The School of the Future and the Future of Schooling

 

[This article was written by me (Eduardo Chaves) in June 2006. It is not specifically about the Lumiar School project, but it helps clarify the issues involved in the project.]

Content

1. Microsoft’s School of the Future Program

II. The Future of Schooling in Large, Diversified Emerging Countries

1. "The Six I’s Model"

2. A Blueprint versus a Compass, Maps and Travel Guides

3. The School we Have versus The School we Want to Have

A. The Need to "Reconceptualize" Education

B. The Need to "Reconceptualize" Learning

C. The Need to “Reconceptualize” Schooling

D. The School of the Future


1. Microsoft’s School of the Future Program

Microsoft invested considerable financial, material and human resources in the project School of the Future (SOF) in Philadelphia. After several years, it looks as if we will, finally, be able to see the results of that investment.

Microsoft seems also quite willing to invest more resources in launching a worldwide School of the Future program (the name may still change before the initiative is officially launched) — to be deployed in at least twenty sites in different regions of the world, several of which in emerging countries.

Ironically, if this program is to succeed, the first requirement is to "de-philadelphia-lize" it…

I will explain what I mean.

If we are going to take seriously Alvin Toffler’s ideas that:

* civilizations should be understood in very "macro" terms,

* the world, up to the mid-fifties in the United States, had lived through only two "macro-civilizations", the agrarian and the industrial one,

* the world is only now beginning, in a more generalized manner, its inroad into the third, the information- or knowledge-based civilization,

* then it is necessary to recognize that in many parts of the worlds these three civilizations, that Toffler calls "waves", in fact coexist, side by side, within one single country.

My own country, Brazil, is an example of that. My state, São Paulo, takes prides in being the “locomotive” that pulls the country ahead. Not too long ago, in the beginning of the twentieth century, this locomotive ran on agriculture — mostly coffee. By the time the United States was beginning to enter the third wave, in 1955, São Paulo was beginning to enter its second wave (starting its automotive industry, and so bringing Brazil into age of industry). Now that São Paulo has clearly embarked on the third wave, developing or emerging states in Brazil scramble to get a piece of what is left of the second wave. At the same time, Brazil’s most radical and violent social movement, the Movement of the Landless (Movimento dos Sem Terra), has as its main flag the need (as they see it) to get the Brazilian poor a piece of land, so they can settle in it, cultivate it, and thus enter (! sic) the first wave…

What is the School of the Future supposed to be like in Brazil?

The model of the School of the Future that is adequate for Philadelphia may be — I insist: MAY BE — adequate for the most developed regions of the State of São Paulo (like my own city, Campinas, considered by many to be "The Silicon Valley" of Brazil). But even of that I am not sure (see below, the discussion of Scharffenberger’s and Negroponte’s insights). But of one things I am sure: that model is not be adequate for regions that are struggling to leave the first wave and benefit from what is left from industrial civilization. Much less for regions that are still heavily dependent on traditional agricultural methods, not much affected by automation, and so are clearly in the first wave.

What I am saying about Brazil probably applies to other countries. Toffler’s latest book, released just a few weeks ago, Revolutionary Wealth, makes much of China’s "twin track" strategy of development: enter the second and the third wave simultaneously. But this fact only underlines the fact that a large part of the Chinese territory is still in the first wave. The same with India. The same (probably less so) with Russia.

So much for The School of the Future in the BRIC countries…

In what follows I will try to outline some considerations about how I see the future of schooling — and consequently the School of the Future — in countries like Brazil, in the hope that what I say will also apply to Russia, India, China, and, perhaps, to several other countries struggling to enter the information- or knowledge-based era while still facing some very typical second- and even first-wave challenges.

II. The Future of Schooling in Large, Diversified Emerging Countries

The School of the Future project of Philadelphia has taught us some importance lessons and produced an interesting methodology.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from the Philadelphia project is that no School of the Future project, not even in a developed, third-wave region, can be technology-led. If Microsoft hoped to help create in Philadelphia a model school that would showcase its state-of-the-art technology, these hopes had to be rapidly shelved (at least temporarily) in favor of more down-to-earth goals and solutions. Creating (sic: Philadelphia’s School of the Future is being created from scratch) a school that will serve as a reference for the 21st-century information- and knowledge-based civilization, requires some carefully developed methodological tools.

1. "The Six I’s Model"

One such methodological tool that emerged from the Philadelphia project was "The Six I’s Model":

* Introspection

* Investigation

* Inclusion

* Innovation

* Implementation

* Introspection (again)

In what follows I will give my own rendition of how this models is supposed to work…

INTROSPECTION

In the beginning of any process of change — and creating a new kind of school is a huge process of change — lies introspection. Where are we with regard to our present schools? Are we satisfied with them? Are they doing the job they were supposed to do? Better than that: are they doing the job we would like them to do in present — and profoundly changed — (social, economic, cultural) conditions? No change process will ever get started if our answer is "yes" to these questions.

This shows us that a change process must begin with introspection — but will only be really put in place if the result of our introspection is dissatisfaction (should we say "insatisfaction" to stick with the "i’s"?) with present conditions. Change is something difficult to achieve — even on a personal level (think of a diet, or of quitting smoking). Our only hope of achieving is if we are profoundly dissatisfied with present conditions.

INVESTIGATION

The second step is investigation. What is out there? What are the alternatives? What could we be doing with our schools that is different from — and better than — what we presently do? If we embark on a large-scale change process, what are our possible destinations? To answer these questions we need to investigate, see what is being done in other places: What has succeeded and what has failed? What are the critical factors of success? What are the main obstacles and constraints? Some of this investigation can be done through reading. But some of it will have to be field work.

