Thursday, June 25, 2009

Note to President Obama: Want to Fix the Schools? Look to Portugal!

I have always refrained to talk about the Education sector in Portugal but I read this article by Don Tapscott and couldnt help writing about it (even if my aunt, that is a teacher will probably hunt me down and try to kill me).

Sure, this is a "dangerous topic", that always generates heated debates in the country and I am not there, reading the newspapers everyday or witnessing first hand all the developments in the area.

But, its about time someone does realise that Portugal will only grow as a country if we start paying more attention to the way we educate our children!!

Actually, what a cliche, since this really applies to all countries and all societies.
So, no rocket science statement here. Just a statement of the obvious...
Educate your children to become leaders and they will take your country to higher heights. Educate them to become "masters of memorisation" and they will memorise the manual and thrive on 'copy paste' of previous mistakes.

As Don mentions in his article " the technology is only one part of that campaign. The real work is creating a new model of learning".

We need to change our mindset. Its not about getting a degree, its about what you learn during the time you are getting that degree. Its not about passing the exam because you crammed it all into your brain the night before, its about understanding what you are reading and actually relate it to its applications. Its not only about working for company X or Y because they pay a lot of money or they have a recognised brand.

But hey, changing this mindset is not easy.

How many times did someone tell me to accept/not acceot a certain job based on the company's name and how good it was for my CV?? What is good for my CV? Excuse me?! My CV is a piece of paper. I judge my career steps based on how good they are for my life, my learning process, my development, not my CV. My CV is a piece of paper, similar to my University degree certificate or my passport. It doesnt define me, I define it.

And its not as if I didn't think on similar terms too. I passed half of my University time studying text books and allowing myself to be educated by teachers who tried to taught me by making me read endless textbooks or simply by lecturing me.

Therefore, the aim was to pass each test with the highest mark, lowest time spent studying/memorising and avoiding any questions.

Basically, I was loosing my time.

Loosing my time with useless text books (actually Seth has a great entry on textbooks & their "attributes") and boring classes.
Side note - Its definitely important to open a parentisis here to say that this is just an overall statement, as I did have some amazing teachers that really made all those years quite interesting.
Actually, I cant simply blame it on the teachers or the textbooks... I was the problem! I wasnt challenging myself and was thriving in my confort zone. Actually, I didnt even understand what it all meant. Concepts like 'Learning, Confort Zone, Embracing the challenges', etc, doesnt sound very simple and straightforward when your idea of a challenge is to study for the mini-test.

And then, someone/something opened my mind. No, it wasnt an immediate encounter with UFO, nor did it happen in a second, a month, or a year.

For me, it was my involvement with AIESEC. It filled me with questions and a neverending quest for the answers. It gave sense to business models and learning cycles, taking the diagrams/models out of the textbook out into the real world. And it gave me a sense of purpose.

For others, younger ones, it can be a computer called Magalhaes, that is connected to the internet and allows them to search for the answers to their multitude of questions. It can be a "new wave" of teachers that embraces discussion and questioning (and, once again, I was fortunate to encounter many of these throughout my academic life, at a time in which there were no laptops, nor wikipedia, blogs and Facebook).

Above all, the important is that things are changing and that someone in Portugal's Government has finally realised the importance of it all. Sure, there will always be criticism and teachers will complain and parents will say that their poor kids are not prepared for all the changes. And as always, Education Ministers will be sacrificed and rotate like fresh bread.

Anyway, get over it. Change normally hurts, especially if you are way toooo comfortable sitting on your own status quo. And, as always, its so much easier to criticize others and say that they are wrong rather than coming up with solutions or better alternatives.

Of course, it wont be easy. And, once again I repeat, its not only about giving computers to kids or training teachers. And it clearly doesnt happen overnight. But its a great start!

And even if not perfectly managed (lets ignore all of those reported incidents in which the computers where taken away from the school after the press conference and so on and lets focus on the important bits) the truth is that more kids now have access to computers and the internet and the brand new world of knowledge and learning that they represent and encapsulate.

And, I have to admit that it does feel good to read an article that gives Portugal some positive publicity and emphasises the effort that is being put into modernising the Education sector, rather than reporting how Greece and Portugal fight for the last spots in most of the European Union rankings or the fact that Maddie is still missing and our Police Department efforts are ridiculous.


Fred Lavia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fred Lavia said...

Achei o seu blog por acidente. Parabéns adorei! Seu inglês é mesmo excelente, mas como boa portuguesa não há tradução para saudade. Fazer o quê! Saudade não tem tradução satisfatória mesmo! Rsrs! Só nós eloquentes nesta língua que nos une sabemos disso, e como sabemos! Bem geminiano esse post, gostei também. Aqui em Dubai só tenho a oportunidade de falar potuguês quando atendo aos vôos de Luanda. Sou aeroviário. Vou acompanhar suas postagens de agora em diante. Tudo de bom. Beijos brasileiros.