Interview with Ana Maria Diniz, director of Instituto Peninsula

Interview with Ana Maria Diniz, director of Instituto Peninsula

A lifelong dedication to education in Brazil led Ana Maria Diniz and her family to create the Instituto Peninsula in 2010. Its purpose, to promote the twin pillars of education and sport, focuses on the power of students to shape their own future and the training of teachers to help guide them. A frank critic of the failures of the Brazilian system, Diniz is optimistic about the impact of a wave of reforms and projects. The Report Company met with her to find out more.

The Report Company: You have spoken in the past of a catastrophe in Brazil’s education system. What is your assessment of the solutions being implemented currently?

Ana Maria Diniz: Unfortunately, the scenario is indeed catastrophic. There are faster solutions, but it is a matter of political will and no administration has really taken on the task of putting education first and using it as a model of transformation in Brazil. I do not believe in the theory of educating parents first and only then educating children; the issue is complex and needs addressing from different angles simultaneously.

The participation of parents is very important. This is the first generation of a college-educated society now putting their children through school. This started 20 years ago, during the Fernando Henrique administration. Until then, simply having children in school was enough; people didn't think they could demand a better quality of education. They didn't know what to demand.

We are in a very important moment of time and there are two factors that are making me optimistic. Firstly, there is generational change. Parents of children going into basic education today have already studied and are predisposed to demanding better quality, because they have a point of reference. In the next ten years, I believe this situation will have been completely turned around.

The second factor is the use of technology in the classroom. I usually say that technology has no arms and legs and it means nothing by itself. It doesn't work miracles, but it can maximise learning it if is used well.

TRC: The meritocratic system is being talked about a lot at the moment, but what are the best ways to implement such a change and to motivate teachers?

AMD: Our focus on teacher training was part of our socially-oriented investment branch, the Peninsula Institute. We organised a workshop with the entire family to discuss what we would focus our investments on in the field of education and concluded that teachers are the most productive investment available. Over 25 years, a teacher educates at least 10,000 students so we believe that the teacher is an incredible element of transformation.

The system has a problem in that teachers are largely trained in the theory and philosophy of education, not its practicalities. We thought that a new model of teacher training was necessary, one focussing on the classroom, and that is where our investment in the Singularidades Institute comes in. From the teacher-to-be’s first semester, they have to visit the many public and private schools that we have partnerships with and observe certain practices. From the very beginning, they learn what to do in class.

The role of teachers has changed. Today they should be more like mediators of content, facilitators and motivators. Teachers should also stimulate students to get into contact with relevant content outside school and then come to the classroom to discuss the meaning of things. [Harvard professor] Michael Sandel’s classes, for example, are much more provocative. He proposes questions to the students and they have to think about them and develop an opinion.

My mission is to make the teaching career one of the most admired in the country. If I die having contributed to achieving this, then I will have completed my mission on Earth, because I really believe this is transformational for the entire country.

TRC: To what extent do you believe children should become autonomous learners through technology and online content?

AMD: I think this is the beauty of new classroom technologies. They make students more committed and responsible, and force them out of their comfort zones. Students will have to manage their knowledge pathways and be much more responsible for their own learning. This will be great for them as they will become the main agents in their own lives.

The participation of parents is very important. This is the first generation of a college-educated society now putting their children through school.
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TRC: There are certain inherent risks in this model though, aren’t there?

AMD: If all you do is provide the technology, and there aren't teachers there to mediate the tools, provide content and motivate, many will end up feeling like they are lagging behind. This is why teachers that really know how to manage the classroom are important. There will always be risks, but I do not believe that this model poses more risks than the current one. The biggest risk today is a lack of interest, so we have to make the classroom interesting, and I believe that is very possible.

TRC: The National Education Plan promises a lot, but the government’s execution of such plans can sometimes be found wanting. How do you see the gap between the ideal and the reality?

AMD: The National Education Plan is just a framework that was approved by Congress and now has to be executed, but its implementation will face huge challenges. To me, the most important aspect of it is not this 10 percent of GDP that will be dedicated to education until 2022, but the responsibilities of the federal, state and municipal levels to make it work.

I respect the current minister, and understand he has great challenges ahead of him, but a few symbolic moves now would signal to society the government’s intentions and help things move in the right direction. I believe that education is only as good as the quality of the teachers, and unfortunately that quality is too low. Fernando Haddad, when he was minister of education, had a plan for creating a certification for teachers via a high-level test conducted by the ministry of education. To implement that test, there would have had to be a shared syllabus in the country, which we still do not have today. Then, teacher training could be better guided, universities would have to adapt to the needs, we could demand more from teachers and they would be paid more.

TRC: Do you see any limitations or risks in strengthening the relationship between private foundations and the ministry?

AMD: I understand that providing a good education is a role that should be fulfilled by the public sector and the government, but the system is very tight and because of bureaucracy and challenges within the administration there are difficulties. I am very much in favour of recent changes overseas that have been working such as the charter schools in the US and the very deep transformation in the UK’s education system in which schools have much more autonomy - in fact are almost fully independent - so they can self-manage and be much more flexible.

For four years now, we have been participating in the Sao Paulo Secretariat of Education’s strategic plan, which has as its objective to turn the education system of Sao Paulo into one of the best in the world by 2030 and make the role of professors one of the most sought-after careers. The city was already ahead in terms of education, but we thought the state could go even further. We created a model for an all-day school following those created in Recife by Marcos Magalhaes's ICE [The Institute of Co Responsibility for Education]. Their model was for the high school level, but we are also using it for middle schools. The students' plan for their lives will guide their classes, with electives that they can choose to attend and discuss in groups later on.

Their interest in the school increases exponentially and they learn so much more, all of which maximises their cognitive power. This model showed a 50 percent better result at the SARESP [Sao Paulo Educational Performance Evaluation System] than the other schools. There are 85 schools like that, in a pool of 5,100 schools in the state, but we have a plan to reach almost 300 schools in 2015. Our goal is to have 1,000 schools like that until 2018.

We also created a school to train future leaders within the secretariat and the system as a whole. We also want to have a teacher-training school within the secretariat that really makes a difference. We are also working on changing the management of the secretariat, to make it more efficient. The system is huge, includes regional sections, and 91 regional directors, that account for groups of schools, but these are still not properly empowered. We still have a lot to work on keeping in mind our final objective which is to transform the country through education.

My mission is to make the teaching career one of the most admired in the country. If I die having contributed to achieving this, then I will have completed my mission on Earth, because I really believe this is transformational for the entire country.
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This article was published 18 May 2015
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