INCLUSION

Once we investigate as well as possible the alternatives, it is time to reflect on what we found out. But this reflection cannot — ought not — be done only by teachers or educators. Other stakeholders have to be brought in, especially parents, the community, business people, persons involved in not-for-profit organizations, important government leaders… In fact, everybody has a stake in education. Education, of which schooling is the institutional face, is too important an undertaking to be left to teachers and educators. (In this phase we need to be as inclusive as possible. I almost added: but, please, leave unions out – but I don’t want to limit inclusiveness, and so be more controversial than I need).

The broad group of stakeholders will need to look at all the results of the investigation, bring in their own experience, and try to define a common, shared vision. Inclusion is, so to say, the process — a common, shared vision, the product of this phase.

INNOVATION

The vision we reach must be innovative — or the whole exercise may not be worth the effort.

It is important to recognize that change, as such, need not be innovative. There is change that has, as its only goal, to allow things to remain the same. There is change that is piecemeal, incremental, consisting of small fixes (often techno-fixes) that try to guarantee that we do not seek more radical change. This sort of small, gradual, incremental change has been described by some as the main goal of reform. When we reform things we maintain their form — only improve it a little bit. But if we are to believe what some people are saying — and trust our basic intuition — what we need in relation to our present schools, especially in emerging countries, is more than reform that preserves present form: it is innovation that leads to transformation, that is, to transcending present form.

Please note that we are not speaking necessarily of technology here — but technology, and the changes it has helped bring to society, looms large in the background.

George Thomas Scharffenberger, who used to head the NGO WordLinks, associated with the World Bank, once said that technology can be brought into schools with three different goals in mind (that he described as the three "s’s"…):

* Sustain what is already being done there

* Supplement what is being done there

* Subvert what is being done there

When technology is brought into the school with the first goal in mind, technology becomes a conservative force.

When technology is brought into the school with the second goal in mind, technology becomes a reformative force.

When technology is brought into the school with the third goal in mind, technology becomes an innovative, transformative force.

The choice, is ours. What is it going to be? I have no doubt about what the answer ought to be for emerging countries.

Nicholas Negroponte uses to say that the degree of radical innovation that we are willing to accept for our schools in different countries is likely to be inversely proportional to the perceived quality of the school system of these countries.

Countries that perceive their school system as very good will not be willing to change it, much less engage in processes of radical, innovative, transformative change: what for? the system works well, we only need, perhaps, to "tweak" it, to "fine tune" it. They are conservative.

Countries that perceive their school system as average, or fairly decent, will be willing to change it — but only piecemeal, bit by bit, gradually, incrementally, in order to improve it while retaining the positive aspects it has already developed. They are reformative.

Countries that perceive their school system as bad, however, will be willing to subject it to radical, innovative, transformative change — change that will go beyond present form and try somehow to reinvent schooling. They are innovative, transformative. Perhaps, revolutionary.

Negroponte makes a daring bet: the most radical uses of technology in school may come, not from developed countries, but from countries where the school system is so bad that people will dare much more in the hope of transforming it — where people will be willing to use technology to "subvert" school’s present form (if I may mix Scharffenberger’s and Negroponte’s insights) and replace it with something else that, perhaps, still has to be invented. That is what is meant by “reinventing the school” – a concept people in developed countries even have difficulty to understand…

Is it evident, now, why innovation is not necessarily a question of bringing technology into schools — even if we acknowledge that, today, no worthwhile process of school change can ignore technology? Before we bring technology into schools, we must decide what the purpose of technology in the school is: to sustain, supplement or subvert what is presently being done there?

But I said we cannot ignore technology even as we are discussing this. This means, however, that we must not simply choose which technology should be brought into the school, but also take VERY seriously the technology that children and adolescents will be using outside the school (videogames, cell phones, mp3 players, digital cameras, instant messengers, e-mail, blogs, discussion groups, etc.). Technology can be a powerful learning tool for children exactly because, for them, technology is a toy, not a tool…

IMPLEMENTATION

This is the stage where vision ("dreams") must become reality. This is the phase where we have to worry about resources (financial, material and, of course, human), about managing the process of change, guaranteeing that "first fruits" appear soon enough to forestall discouragement… This is the phase of execution. The previous phases are certainly more charming — but without this one, all the previous work will become just the chronicle of what was once a dream…

INTROSPECTION

Once the process is implemented it is time to rest and enjoy the work well done? NO! It is time to start all over again… to check if the changes produced are bringing about the results that we aimed for… Introspection again.

o O o

This "Six I’s Model" is a very important contribution of the Philadelphia project. I have added a lot of my own views to its description here — because I wanted to show that this very model may be a powerful instrument to justify my contention that, if Microsoft’s worldwide School of the Future program is to succeed, the first requirement is to "de-philadelphia-lize" it… But the tool to de-philadelphia-lize it was produced within the Philadelphia project!

2. A Blueprint versus a Compass, Maps and Travel Guides

I am convinced that nobody at Microsoft — certainly not anyone that has been involved with the School of the Future initiative — believes that the Philadelphia project ought to become a blueprint for other countries. But the danger is real that many countries, upon seeing what has been done there, may be tempted to simply copy it — using it as blueprint for their own projects. And, worse, the countries that may be tempted to do so may be the ones that would need the most to go a long way beyond it (while using the model that was developed in the process).

I have in the past suggested that, in education, especially when we deal with school change, we do not need blueprints — what we need is a compass and a set of maps and, perhaps, travel guides. Nowadays the compass may probably be replaced, with advantages, by a GPS system.

A compass or a GPS system tells us where we are. Everything must begin where we are. It is of no immediate use finding out how to get from Salzburg to Vienna if we must begin our journey in Cortland, Ohio.

A map shows us the many places we can go — as well as the roads that can take us there. If the map is more than a basic roadmap, it will show where rivers, lakes, and mountains ("natural obstacles") are, it will describe scenic routes, it will indicate where national parks are located, which are the zones of environmental protection and interest, etc. In other words: a "rich map" is almost a travel guide…

The most important information, after where we are, is where we want to go. Yogi Berra is credited with saying that "if you don’t know where you’re going, you may end up somewhere else". A different version of the saying (perhaps influenced by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland) states that "if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there"… Very true.

