Brazil, where contrasts enable true community of destiny

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Dear Mirror Networkers,

Brazil was a transformational experience.

I enjoyed the talking walls – all covered by street art and statements -, I felt tiny in the gigantic cities, I samba-ed, I found ways to get meetings with the ever busy Brazilians, I was both shocked and amazed by the contrasted nation. I understood that all great changes come from actual people behind any kind of organization and that scale and prejudice are the enemies of social innovation. I got the feeling to be at a turning point, not only of this trip, but also of my life. How will I make it matter?

That was Brazil’s key lesson: we get to choose what matters.

Brazil intrigued me and I was curious to learn more about certain educational programs such as the democratic schools, CDI and digital literacy or Envisioning and its prospective work. I felt the urge to meet the contrasted giant. It took me some time, and some amazing people, to feel comfortable. Day after day, through fascinating conversations, I discovered the cleavage between the rich and the poor, the incredible natural diversity, the numerous cultures and traditions, the gaps between the state of things and the dreams of many, all of these differences impacting education.

Education is one of the key issues in Brazil as the world could see during the latest protests in June. Degrees are viewed as the main condition to any social uplift. Businessmen understood this a while ago and turned the system into a juicy mass market while he public system deteriorates. Public schools are heavily criticized and every family tries to find the most strategic balance between free education and private schools to make sure their children get into the right university. You can go to public school until the end of middle school, than attend a private high school that will enable you to access the best university program, which is generally public. Welcome to the educational jungle.

Indeed, the public educational system and decadent and corrupted. A local politician was schedule to visit a school so the director made sure that the abandoned school’s garden looked nice overnight by buying salads from the supermarket and placing them on the dry soil. The same happened with computers; about twenty of them were delivered to a classroom for an official visit and taken away right after the media show was over. Some classrooms do not even have roofs… On the other hand, private groups sell education as if it was any kind of regular product and display sales numbers on their corporate websites without really thinking about the humane side of things.

Education in Brazil is a game to play with unfair rules. Racism, poverty, crazy grading system forcing students choose their study path at 15, etc. School incarnates all the contrasts of the Brazilian society and therefore became an amazing playground for true innovation and ground braking change.

Recently, the “descolarizacion movement” has grown bigger with more and more parents taking their children out of school. A self-made doctoral program was just launched a couple of months ago by a dynamic group of university students too disappointed by the gap between their university curriculum and the actual world. For two decades now, democratic schools have been spreading with some iconic models such as Ancora or Politeia. In these schools, children decide what they want to learn, when and how. They work on projects with their peers and adults accompany them as mentors. Students validate all the national objectives but are completely free to build their own very personal learning path. One kid for example who got depressed and qualified as “stupid” in a regular public school now finds himself building a robot that can help him and others learn… Many new players in Brazil pay attention to and encourage such real human empowerment: the Media Education Lab tests creative projects in classrooms, Geekie changes the way educational content is delivered, FazInova shows how everybody can become an entrepreneur of their own lives, Cesar proves that consulting firms can lead social change and make a difference when it comes to the skills’ gap, etc. In Brazil, education is being revamped from the ground. Technology is perceived as a tool and is key when it comes to scale but it is people who take the responsibility to change things, for people. They not only question learning but also the way we work: Laboriosa takes coworking to coliving and House of Works offers a very productive model of destructured project management and alternative team building.

Brazil paves the way of pedagogical innovation not by caring about specifics, as I saw in other countries, but by having a systemic approach and slowly trying and incarnating the concept of learning communities. Many actors interact – NGOs, foundations, investors, companies, civil servants, startups – and are forced to both step back to envisage ways to scale up their proposals, and to take a very close look at how people really consume education as it is somehow a very humane country. This whole process results in an intense and not structured dialogue between the different players that actually enables conversations to move forward to actions. Stakes are big, so is the world. Maybe the Brazilian model could be an amazing lab for us to analyze how change could and should be nurtured and oriented more globally?

The process is organic, business and technology are actively part of it while some make sure they do not become “IT”, the conversation doesn’t exclude public and non-profit partners, human empowerment is central to innovative approaches and they are always systemic, people are considered, but never alone.

The question now lies in the processes and tools to make this whole dynamic function.

Mirror Network, which for now is a flying benchmark and community in construction, could be the perfect place for us all to discuss and suggest new ways for learning communities to develop, grow and function as they appear to be the future of education.

This weekend I enjoyed Rio’s lights, sand, and cocktails. I conversed in epic sceneries and almost reached the sky on top of the Corcovado. We too often forget how happiness is so simple; maybe it works the same way with the educational problems that we are all trying to solve, maybe we should make it simple. Of course it only works when the simplicity is shared!

Off to Buenos Aires now and I will continue exploring Latin America surprising and buzzing learning systems.

From beijos to abrazos,

Léa