NGO empowers students with practical education in the exact sciences
BÁRBARA FERREIRA SANTOS - O ESTADO DE S. PAULO
AUGUST 25TH 2014
With the use of experiments, it is possible for high school teachers to make classes more appealing and discover talent.
Brazil has the most recent winner of the Nobel Prize of Mathematics, the Rio de Janeiro native Artur Avila Cordeiro de Melo, 35-years-old, who was chosen this month by the International Mathematical Union to receive the Fields Medal, the most significant prize of the field in the world. But the reality of K-12 basic education is far from the excellence achieved by Melo.
The country, for example, is 58th among 65 countries in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) Mathematics ranking. Concerned about Brazilian performance in the exact sciences, the American NGO Worldfund trains public school teachers in the state of São Paulo so they can teach high school content not only with theory, but also with practical experiments. By making the classes more attractive, the project intends to draw the students closer to those subject areas and, with that, discover potential talents who did not even know that they had a taste for the exact sciences.
The chosen step to improve student performance is to perfect the teachers’ lessons. For that, the NGO works with teachers of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Math.
Named STEM Brazil (STEM for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), the initiative of the NGO in Brazil started in 2009 and has since trained more than 1,700 teachers from public schools in Pernambuco, São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul. This year alone, it promotes the continuous training of teachers of 47 integral schools and pedagogic coordinators from 72 integral schools in the state of São Paulo. The investment estimate for 2014, made in partnership with corporations, approaches R$ 2,000,000. (US$ 885,000).
The initiative has already shown results: among the first 47 integral schools that joined the project last year in São Paulo, the schools that best integrated the activities proposed by the program showed an increase of up to 40% in the Math grades in the “Learning Process Assessment” applied by the state.
According to the Executive Director of Worldfund Brazil, Kelly Maurice, the proposed activities for teachers focus on the content required by the government curriculum as well as the content tested in the National High School Exam (ENEM). “The focus is on the necessary skills for the XXI century and for the job market; we link the content with real life and everyday issues.”
On average, in every cycle of the project, eight teacher trainers are hired to train their fellow educators on including practical activities in the classrooms. The initial activities the NGO proposes to the teachers are done with basic materials and are easy to complete. The trainers propose more complex projects based on the improved teacher performance.
Kelly explains that, with the project, the teachers who majored in their respective areas revive their excitement for their chosen field. “The passion for the field comes back and ends up being transmitted to the student.”
Mary Inez Galvão, a 56-year-old teacher, teaches physics at the “Escola Estadual de Ensino Medio Integrado Reverendo Tercio Moraes Pereira” in the eastern region of São Paulo called São Miguel Paulista, and has participated in the project since last year. She has added the activities she learned to her classes. “For example: The students are able to see the connection with historical concepts, and with Physics and Chemistry Theory”, she said.
Marcela Cristina Lages Ribeiro, a 16-years-old student in her second year of high school, tells us that she began to understand the exact science classes better and she improved her grades after attending the laboratory classes. “I didn’t think I had any math skills. The laboratory work is more fun because you see that it is not that difficult and you start to understand how the theory works in practice."
Talents. According to education experts, the earlier students are exposed to good science classes, the easier it will be to harness potential talent. In the opinion of Roseli de Deus Lopes, from the “Escola Politecnica da Universidade de Sao Paulo”, it is important to teach children at an early age how the scientific method works. “Sometimes the children have talent, but do not know it. If he do not have the opportunity to start experimenting, they might never find out”, she said.
The former dean of the University of São Paulo, Roberto Lobo, said the stimulation for these disciplines should be done earlier than high school. “It should be started in the fourth year of school, in a playful way, but using this kind of methodology. Creativity is always good at any time”, he said.
In the opinion of Rafael Lucchesi, director of “Educação e Tecnologia da Confedereção Nacional da Indústria”, the strengthening of teaching skills in these subject areas will guarantee the student’s functional knowledge, independent of the area they will pursue. “It is going to be a tool with which additional knowledge will be built”.
Click here the read the full, Portuguese language, article that appeared in São Paulo's Estado newspaper on August 25th, 2014.
Full English translation done by Worldfund staff.