A common map will show us all the places we can go — but it will not suggest places worth going… Nor will it suggest the most interesting routes and itineraries…

A travel guide does just that. It describes a few of these places in some detail and suggests worthy destinations, that is, places most worth visiting — and, perhaps, the best itineraries: if you have plenty of time, you may choose a long, winding, scenic road… If you are in a hurry, you can take the "all-roads-look-alike" freeway — where you, besides not being able to appreciate the beautiful scenery, may have to pay a toll for getting there quickly…

The destination may be, well, Paris. If you are in the United States, you may fly straight to Charles de Gaulle airport. Or you may fly to Lisbon, rent a car, and drive through the back roads of Portugal, Spain and "deep France" until you get to La Place de la Republique… Here you have many different ways of getting to your destination. But the destination may be, let us say, Prague… You could still fly to Charles de Gaulle first — or even to Lisbon, and then get to Prague in part by car, in part by train, stopping over in Paris… Those who know human nature say that an important part of the joy of traveling is not just getting there: it is "in the getting there", in "how you get there"…

I suggest that the School of the Future program that Microsoft is about to launch be more like a compass (a GPS system) and a set of maps and travel guides than like a blueprint… This is what I mean by saying that the key to its success will be in Microsoft’s ability to "de-philadelphia-lize" the program…

3. The School we Have versus The School we Want to Have…

When we introspect and analyze where we are, and when we define where we want to go, we must have some important indicators in mind. I suggest the following:

* The view of what education ought to be

* The view of what learning is

* The view of the best curriculum for promoting this kind of learning

* The view of the best methods for bringing about this kind of learning

* The view of the role of teachers in the process

* The view of how much say students ought to have in deciding what, when, where and how to learn (don’t we speak of anytime, anywhere learning?)

* The view of how the institution ought to be managed

* The view of how the community ought to be involved in the school

* The view of how technology can best contribute to promoting this kind of learning in this kind of context

This is not the place to go into detail into all of these indicators. I will briefly comment on just three of them.

A. The Need to "Reconceptualize" Education

I know Microsoft Word will balk at the term "reconceptualize": it may suggest "reconcept" instead. But the right idea is that we have to reconceptualize education: we need to change our concept of education, is schools are to be effective in the 21st century…

Until now we have conceived education more or less in a durkheimian fashion. According to the French sociologist, Émile Durkheim, education is something the older generations do to the younger generations in order to make them absorb and assimilate the ideas, beliefs, values, attitudes that allow society to maintain, preserve and reproduce itself across time and allow children to fit into society… To educate, in this view, is to transmit the culture heritage of a society (or of humanity, depending on how broad- or local-minded we are) from one generation to the other… To educate, in this view, is to "deliver content" from teachers to students…

But this is not the only possible view of education. This view is society-centered. In it children (students) are the object – not the subject of education. It is possible to conceive education in a learner-centered manner, in which students are the subjects of their own education…

We are born totally incompetent, and, because of that, absolutely dependent. The babies of other animal species can walk and communicate and, to some extent, take care of themselves, from their first day of life. Human babies take basically one year to walk on their own and two to three years to communicate reasonably with their peers (something that some never seem to become able to do…). And yet, we are born with an incredible capacity to learn. This capacity to learn is what allows incompetent and dependent human beings to become competent and autonomous adults.

But there is something else that is quite important: humans are not totally "programmed". They are undeniably born with some basic programming. But this programming is open: it allows them, from a given time on, to decide what they want to be, what they want to make of their lives, how they want to build their future… That is why we ask children what they want to be when they grown up — but don’t dream of asking that to our favorite pet (dog or cat)…

This undeniable set of facts about human nature must be kept in mind as we reconceptualize education… Education must the process by means of which we transform ourselves, from incompetent and dependent human beings, into competent and autonomous adults – but into adults of our own choosing! Education is a process of human development — not of content delivery, from a generation to another…

Of course, we are not able to educate ourselves alone… But, as a Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, once put it, nor must we imagine that, because of that, others have to educate us! According to Paulo Freire, neither do we educate ourselves, nor do others educate us: we educate one another, through interaction, through communication, through collaboration — through what he calls "communion". And we do this having the world as our background, as our stage, as our scenery…

Back in the sixties Paulo Freire shocked the world when he said that we must not conceive education according to a "banking analogy". And older generation has funds in its account. Since it knows it is not going to last forever (it is going to die), it must transfer those funds from their account into the account of the newer generation. Education, in this traditional view, is a process of funds transfer from the older to the newer generations… NO, he said: education is a process of human development, in which we become competent and autonomous as we define and implement a project for our own life (where we learn by "practicing our freedom"…).

Viewed this way, education does not have to do with teachers teaching content to students… but with students trying, with the help of teachers, to develop themselves into the competent, autonomous human beings they want to become!

B. The Need to "Reconceptualize" Learning

If we reconceptualize education along the lines suggested in the previous section, then we must also reconceptualize learning… To learn is not to absorb and assimilate information and knowledge (no matter how important it is)… To learn is not to absorb and assimilate our cultural past in order to allow culture to be preserved and reproduced… To learn is to become capable of doing that which we were not capable of doing before… (Vide Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline… He is miles away from Paulo Freire in many ways, but so close in others…). To learn is to become able to develop ourselves from the incompetent and dependent human beings we were at birth into the competent and autonomous adults we must be in order not only to survive – but to choose and achieve a life that brings personal realization and fulfillment!

This kind of learning is not a passive by-product of teaching: it is only achieved as we actively gain control of our lives and destinies… “as we practice our liberty”, as Paulo Freire would say. Learning is not something others do to us… Nor is it something we do by ourselves. Learning is something we achieve collaboratively, interactively, as we live our lives in this world.

