Born and raised in the state of Sao Paulo, Gabriel Chalita was named the city’s education secretary in January 2015. A prolific writer, professor, lawyer and politician, Chalita’s experience in the field of education made him the ideal candidate to steer the huge and diverse metropolis towards lasting reform in the sector. Fully behind the recently-published National Education Plan, recognition of the value of teachers is at the heart of his thinking. The Report Company met with him to find out more.
The Report Company: What is your assessment of the progress being made in education in Brazil?
Gabriel Chalita: Education in Brazil has improved a lot conceptually and the country now knows that we have to educate all children. That is a very important idea. We have also improved legislation, and I presided over the education commission in Congress. We now have a National Education Plan. This is a major achievement for the ideas of inclusion, diversity, of educating all children, of providing services for children between 0 and 3 years of age - which no one spoke of before - and of providing education for everyone, youths and adults alike. Until very recently, daycare centres were not considered a part of educational policy. Today, however, we are aware that children need to be educated from the outset.
Now that we have put all the children in school, built a lot of new schools and changed the financing of education, our great challenge is quality. How can we make them learn?
I believe we have a number of obstacles. Firstly, we have to invest more in the teaching career. Teachers need to be valued in their hearts, minds and wallets. That means improved, continuous training, helping them to give better classes, listening to teachers, telling them how important the teaching profession is and a salary policy that communicates to young people that a teaching career is financially attractive. The latter improved a little with the new minimum wage for teachers, but it is still a long way from being realistic.
Secondly, we have to increase the time children spend in school, which means developing full-time education. I had the experience of building 500 schools when I was the state secretary of education, but we also need a more encompassing, more intelligent curriculum which unites theory and practice. I got to know schools in places like China, Korea and Finland and it is amazing how music education has come back today. Sports are also extremely important. Can you imagine a child these days sitting in a chair listening to teachers speak for a whole day? Finally, families need to participate more in order to complement the work taking place in school.
“we have to invest more in the teaching career. Teachers need to be valued in their hearts, minds and wallets. That means improved, continuous training.”Tweet This
TRC: What do you see as the timeline for change in Brazil’s education sector?
GC: The National Education Plan is to be applied over a period of ten years. If everything that was put forward is realised, there will be a significant improvement in education in ten years. There are very objective, realistic assumptions and goals there: 50 percent of schools in a full-time regimen, at least 25 percent of students in a full-time regimen, and a percentage of teachers that need to have masters and doctorates. We have established very clear goals but the plan is not mandatory. There is no penalty. If the country gets behind it, though, we can easily have a very different educational reality in ten years’ time.
What I achieved at state level and what I will try to replicate here is training teachers as trainers. Educational consultants – who often only have experience at university – have no idea what teachers have to deal with in the classroom. The other day, I was talking to a teacher who told me, “of course I agree with inclusive education, but I have no idea what to do when a student with a disability I'm not familiar with arrives in my class”. Inclusion is a complex problem and people need to be involved in the process. Keeping close to the teachers is crucial.
TRC: On a more regional level, what is Sao Paulo’s education plan for the coming years?
GC: Our biggest priority at the municipal level is not leaving children behind. When I said that all children are in school today, I meant in basic education, not pre-school. Sao Paulo has more than 100,000 children waiting for a place at a daycare centre. We have to address that by building new daycare centres, and there are many under construction. Secondly, there are a lot of institutions that are associated with us and that we will expand. Thirdly we have a plan to invite the private sector to donate around 100 daycare centres to us. This is a much faster and more straightforward route than the public process which needs to go through project planning, purchasing of the land, expropriation procedure if necessary, getting the approval for the project and so forth.
The second challenge is getting the children to learn. It makes no sense for children to go to school, finish a full cycle and come out the other end still not able to read or write. We want to invest heavily in teachers that provide literacy training; this is the first bottleneck. Improving things early makes it easier from then on. The problem comes when children go through years accumulating these losses. So we want to invest in the teachers at the earliest stages, who were not given their proper value. People thought that they were not important because they were just teaching small children. But the world sees it differently now - the earlier your effect, the more essential your work is.
TRC: How can you and your schools change people’s perceptions of education?
GC: What makes one school better than another is the people behind it; the head teacher, the participation of the families. At a meeting with school heads, I told them that they needed to be leaders, that is, they needed to be able to notice deficiencies and problems with students, with classrooms, with teachers and address them. We have radio, photography, dance programmes in schools. We are going to expand the cultural curriculum greatly. We already have very significant models. The challenge is expanding them; getting good experiences, good practices and replicating them elsewhere.
Sao Paulo has been through a water shortage. One very important issue is using crises like that to educate, in order for people to ration their use of water, for instance, and to be more aware of its value. Educating about that is one of the roles schools have to play. Some people think that schools should focus on teaching languages and maths. Yes, this is part of it, but participating in a school play will also help. We have to seek alternatives for the learning process.
Moreover, you need to evaluate learning all the time. Brazil has improved a lot in that respect. I don’t see it as punishment, but as diagnosis. Using that information, you can ask yourself: “why are these students having trouble in maths? What are we doing wrong? Why are they doing better in one region than another?”
Schools are not a place for teachers to simply throw knowledge at students; that is not the case anymore. Teachers are not learning facilitators nowadays, they are knowledge encouragers. They stimulate students to look for and develop their taste for knowledge. Students need to want to research, to look for information.
“Inclusion is a complex problem and people need to be involved in the process. Keeping close to the teachers is crucial.”Tweet This
TRC: The private sector has also noticed the importance of education as an investment in the future of the country. What has been your experience there?
GC: When I was in the state ministry, Viviane Senna and I developed the Family School project, which opened schools on weekends for culture and sports. The project received awards from the UN and the whole world came to see it, because what we did was amazing. During these weekends, we addressed four elements of the educational process: arts, sports, health and income generation. Based on that, schools could choose what they wanted to do, together with university students.
We also developed the Partners of Education project with Jair Ribeiro and other entrepreneurs which was akin to schools being adopted. When I was in charge of Fundacao Casa, a correctional institute for troubled minors, the Bradesco Foundation also developed a project to train these youths. We even visited penitentiaries in London, because the idea behind them is very different there. At the time, we learned about several different educational systems and I believe a lot in these kinds of partnerships. There is a lot of good will out there; there are very serious people that really want to help.
TRC: How would you define your management style and what defines your administration?
GC: Dialogue and respect. As I get to know people from the system, I bring them closer. I have been working with the idea for some time that educators need to be educated. You may very well fight for your goals and ideals, but let us all be educated and polite. Show your employees, your students that you are polite. This attitude is fundamental to my administration.
Brazil is a very large country with a large population that mostly doesn’t speak English. It is evident that there are great prospects for growth, even if the government expands considerably its efforts in higher education, there is still a lot of room for private universities to flourish. I have no issue with that; this dialogue is very important. We have to praise private companies that invest in education, alongside public efforts. We need to be open. It would be wrong to want all education to be public, and there are excellent private universities today backed by listed companies that have grown and expanded. There are opportunities for growth in Brazil; we’re the land of hospitality.
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