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Teamwork Keeps Brazilian Children Learning During COVID-19

DENIS MIZNE

When COVID-19 forced school closures across Brazil, we quickly hit on four core priorities for our approach. For all of us around the world committed to education, it is good to take stock of these as we continue our responses, get ready for children’s return to school and plan for longer-term resilience:

  • Above all, we need to be collaborative. When aligned around shared priorities, strategy and division of labor, the work of the third sector, government, teachers and other players goes further, faster. It is also important to leverage news media as part of the partnership, making sure that information about resources for teaching and learning have a high profile.
  • We need to adjust the curriculum. In our response, we made it a priority to quickly trim down lessons. Content needs to be grounded in what can realistically be accomplished through distance learning. We can’t expect the complete curriculum to be covered. A revised curriculum should focus on the most critical elements for returning successfully to school.
  • We need a spectrum of delivery formats. We all know the Internet is a great way to teach. But we also know that its reach is limited. So, delivering lessons by broadcast and even print is critical. For our foundation, supporting broadcast initiatives has been a vital strategy. The crisis has taught us we need to do even more.
  • Consolidation of teaching and learning tools makes a difference. Just as we needed to respond quickly to the crisis, so did teachers and students. To do so, they had to find the right resources. Putting those resources all in one place made that easier and faster for them.

While there are many lessons to be learned and many factors that lead to success, these fundamentals helped us drive our response and will continue to do so. 

The learning crisis in Brazil

Almost 40 million children attend public schools in Brazil, an enrollment that is higher than the population of most of the world’s countries. Fully half already face learning poverty, which the World Bank defines as being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10. Unsurprisingly, most of the kids that suffer from this learning crisis are from historically marginalized communities — Afro-Brazilians, indigenous, rural, and poor.

Like most countries across the world, ours is grappling with the unprecedented dilemma of millions of children suddenly out of school at one time.

While it’s urgent everywhere to keep students learning, the stakes are even higher in countries like Brazil, where extreme inequality reigns.

A unified, focused response

Since the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in Brazil on February 25, 2020, we in the third sector and our partners began huddling together to reduce the immense harm we feared it would cause. The Lemann Foundation, which has been working to guarantee quality public education in Brazil for almost two decades, was fortunate to have partnerships in place.

The consortium has launched a variety of free high-quality learning and teaching tools:

  • Aprendendo Sempre (Always Learning) is the one-stop portal that consolidates all the materials structured by the consortium. It offers access to high-quality educational resources that had been previously scattered across various platforms. Bringing them all together helped many respond more quickly, making this an important underlying investment. There is content for both teachers and students.
  • Focus map gives teachers and other content creators a refined set of priorities. When students are learning remotely, we know they are not getting a full education. So, Focus Map emphasizes the core learnings most essential to pave the way for a successful return to school. They were created by Reuna Institute, one of the Lemann Foundation’s grantees.
  • AprendiZap provides lesson plans, content, and exercises directly through the most popular app in Brazil, WhatsApp. Leveraging the free messaging service for remote learning was critical because it offers unlimited minutes. This factor was crucial because while most Brazilians have access to an Internet-connected device, they do not have unlimited data plans. More than 60,000 students have already learned through the platform.
  • YoutubeEdu is being used to push out weekly video playlists that adhere to Brazil’s National Learning Standards. Curation ensures that the learning materials are aligned with the national curriculum.
  • Support for teachers is being provided by Nova Escola, one of Lemann Foundation grantees, through a partnership with Facebook. More than two million educators across Brazil now have access to free continuing education to help them leverage digital tools required for remote learning.

(The CEO of Lemann Foundation, Denis Mizne is a member of GPE’s External Experts Group for the development of GPE’s new Strategic Plan 2021-2025.)

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