C. The Need to “Reconceptualize” Schooling

If all of this is true – and I, personally, have no doubt it is – then the school we ought to have must not be a place where we sit, in a disciplined manner, one after the other, well uniformed, perhaps even in numerical sequence according to our enrollment number, and where we have to raise our hands to get permission to talk (or to go to the restroom!), in order to listen to a teacher speak… It must be a place where we are actively (sometimes disruptively) engaged in learning the things that contribute to transforming our life projects (our dreams) into reality…

Schools are supposed to be learning environments – not teaching environments. The most important persons in schools are students, not teachers: if there were not students, there wouldn’t be any schools… Schools must become student-centered, not teacher-centered – that means, they must be learning-centered, not teaching-centered… And they must be focused on the development of competence and autonomy – not on the delivery of content (much less on the “delivery of learning”, a concept I can’t even begin to understand”…)

And since people are so different one from the other, they will want to learn different things… One student will want to be a scientist. The other, an artist. The other, a carpenter. The other, a football player. The other (heavens forbid!), a politician or a lawyer. If schools are to be rich learning environments, they must make room for all these differences…

Schools must not be factories where only Henry Ford’s black cars are produced… They must be open learning environments, where people use all of their creativity and innovation to forge their own future… Where young people decide that their profession will be one that hasn’t been invented yet… Or even that they will not have a profession…

D. The School of the Future

The School of the Future must be open – because the future hasn’t been invented yet… At the MIT’s Media Lab they presumptuously state “here we invent the future”. That is not true. The place where we invent the future is our schools. Our future will be pretty much like the past if our schools are conservative. Our future will be a series of small improvements upon the present if our schools are allowed to reform themselves. But our future may be a brave new beginning if we allow our schools to be radically transformed, to be places where real learning takes place, to be the places where the future is really invented.

Eduardo O C Chaves

Salto, SP, Brazil, on the 17th of May of 2006

Transcribed here from Salto (Brazil), on the 5th of October, 2007

Preliminary Considerations about the Implementation of the School of the Future Program in Brazil

[In May 2006 2006 Microsoft organized, in its Headquarters in Redmond, WA, USA, the the Microsoft School of the Future (SOF) Quarterly Meeting/Briefing. Microsoft Brazil was represented there, with a delegation of four: Ana Teresa Ralston, Senior Academic Program Manager, Fernando Almeida, then President of the Lumiar Institute, Mônica Gardelli Franco, a vendor, and Eduardo Chaves, member of the International Advisory Board of Partners in Learning. The document below was written by Eduardo Chaves, on behalf of the Brazilian delegation, to express Brazil’s intention of participating in the School of the Future (SOF) program — later renamed Innovative Schools Program (ISP). A portion of this material that has to do with the "Mosaic" was incorporated into the article "Lumiar: The ‘Mosaic’", which was just made available here.] 

Despite the timing, just at the close of Fiscal Year 06 [May 2006], Microsoft Brazil brought a small delegation to participate in the Microsoft School of the Future (SOF) Quarterly Meeting/Briefing conducted in Redmond on May 22nd-23rd. This was done to reiterate Brazil’s interest in the program and to gather subsidies to submit a formal proposal.


I. The general context, as we see it

As we preliminarily see it, it is possible to divide the SOF Program in some basic components – some of which have been the object of “Discovery Briefs” by the Philadelphia project:

a) The idea of creating a “new school” for the 21st century, different from, and much better than, the schools we presently have, as an effectively learning environment for children that have been born and certainly are going to live, exercise their citizenship, work, and – why not – have more and more time for leisure in the global knowledge economy

b) “Methodologies for Strategic Planning”, that is, a set of concepts, principles and methods (tools) that are very important in the process of conceiving and planning the “new school” – this was the object of Discovery Brief 01

c) “Principles of IT Infrastructure Planning”, that is, a set of concepts and principles that are important in the process of planning the role that technology will have in the “new school” – this was the object of Discovery Brief 02

d) “Key Attributes of Architecture”, that is, a set of concepts and principles that should help planners and decision makers choose the best organization for the physical space of the “new school” – this was the object of Discovery Brief 03

e) “Strategic Leadership Selection”, that is, a set of concepts and principles that should help planners and decision makers choose the best personnel for the “new school”, especially its leadership – this was the object of Discovery Brief 04

As much as we consider important the last four items (the ones that were the object of the four Discovery Briefs), we felt that a “Discovery Brief” on the pedagogical concepts and principles that should help us organize the “new school” as an effective learning environment – something that involves much more than the material infrastructure of buildings and technology – is noticeably missing. And this is exactly the area which the Brazilian team considers the most critical success factor.

It was stated in one of the presentations that not everything can be critical. This means that, when resources are limited, we have to choose the most critical success factors and invest time, money and other resources in it.

This is what we intend to do, in the hope of creating a School of the Future in Brazil that will:

a) Be an important contribution, in terms of pedagogical model, for Brazil and also for the School of the Future program, especially for countries that do not have the financial resources to invest in expensive buildings (new or renovated) and in the most sophisticated technology infrastructure imaginable;

b) Make full use of the of the subsidies provided by Discovery Briefs 01-04;

c) Make this model easily transferable to the public school system of Brazil and, therefore, scalable.

We asked the organizers yesterday if it was possible that Philadelphia’s School of the Future, despite the amazing features of the physical and technological infrastructure of the new school, could, except for the pedagogical vision and commitment of those presently involved in the project, one day be the scenery of very traditional and conventional pedagogical practices. The answer was yes. We hope to reduce this chance by suggesting a pedagogical model that, in our view, seems to answer the hopes and desires that, for a long time, have been expressed in the educational community.


II. The challenge regarding the pedagogical model

A few years ago, as the new millennium approached, and as the global knowledge civilization gave evidence that it was here to stay, the whole world started worrying about the fact that our present schools, created to serve the needs of industrial civilization, were not preparing students to live their personal lives, exercise their citizenship, work and make fruitful use of their free time in the new reality that was emerging.

