years ago, as the new millennium approached, and as the global knowledge civilization gave evidence that it was here to stay, the whole world started worrying about the fact that our present schools, created to serve the needs of industrial civilization, were not preparing students to live their personal lives, exercise their citizenship, work and make fruitful use of their free time in the new reality that was emerging.

This concern often expressed itself in a call for defining a basic set of competencies and skills that would be required in the 21st century or in the new civilization and for changing schools so that they would adopt a new educational paradigm that would allow them to become effective learning environments for the development of these competencies and skills. Microsoft itself participated in more than one of many such efforts.

In Brazil, a new Constitution, approved in 1988, declared that education – and therefore schools – should form the person, the citizen and the worker. A new law providing frameworks and guidelines for the national system of education was approved in 1996. A whole set of binding “National Curriculum Parameters” emerged from 1997 through the early years of this century.

Although these documents came short of declaring traditional education illegal, they made it unequivocally clear that, in a society where information and communication technology was pervasive and, more and more, easily accessible, it made no sense for the schools to continue focusing on their traditional tasks of delivering information and what they called knowledge to the students. The documents proposed the notion that education – and therefore schools – should be effective learning environments where students could develop the competencies and skills they needed in order to live as individuals, citizens and workers in the 21st century. The documents also proposed that schools adopt project-based learning as their methodologies, and that they should pay great attention to the need of connecting what motivates children (and should therefore be the focus of their learning projects, with a “competency matrix” that outlines what children ought to learn – all of this in a flexible environment that takes very seriously the fact that children (as human beings in general) are different from another, have different natural talents, have different interests, and so schools should have curricula that shied away from the “one size fits all” model.

As one can imagine, these documents initially created an outcry in the educational community. Gradually, the “new pedagogical discourse” came to be accepted – but in theory, only, because practice continued very much what it had always been.

The main difficulty on the way of translating this new educational vision into effective pedagogical practice in the schools has been the lack of workable pedagogical models that show how this can be done.

One important contribution to this effect is being made in São Paulo by the Lumiar Institute: the Lumiar School. This is a private school with a public vocation. It brought together paying students from the upper middle classes and very poor students from the periphery who pay a symbolic monthly fee (less than 5 dollars). And the school is committed to being an open, democratic, flexible and very powerful and effective learning environment.

The members of the “Brazilian delegation” have been involved in this project, some from the very beginning. Prof. Fernando Almeida is the present president of the Lumiar Institute and Prof. Eduardo Chaves has been a consultant to the project even before the school opened its doors.

The project contains important contribution to what we could call “school governance” (instead of “school management”), but what interests us here is its “Mosaic” model of curricular organization, the main elements of which we will try to rapidly summarize here.

First, there is a “competency matrix” – an attempt to organize the competencies and related skills needed for living as an individual, a citizen, a worker, and a permanent learner in the 21st century.

Second, there is “project bank” – a database of learning projects to be developed by people from the community (business leaders, professionals, artists, workers of all sorts, housewives and househusbands, etc.) who have interesting competencies and skills that they can share with the students and are willing to donate their time, for short periods (from one to two weeks to two or three months) in helping interested students become involved with these competencies and skills. (These people are the so-called “masters” of the school. The database has presently more than 350 such projects, as well as the names and other features of the people who can coordinate them).

A series of “nodes” that link and connect, for each learning project, the competencies and skills it will most likely help students develop with the “competency matrix” — thereby creating a “mosaic”. [This task is to be performed by a group of permanent educators in the school, trained to do this work, who accompany and analyze the learning projects to identify in them the elements that are part of the “competency matrix”].

Third, a “learning portfolio”, that registers, for each student:

* An initial evaluation of their competencies and skills as they arrive in the school and begin each school year;

* The projects they have been involved in;

* Whether, and how well, they developed the competencies and skills that were linked and connected with each project in which they were involved;

* For students in higher grades, information on their life projects and the competencies and skills that life project requires.

[This “learning portfolio”, in way, relates “the pleasant” and “the useful”: beginning with what motivates student, and therefore leads them to engage in a given project, make the connection with what they ought to know. This task is also to be performed by the group of permanent educators in the school, who constantly evaluate how well the students are doing and how far they are progressing in relation to the “competency matrix”].

The “learning portfolio” also registers, for each student, its progress in the appropriation of what could be called “traditional curricular content” that is needed for the development of their learning projects: knowledge of their own language, of mathematics, of science, etc.

Although the school is convinced that there are competencies and skills that all students ought to develop (in communication and in interpersonal relations, for instance), it clearly allows, especially for older children, ample space for the pursuit of competencies and skills that could be qualified as more idiosyncratic – and that have to do with each child’s specific “life project”.

This is a very short summary of the pedagogical model.

To finish, a consideration about technology. All of this is being done mostly manually at the present. With a small number of students, this is not a major challenge. But it would clearly become impeditive in the case of applying the model to larger schools.

Therefore, the main technological challenge of our proposal is going to be to develop, with Microsoft technology, the technological infrastructure for this “Mosaic”.

Redmond, May 23, 2006

Eduardo Chaves

Transcribed in Salto (Brazil), on the 5th of October, 2007

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