Technology can help Brazil take a leap forward in education

It is almost impossible to reach the village of Oiteiro, in the interior of Pernambuco, without the indication of a person who knows the way. The 10 km dirt road that connects the community of 698 residents to the center of the municipality of Vitória de Santo Antão, 1 hour from Recife, has no signaling. The route also does not appear in the map applications and GPS. And the cellular signal stops working in the first few kilometers. Drivers are forced to drive slowly because of the holes. On rainy days, only trucks and heavy vehicles can beat the mud. In the morning and in the afternoon, it is common to see the movement of carts carrying lettuce, chives and other vegetables.

Most of the inhabitants are rural workers or farmers who produce in small gardens. Each foot of lettuce is usually sold for 8 cents. The farmer Daniele do Nascimento, 25, is one of the residents. She lives with her three children – 11, 9, and 6 – her mother, Celia, and a 10-year-old brother. Every day the children get up at dawn, help with the family garden and, shortly before 7 in the morning, cross the village to study in the only Oiteiro school, Manoel Domingos de Melo, which offers elementary education.

Rural life and low-quality infrastructure contrasts with what visitors find inside the school. At Manoel Domingos de Melo, all 153 students, from the 1st to the 5th year, take classes using tablets and a high-speed internet, at 40 megabits per second. In large Brazilian capitals, it is easy to contract a broadband equal or faster than this. But fast internet is still a rarity in Brazilian schools. Among urban schools – including private ones – only 7% have a similar connection.

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In rural areas, as in Manoel Domingos, having a fast connection is even more exceptional. This was only possible because the telephone operator Vivo and the telecommunications equipment manufacturer Qualcomm installed in 2016 a station of 4G cellular in the school. Based on statistics, experts estimate that it is the public school with the best internet connection per student in the country.

Victory of Santo Antão, a municipality of 111? 000 inhabitants, is a picture of the problems of public education in Brazil. The city hall depends on federal government transfers, and the entire Education Secretariat budget of 8 million reais per year is used to pay the salaries of teachers and employees, according to Secretary Jarbas Dourado. The result is that there are no resources to purchase equipment. Of the 63 municipal schools, which have 17,000 students, only 15 have computer labs, and the connection speed is only 2 Mbps in most of them. The situation is similar in most Brazilian schools. Without adequate infrastructure, teachers are tied. There is no way to promote activities with students using the internet, applications and computers.

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In a pioneering survey of 4,000 public school teachers about the use of technology in the classroom in Brazil by the NGO Todos Pela Educação in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank, most educators point out that their schools do not have enough equipment . The speed of the internet is also not adequate, computers are outdated or defective and lacking digital pedagogical materials. Of the teachers, 45 percent said they would use the technology more often if there was a better structure, even if that increased the workload (already 54 percent said they would only use the technology more if the workload did not increase).

“The teacher has to be the central element of any public policy to bring technology to schools. If he realizes that the infrastructure is not adequate or that technology will not make his work easier, he will not use the tools, “says Olavo Nogueira Filho, manager of educational policies at Todos Para la Educación. Maria Helena Guimarães de Castro, executive secretary of the Ministry of Education, acknowledges the situation. “Often, teachers take training courses but do not have connectivity at school. Continuing teacher education programs have to go hand in hand with improved access to technology, “says the executive secretary. The federal government is preparing a program to expand internet access in elementary schools, set to be launched later this year.

Manoel Domingos de Melo may seem like an isolated case of a small school that once had a poor infrastructure, but for that reason, it is clearer to observe the gain for students when the technology becomes available in the classroom. The EXAME report witnessed how students are most encouraged and amused when they do chores with tablets – appliances can also be taken home to solve the lessons.

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Teachers encourage children to do their own research and work in groups. Professor Vilma Nascimento Silva, who teaches Portuguese for the 4th year, recently proposed a paper on the inappropriate disposal of garbage. The children left with the tablets filming and photographing the garbage thrown in the streets of the village and made a documentary of 5 minutes, published in the internet. It was not only the pedagogical activities that became more stimulating. Learning has also improved.

Although the school is still below the Pernambuco average, the mathematics and Portuguese proficiency indexes, as measured by the Saepe state assessment, have advanced at a rate never seen in school. In mathematics, the grade rose from 154 in 2015 to 175 in 2016. In Portuguese, it went from 144 to 170 (the scale goes up to 500, and grades above 210 are considered desirable). It can not be said that only the use of technology was responsible for progress. Work was also carried out on teacher training and pedagogical reorientation, coordinated by the Center for Advanced Studies and Systems in Recife. But the results show that school is on track.

It is not easy to pinpoint the effect of technology on learning. Over the last few decades, research in developed countries and in Latin America has not been able to find a cause and effect relationship between the use of technology and better educational performance. In 2013, New Zealander researcher John Hattie, an expert on the subject, analyzed 81 studies on the effect of computer use in classrooms. The conclusion is that the learning level is neither higher nor lower than with other teaching methods. In a paper led by economist Diether Beuermann of the University of Chicago, 1? 000 elementary students in Peru were selected to receive a laptop to use at school and at home. Five months later, math and reading tests showed no difference compared to students who did not receive the computers.

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In some cases, the technology may even hurt. A recent survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), based on data from Pisa – the leading global school test – found that students who make more frequent use of computers at school end up doing worse on reading tests than those who do not use the equipment. The ones that do best are those that use computers in a moderate way. “We still do not have a pedagogy prepared to make good use of technology. This is the missing link, “says Andreas Schleicher, director of education at the OECD

Another hypothesis is that the positive side of technology is not appearing in educational tests. With Internet access, students learn to seek information, to take initiative, to work in groups, to develop logical reasoning and to acquire knowledge beyond what is given in class. They are essential skills for today’s society. Rosa Maria Stalivieri, director of the Zeferino Lopes de Castro municipal school in Viamão, Rio Grande do Sul, felt this difference in her 150 students. In 2013, the school received 100 netbooks from Fundação Telefônica.