This concern often expressed itself in a call for defining a basic set of competencies and skills that would be required in the 21st century or in the new civilization and for changing schools so that they would adopt a new educational paradigm that would allow them to become effective learning environments for the development of these competencies and skills. Microsoft itself participated in more than one of many such efforts.

In Brazil, a new Constitution, approved in 1988, declared that education – and therefore schools – should form the person, the citizen and the worker. A new law providing frameworks and guidelines for the national system of education was approved in 1996. A whole set of binding “National Curriculum Parameters” emerged from 1997 through the early years of this century.

Although these documents came short of declaring traditional education illegal, they made it unequivocally clear that, in a society where information and communication technology was pervasive and, more and more, easily accessible, it made no sense for the schools to continue focusing on their traditional tasks of delivering information and what they called knowledge to the students. The documents proposed the notion that education – and therefore schools – should be effective learning environments where students could develop the competencies and skills they needed in order to live as individuals, citizens and workers in the 21st century. The documents also proposed that schools adopt project-based learning as their methodologies, and that they should pay great attention to the need of connecting what motivates children (and should therefore be the focus of their learning projects, with a “competency matrix” that outlines what children ought to learn – all of this in a flexible environment that takes very seriously the fact that children (as human beings in general) are different from another, have different natural talents, have different interests, and so schools should have curricula that shied away from the “one size fits all” model.

As one can imagine, these documents initially created an outcry in the educational community. Gradually, the “new pedagogical discourse” came to be accepted – but in theory, only, because practice continued very much what it had always been.

The main difficulty on the way of translating this new educational vision into effective pedagogical practice in the schools has been the lack of workable pedagogical models that show how this can be done.

One important contribution to this effect is being made in São Paulo by the Lumiar Institute: the Lumiar School. This is a private school with a public vocation. It brought together paying students from the upper middle classes and very poor students from the periphery who pay a symbolic monthly fee (less than 5 dollars). And the school is committed to being an open, democratic, flexible and very powerful and effective learning environment.

The members of the “Brazilian delegation” have been involved in this project, some from the very beginning. Prof. Fernando Almeida is the present president of the Lumiar Institute and Prof. Eduardo Chaves has been a consultant to the project even before the school opened its doors.

The project contains important contribution to what we could call “school governance” (instead of “school management”), but what interests us here is its “Mosaic” model of curricular organization, the main elements of which we will try to rapidly summarize here.

First, there is a “competency matrix” – an attempt to organize the competencies and related skills needed for living as an individual, a citizen, a worker, and a permanent learner in the 21st century.

Second, there is “project bank” – a database of learning projects to be developed by people from the community (business leaders, professionals, artists, workers of all sorts, housewives and househusbands, etc.) who have interesting competencies and skills that they can share with the students and are willing to donate their time, for short periods (from one to two weeks to two or three months) in helping interested students become involved with these competencies and skills. (These people are the so-called “masters” of the school. The database has presently more than 350 such projects, as well as the names and other features of the people who can coordinate them).

A series of “nodes” that link and connect, for each learning project, the competencies and skills it will most likely help students develop with the “competency matrix” — thereby creating a “mosaic”. [This task is to be performed by a group of permanent educators in the school, trained to do this work, who accompany and analyze the learning projects to identify in them the elements that are part of the “competency matrix”].

Third, a “learning portfolio”, that registers, for each student:

* An initial evaluation of their competencies and skills as they arrive in the school and begin each school year;

* The projects they have been involved in;

* Whether, and how well, they developed the competencies and skills that were linked and connected with each project in which they were involved;

* For students in higher grades, information on their life projects and the competencies and skills that life project requires.

[This “learning portfolio”, in way, relates “the pleasant” and “the useful”: beginning with what motivates student, and therefore leads them to engage in a given project, make the connection with what they ought to know. This task is also to be performed by the group of permanent educators in the school, who constantly evaluate how well the students are doing and how far they are progressing in relation to the “competency matrix”].

The “learning portfolio” also registers, for each student, its progress in the appropriation of what could be called “traditional curricular content” that is needed for the development of their learning projects: knowledge of their own language, of mathematics, of science, etc.

Although the school is convinced that there are competencies and skills that all students ought to develop (in communication and in interpersonal relations, for instance), it clearly allows, especially for older children, ample space for the pursuit of competencies and skills that could be qualified as more idiosyncratic – and that have to do with each child’s specific “life project”.

This is a very short summary of the pedagogical model.

To finish, a consideration about technology. All of this is being done mostly manually at the present. With a small number of students, this is not a major challenge. But it would clearly become impeditive in the case of applying the model to larger schools.

Therefore, the main technological challenge of our proposal is going to be to develop, with Microsoft technology, the technological infrastructure for this “Mosaic”.

Redmond, May 23, 2006

Eduardo Chaves

Transcribed in Salto (Brazil), on the 5th of October, 2007

Lumiar: The “Mosaic”


1. The Rationale

After investing millions of dollars in information technology, corporations concluded that the mere addition of technology to their unchanged business processes would not guarantee survival, much less survival with greater productivity, larger profits, and increased competitiveness.

It was only when executives realized that the changes taking place in their business environment required them to review the core competences of their companies, reengineer their business processes, and, in some cases, entirely reinvent them, that technology started to fulfill its promises.

The quantum leap was given, for instance, not when bookstores automated their conventional business procedures, no matter how well they did it, but when virtual bookstores, that easily could, and have, become virtual shopping malls, were invented.

With schools the same principles apply.

The mere addition of technology to the teaching and learning processes of an otherwise conventional school will not produce a school of the future – certainly not an innovative school – but only a more expensive conventional school.

The quantum leap here will be given when educators, seriously facing the changes that are taking place in the way people communicate, access information, collaborate, have fun, and learn in the real world outside the school, decide to review their view of education and learning, redefine the way they understand the curriculum, reengineer the spaces, times and methods that allow people to learn through interaction and collaboration, recast the roles of teachers and students, and, so, reinvent the school as an institution.

