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.
We spent the last two days learning about Brazilian culture and educational system. Today we went to the US Embassy and Ministry of Education. In spite of the fact that I am not able to transfer pictures from my camera to my iPad to post on the blog, I have been improvising by taking photos from my iPad. This seemed like a good idea, until it was almost confiscated at the US Embassy. Who would have thought no photographing allowed? They just made me delete them all, which was a relief. It seemed at first as if they were going to make me turn over the entire iPad!
Some interesting facts about Brazil and the educational system here in no particular order:
-1/2 of Brazilians report being descendants of slaves who were brought here to work on the sugar cane plantations.
-Brazil was the last country to abolish slavery in 1888.
-However, there was never any segregation laws imposed by the government.
-Sao Paulo(where I am headed in a couple days) has the largest Japanese population of anywhere outside of Japan.
-70% of Brazilians are Roman Catholic.
-In Brazil, it is spelled BRASIL.
-Brazil was under a military dictatorship from 1964-1984.
-The current president, Dilma Rousseff was tortured by the former dictator. She is Brazil’s first female president.
-Brazil has 27 political parties, four of them are major parties.
-Brazil bas a compulsory voting law that EVERYONE between the ages of 18 and 70 vote.
-Everyone in Brazil gets a thirty day vacation and an extra thirteenth month pay.
-Electronics are outrageously expensive. An iPhone 5G costs $1200.
-Children’s toys are also outrageously expensive. A Star Wars Lego set that would cost around $100 in the US costs $600.
-Many Brazilians fly to Miami to purchase electronics and other items.
-Brazilian schools have three sessions:7-12, 12-5, and 5-10. Students must attend one.
-The school year is February to December, with a month off in July.
-The teachers are grossly underpaid. They make $725 per month.Some work all three sessions to earn more money.
-Many teachers don’t have college degrees.
-Class sizes are usually 40-50 children, even in the lower grades.
-The children stay in one classroom, while the teachers float from room to room.
-Brazil has been making Herculean efforts to improve its educational system. It is one of the top priorities of the government. In the last five years, the education budget has more than quadrupled.
Tomorrow, we visit a couple of schools, so I’ll get to see it all first hand.
Brazil’s White House
A 1960s version of the future
We arrived n Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, yesterday afternoon after 24 hours of travel. We were greeted by our host Gina and guide Roberto and were treated to a quick tour of the city. What struck me immediately was the futuristic buildings, reminiscent of American architect Bucky Fuller, particularly the geodesic dome.
Like Washington, DC, it is a federal district. The city is remarkable for a number of reasons. Up until 1960, Rio de Janiero was the country’s capital and Brasilia was little more than a desert, with few people and scarce resources. Once the country’s new president, Juscelino Kubitschek, ordered its construction, it was built in 41 months. Its distinctive modernist architecture, designed by Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa, receives the most attention. From an aerial view, the layout of the city resembles a bird or airplane.
We visited two of the more interesting examples of its unique architecture, Cathedral Metropolitana (the city cathedral)and the National Congress of Brazil.
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