We visited two schools today, representing opposite ends of the spectrum in the Brazilian education system. The first was a public school, Elefante Branco, White Elephants,strange name given the metaphorical significance.
What surprised me about Elefsnte Branco?
The students were so warm, friendly and happy. They were genuinely interested in us Americans, falling over one another to speak with us in a quite endearing manner. I also observed a spirit of collaboration among the students. In the classrooms we observed, they were all working together and getting along with one another, no one ostracized or left out of any activity. They all seemed so incredibly happy to be there and were present in the moment to one another. The boys greeted one another with handshakes, something I’ve rarely seen in the US.
I was taken aback at the lack of structure and supervision. As the students have three series, or sessions of school they can attend, there were always students hanging about, in the common areas and halls. There was some sort of science fair coming up and students were just wandering about the school working on their projects. There was also a dearth of resources, few computers, no projectors, smart boards, televisions, no art supplies in the art room, desks that looked like they were from the 1950s.
Both students and teachers wore jeans. One interesting fact is that the school principal is elected by the teachers, staff, parents and students for a three year term, after which he or she can run again.
Music is a huge part of the students’ lives. Many students carry guitars and were playing them in the halls and common areas and it was also in the classrooms we visited and the assembly. Oh yes, they had a school assembly for us!
Our afternoon was spent at Marista, a private Catholic school about 15-20 minutes away. The juxtaposition could not have been more pronounced. As far as facilities and resources, it was everything Elefante Branco was not. It had every possible technological and educational resource imaginable. There was even a coffee bar and a barista in the teacher’s lounge! Need I say more? Yet, our group was almost unanimous in noting how less friendly and preoccupied the students were and how sterile the environment.