Here we have a few examples of the dissonance between the schools existing today – even the good ones – and the school environment brought about, largely, by technology:

a) Today information is abundant and access to it is extremely easy – and today’s approach to information is much more centered on “pull” than on “push”. Yet the conventional school is organized and operates on the basis that education is transmission of information, and that, therefore, the main function of the school is to transmit information (“deliver content”) to the students – an approach clearly centered on “push”.

b) If education is not mere “delivery of information”, learning is not simply “absorption of information”: to learn is to become capable of doing that which one was unable to do before. To learn is, therefore, capacity and competence building. And humans learn from the time they are born to the time they die – and they learn all the time.

c) If to learn is not simply to absorb information, a school curriculum cannot be a canon with all the information that one is supposed to absorb, drawn from the academic disciplines, and then retain for the rest of his life: a curriculum is more like a mosaic of competencies and skills that are necessary for living in this world.

d) If they are not to be deliverers of information, having students as its absorbers, teachers should be seen as mentors, coaches, advisors, counselors of their students, and in this capacity they ought to instigate and facilitate their learning, or even, under some conditions, present challenges to learning that is more presumed than real, acting, therefore as “difficultators” of learning.

e) If we learn from birth to death and do it all the time, and we learn mostly by communicating and collaborating, a school cannot be a place in which some teachers pack information into students, face-to-face, when the students are aged 6-23, but, rather, a learning environment to which people can turn to, physically or virtually, at any time during their lives, to try to acquire or develop, through interaction and collaboration, competencies and skills they do not have and yet need or desire to possess.

This is the pedagogical roadmap for the Innovative School – for the true School of the Future.

Lumiar aims at bringing about this kind of School of the Future.

So, Lumiar’s proposal is not simply another program that aims to bring technology into the schools that we now have: it is a program that aims to help schools reinvent themselves in an age of ubiquitous and diffuse technology.


2. Summary of the Proposal

In Brazil, most of the pedagogical principles outlined in the previous section have become mandatory for schools through the set of National Curriculum Parameters and Guidelines.

Although these documents came short of declaring traditional education illegal, they made it unequivocally clear that, in a society where information and communication technology was pervasive and, more and more, easily accessible, it made no sense for the schools to continue focusing on their traditional tasks of delivering information and what they called knowledge to the students.

The documents proposed the notion that education should be seen as a permanent process of human development and that schools should be effective learning environments where students could develop the competencies and skills they need in order to live as individuals, citizens and workers in the 21st century.

The documents also proposed that schools adopt project-based learning as their methodologies, and that they should pay great attention to the need of connecting what motivates children (and should therefore be the focus of their learning projects, with a “competency matrix” that outlines what children ought to learn – all of this in a flexible environment that takes very seriously the fact that children (as human beings in general) are different from another, have different natural talents, have different interests, and so schools should have curricula that shied away from the “one size fits all” model.

As one can imagine, these documents initially created an outcry in the educational community. Gradually, the “new pedagogical discourse” came to be accepted – but in theory, only, because practice continued very much what it had always been.

The main difficulty on the way of translating this new educational vision into effective pedagogical practice in the schools has been the lack of workable pedagogical models that show how this can be done and the absence of concrete examples that demonstrate that this new educational vision has been successfully translated into everyday pedagogical practice.

Lumiar’s main pedagogical objective is to incorporate these principles into its daily practice.

Lumiar is maintained by private efforts – but it has a public vocation. It is committed to being an open, democratic, flexible and very powerful and effective learning environment (where technology indeed has its place) that will, eventually, contribute to bringing about an “epidemic” of change in the public schools.

The Lumiar proposal also contains important contributions to what we could call “school governance” (instead of “school management”). However, what interests me here is its model of curricular organization, the main elements of which I will try to rapidly summarize here.

First, there is a “competency matrix” – an attempt to organize the competencies and related skills needed for living as an individual, a citizen, a worker, and a permanent learner in the 21st century.

Second, there is the “project bank” – a database of learning projects to be developed by people from the community (business leaders, professionals, artists, workers of all sorts, housewives and househusbands, etc.), who have interesting competencies and skills that they can share with the students and are willing to donate their time, for short periods (from one to two weeks to two or three months) in helping interested students become involved with these competencies and skills. (These people are the so-called “masters” of the school. The database has presently a good number of such projects, as well as the names and other features of the people who can coordinate them).

A series of “nodes” will link and connect, for each learning project, the competencies and skills it will most likely help students develop with the “competency matrix” – thereby creating a “mosaic”.

Third, a “learning portfolio” that registers, for each student:

* An initial evaluation of their competencies and skills as they arrive in the school and begin each school year;

* The projects they have been involved in;

* Whether, and how well, they developed the competencies and skills that were linked and connected with each project in which they were involved;

* For students in higher grades, information on their life projects and the competencies and skills that life project requires.

This “learning portfolio”, in way, relates “the pleasant” and “the useful”: beginning with what motivates students, and therefore leads them to engage in a given project, it makes the connection with what they ought to know. This task is also to be coordinated by the group of permanent educators in the school, who constantly evaluate how well the students are doing and how far they are progressing in relation to the “competency matrix”.

The “learning portfolio” also registers the progress of the students in the appropriation of what could be called “traditional curricular content” that is needed for the development of their learning projects: knowledge of their own language, of mathematics, of science, of the social fabric in which this project is being developed, etc.

Although the school is convinced that there are competencies and skills that all students ought to develop (in communication and in interpersonal relations, for instance), it clearly allows, especially for older children, ample space for the pursuit of competencies and skills that could be qualified as more idiosyncratic – and that have to do with each child’s specific “life project”.