From then on, a reformulation was made in the pedagogical model. It is common today for students to use robotic kits in the classroom. “Children are more critical, have a more reasoned logical reasoning and speak more easily about the subjects they study,” says the director.

At the Campos Salles municipal school, which is located in the community of Heliópolis, in São Paulo, and is considered one of the most innovative in the country, pedagogical change came before technology. Inspired by a successful experience in Portugal, management decided to try out a new way of teaching. All the students of each series began to study in the same hall. They work in groups of up to four students, doing the study routes proposed by the teachers. Each group defines at the beginning of the day which scripts it will do.

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Teachers – three per classroom – act as mentors and mentors, taking the children’s doubts out. Students can also do research on the internet using the school’s 200 notebooks. There is no proof. And each student’s grades are set on a board of teachers and students at the end of the two-month period, according to each student’s performance and effort. “Since the project was implemented, the school has been meeting or exceeding the goals of the Basic Education Development Index,” says Daniela Zaneratto Rosa, pedagogical coordinator, referring to the evaluation of the MEC known as Ideb.

The experiences of schools show that technology is fundamental for the training of students, but it is only used when it complements the work of the teacher. It is always desirable to have the best computers and the best connection in school, but success continues to depend more on the presence of trained teachers to stimulate learning – using the blackboard, tablets, or both.

Whether through cell phone, computer or satellite TV, the different technologies are already part of the daily life of students and teachers of any school. However, making these tools actually help the teaching and production of knowledge in the classroom is no easy task: it requires teacher training. The evaluation is by Guilherme Canela Godoi, coordinator of communication and information in Brazil of Unesco, UN arm dedicated to science and education. “We have not yet been able to massively develop methodologies so that teachers can make use of this broad range of information and communication technologies that could be useful in the educational environment.” The challenge is worldwide. But it may be even more severe in Brazil, due to possible gaps in teacher training and updating, and the limitations of Internet access – a problem that affects teachers and students. In the following interview, Godoi discusses the challenges that teachers, parents and nations will face to take advantage of the combination technology and education.

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What is the extent of the use of new technologies in Brazilian schools?

Unfortunately, there is no reliable data to establish whether the technologies are used in Brazilian schools. Educational censuses carried out by the National Institute of Educational Studies and Research (Inep) show that most public schools already have at their disposal a series of technologies. However, the presence of these tools does not necessarily mean adequate use of them. What we do note is that we have not yet been able to massively develop methodologies so that teachers can make use of this wide range of information and communication technologies that could be useful in the educational environment.

What should public policy be to encourage classroom technologies?

They need to have a fundamental component of teacher training and updating, so that technology is actually incorporated into the school curriculum, not just seen as an accessory or marginal device. One has to think how to incorporate it in the day to day of the education of definitive way. Then, we must take into account the construction of innovative content, which uses the full potential of these technologies. It is not enough to use the technological resources to project the equation “2 + 2 = 4” on a screen. You can write this on the blackboard with chalk. The question is how to teach mathematics in a way that is only possible through new technologies because they provide possibilities for building knowledge that blackboard and chalk do not allow. Finally, we need to be concerned with evaluating the results to see if these policies do indeed make a difference.

Are new technologies already part of teacher education?

Much progress still needs to be made. The available data show that, unfortunately, teacher training is still very incipient with the perspective of creating skills in the use of technologies in school. With regard to continuing education, that is, to updating those professionals who are already in service, we seem to have a little more concrete progress. There are a number of programs available that offer resources to them.

For students, what is the impact of living with teachers set with new technologies?

The most robust assessments in this regard are taking place within the framework of the European Union. They show that the introduction of technology in schools combined with trained teachers has made a difference in some areas, for example increasing the communicative potential of students.

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Do relationships within the classroom change with the arrival of technology?

What has happened – and I think this is positive, if well used – is that the teacher-student power relationship gains a new momentum with the incorporation of new technologies. This is because students have a great deal of familiarity with these novelties and can fit into the classroom environment in a very different way. Thus, the relation with the teacher becomes less authoritarian and more collaborative in the construction of knowledge.

It is common to imagine that in countries with a high educational level the integration of new technologies happens more quickly. In developing countries, such as Brazil, where the teacher often has a deficient education, the incorporation is slower. Is this thought correct?

Big issues on the subject are not just for developing countries. This is the case, for example, with discussions about how to best use technology and how to train teachers. The whole world discusses these issues, because these new converging tools are a recent phenomenon. However, it is also correct to think that nations where people are most connected and have more access to devices should adopt technology in the classroom more widely and productively. Another phenomenon detected worldwide is the so-called “generational gap“, that is, teachers were not born digitalized, while their students, yes.

Do you see any kind of resistance in Brazilian schools to the incorporation of technology?

I do not believe there is resistance in the sense that the teacher believes that technology is evil, but in the sense that he does not know how to use the novelties. It’s not about knowing or not using a computer. That’s the least of the problems. The question at stake is how to use equipment and technological resources for the benefit of education, for pedagogical purposes. This is the cat’s leap.

What are the steps to overcome teacher shortage?

Unesco has synthesized in books its supporting material, called Standards of Competences in Information Technology and Communication for Teachers. There, we divide learning into three great pillars. The first is technological literacy, that is, we teach how to use machines. The second is the deepening of knowledge. The third pillar is called knowledge creation. It refers to a situation where technologies are so embedded by teachers and students that they begin to produce knowledge from them. This is the case of social networks. It is important to remember that this process is not trivial, it must be inserted in the logic of teacher training. One should not think that simply distributing equipment solves the problem.