The whole process is democratic and has full involvement of the students – and here the methodology links with the question of governance. The itinerary of each student, the evolution of the group (including disciplinary issues), and the governance of the school are objects of discussion and decision in “decision rounds” that take place every week.

This is a very short summary of the pedagogical model.


3. And what about Technology?

And what is the role of technology in this process?

There is, first, the role of technology in systematizing this model in order to make it transferable to public schools, where it can be scaled up. All of this is being done mostly manually at the present. With a small number of students, this is not a major challenge. But it would clearly become impeditive in the case of applying the model to larger schools – as is the case of most public schools.

Therefore, the main technological challenge of the proposal is to develop the technological infrastructure that will make this pedagogical vision applicable to public schools. This infrastructure will have to fully integrate Microsoft’s interactive technologies and tools for use by the students: e-mail, instant messaging, group chat, discussion groups, personal spaces (information sharing), etc.

There is, second, the use of technology by those involved in the learning process in the school: masters, educators, students and those responsible for specific tasks in the governance of this process. Once completed the development of the technological infrastructure, Microsoft technology will also be used to make us of the various elements of this infrastructure.

The challenge here is to transform technology into an effective learning tool.

Eduardo O C Chaves

São Paulo (Brazil), on the 22nd of December, 2006. Transcribed here from Salto (Brazil), on the 5th of October, 2007

Criticisms of the Traditional School

The thesis that the traditional school is either irrelevant to the education of children, or, worse, pernicious to their sound and healthy development, has noble antecedents.

Famous nineteenth-century luminaries defended this thesis: Leo Tolstói, Samuel Butler, Charles Darwin and Mark Twain, among others. In the twentieth century Albert Einstein, Karl Popper, and Howard Gardner, among many others, considered the traditional school, more than obsolete and irrelevant, harmful to children.

In this article I will, little by little, add quotations from these people.

Here is what Leo Tolstoi said:

"Children are everywhere sent to school by force, while parents are compelled to send their children to school by the severity of the law, or by cunning, or by offering them advantages. But the masses everywhere study of their own accord, and regard education as good.

How is this? The need for education lies in every man; the people love and seek education, as they love and seek the air for breathing; the government and society burn with the desire to educate the masses. And yet, nothwithstanding all the force of conning and the persistency of governments and societies, the masses constantly manifest their dissatisfaction with the education which is offered to them, and step by step submit only by force.

What experience can prove to us the justice of the existing method of compulsory education? We cannot know whether there is not another, better method, since the schools have heretofore not yet been free. It is true that at the highest rung of education — universities, public lectures — education strives to become even more free. But maybe education at the lower rungs must always remain compulsory, and maybe experience has proved to us that such schools are good.

Let us look at these schools, without consulting the statistical tables, but by trying to know the schools, and learn their influence on the masses in reality.

This is what reality has shown me: Schools present themselves to the child as an institution for tortuing children — and institution in which they are deprived of their chief pleasure and youthful needs, of  free motion; where obedience and quiet are the chief conditions; where he needs special permission to got out ‘for a minute’; where every misdeed is punished. What the results must be, we again see from what they really are, not according to the reports,  but from the actual facts. Nine tenths of the school population take away from school a mechanical knowledge of reading and writing, and such a stong loathing for the paths of knowledge traversed by them that they never again take a book into their hands. Not only does school breed loathing for educaiton, but in these years it inculcates upon these pupils hypocrisy and deceit, arising from the unnatural position in which the pupils are placed.

Every instruction ought to be only an answer to the questions put by life, whereas school not only does not call forth questions, but does not even answer those that are called for by life. It eternally answers the same questions which have been put by humanity for several centuries, and not by the intellect of the child.

It is enough to look at one and the same child at home, in the street, or at school: now you see a vivacious, curious child, with a smaile in his eyes and on his lips, seeking instruction in everything, as he would seek pleasure, clearly and frequently expressing his thoughts in his own words; now again you see a worn-out, retiring being, with an expression of fatigue, terror, and ennui, repeating with the lips only strange words in a strange language — a being whose soul has, like a snail, retreated into its house. It is enough to look at these two conditions in order to decide which of the two is more advantageous for the child’s development.

The compulsory structure of the school excludes the possibility of all progress."

[Leo Tolstoi, "On Popular Education", in Pedagogical Articles, 1862, translated from Russian into English by Leo Wiener (Dana Estes & Co., Boston, 1904), above excerpted from pp. 7-18 (emphases added). Quoted apud Daniel Greenberg, Announcing a New School: A Personal Account of the Beginnings of the Sudbury Valley School (The Sudbury Valley School Press, Framingham, MA, 1973, p. 175)]

Here is what Samuel Butler said, commenting on why it was that, "in spite of the treachery of their leaders, there are quite a number [of people] who are decent, and intelligent, and devoted to their task" (words in quote from Karl Popper — see below):

"I sometimes wonder how it was that the mischf done was not more clearly perceptible abd that young men and women grew up as sensibly and goodly as they did, in spite of the attempts almost deliberately made to warp and stunt their growth. Some doubtless received damage, from which they suffered to their life’s end; but many seemed little or none the worse, and some almost better. The reason would seem to be that the natural instinct of the lads in most cases so absolutely rebelled against their training, that do what the teachers might they could never get them to pay serious heed to it".

[Samuel Butler, in Erewhon (1872, Everyman’s Edition), p.135, apud Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. I: "The Spell of Plato" (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1962, 1966, 1971), p. 136 (emphasis added). This passage also appeared as motto to the section "Replies to My Critics", written by Karl Popper, in The Philosophy of Karl Popper, org. por Paul Arthur Schilpp (Open Court, La Salle, IL, 1974), Vol. II, p. 1174]  

Here is what Karl Popper said in the passage that preceded his quotation from Samuel Butler, transcribed above:

"It has been said, only too truly, tt Plato was the inventor of both our secondary schools and our universities. I do not know a better argument for an optimistic view of mankind, no better proof of their indestructible love for truth and decency,  of their originality and stubborness and health, than the fact that this devastating system of education has not utterly ruined them".

[Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. I: "The Spell of Plato" (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1962, 1966, 1971), p. 136 (emphasis added)]

Salto (Brazil), on the 5th of October, 2007

Lumiar: an innovative school

Before it became a school, with buildings, rooms, furniture, computers, yard, trees, a tree house, Lumiar was a concept: a vision of a school that was different, innovative, and democratic.

The people that conceived Lumiar were convinced, from the very start, that a school does not need to look like a factory, or, worse, like a prison: a serious, even sad, place, in which uniformed and regimented children practice, against their will, the difficult, even painful, duty to learn.

They knew that children, when they are not in school, are active, restless, curious creatures that like to ask questions, handle things, pry, investigate – because they literally love to learn. Children want to understand how things are made or how they function, and they do not hesitate, sometimes, to disassemble toys (or, on occasion, things that are far from being toys…) simply in order to understand how they were built or how they operate.

They knew that, even though children are rather ignorant at birth, they are born already knowing how to learn… In reality, children are beings that seem to have been programmed to learn. Very early, and without being taught, they learn to recognize the face and the voice of their mother, father, siblings, close acquaintances. They greet relatives and friends with a smile – and, as to strangers, well, they find them strange… They soon learn, once again without being taught, to recognize sounds and to perceive that some sounds have meanings, and thus they begin to enter the marvelous and fascinating world of language. They then learn to sit up, to stand on their legs, to balance upon them. More or less at the same time they learn to talk and to walk – in a rudimentary way at first, but they improve quite fast. In a short time they are running, walking, climbing on furniture and ladders – and speaking as if they were grownups. Then they learn how to dance, often in a natural and gracious way. At the same time they learn to sing the words of children songs, to follow their melody, to keep the rhythm. And they learn all of this without difficulty and with great pleasure – not because they are forced to do so, or because they are taught these things, and never in a grievous and painful way. Those that say that children, before they can learn, must learn how to learn, and that imagine they learn how to learn by being taught, must have never paid close attention to the physical, mental and social development of a child.

The questions that the people that conceived Lumiar asked were: Why not build a school that can leverage this enormous capacity to learn that is natural to children? Why not build a school that respects and promotes children’s innate curiosity, their interests and natural talents, their preferred forms of learning and their favorite learning styles? Why not build a school in which learning can be as pleasurable as it is outside the school, even when what is being learned is difficult and demands a lot of effort and great concentration?

Critics of the traditional school abound – and many of them are quite famous. And their criticisms have been made well over a century. See the article “Criticisms of the Traditional School”, presented in the sequence. Many of them have proposed differing alternative schools: anarchist, libertarian, progressive, constructivist schools… However, most of these proposals end up falling either into the Scylla of a “negative education”, totally “laissez faire”, “à la Rousseau”, in which the role of the school as a learning environment almost disappears, or into the Charybdis of a totally structured learning environment, not very different from the traditional school, an environment that does not respect the interests, natural talents and freedom to learn of the children.

The people who conceived Lumiar intended, in a bold move, that it should successfully navigate between these two undesirable dangers. And the school has, so far, been able to stay clear of them. Lumiar is a truly innovative, democratic school that respects their students’ individuality and freedom to learn. But it does so without abdicating its share of responsibility in their learning. Lumiar is not, therefore, an anarchic, libertarian, “laissez faire” school: it has a clear pedagogical vision and proposition that covers curriculum, methodology, assessment and, naturally, the democratic management of the school.

In this blog/site I will try to explain Lumiar – especially for those that are not satisfied with what other schools are offering. Lumiar knows that it is not a school for everyone: it is a school for those who are dissatisfied with the traditional school and with alternative schools that lack a coherent and effective pedagogical vision. For it to reach its objectives, it is necessary that the parents who bring their children to the school accept its pedagogical proposition – and be convinced that this proposition is not utopian, but, to the contrary, it is feasible and capable of effectively contributing to their children’s development as conscious, critical and responsible individuals, active and involved citizens, competent and successful professionals. The school never forgets, and it does not want parents to forget, that learning is the continuous and permanent destiny of human beings – beings who are born ignorant, incompetent and dependent, but with an enormous capacity to learn, and that, through learning, become adults that know the reality around them, are free and autonomous to define their life project and have the competences that are needed to transform this project into reality, that is, into fully lived lives.

Lumiar does not demand blind faith from those that bring their children to the school: it expects them to become acquainted with the “idearium” of the school – its conceptual and theoretical framework — and with its daily pedagogical practice.

The “idearium” will be presented here, little by little, in small pieces… The pedagogical practice is in the school, for whomever wants to see it: both in its original site, in the Bela Cintra neighborhood in São Paulo, and in Lageado, in the Habitat of the Mellos, in Campos do Jordão. Please, visit also the official site of the school: http://www.lumiar.org.br. This blog/site is not the official site of the school. It is my personal contribution to the understanding of Lumiar.

And what about me? Who am I?

I am Eduardo Chaves, retired professor of Philosophy of Education and Political Philosophy at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), in Campinas, SP, Brazil. A convinced classical liberal, à la Locke, Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, I was involved with Lumiar at the beginning, when its vision was being elaborated, and I am involved again now, as a member of the Lumiar Institute, which is the institutional arm of the SEMCO Foundation (that maintains the school) that is responsible for detailing the conceptual and theoretical framework of the school and for ensuring that this “idearium” and the pedagogical practice proceed in step, hand-in-hand (as if it were). Whoever wishes to contact me can e-mail me at eduardo@lumiar.net or eduardo@chaves.com.br).

[In time: In January 2007 Lumiar’s innovative nature was recognized and acknowledged by Microsoft: the school was chosen as one of twelve innovative schools worldwide by the Innovative Schools program, part of Microsoft’s global Partners in Learning initiative].

Salto (Brazil), on the 20th of September, 2007