“The best way to deliver content to teachers is to develop content together with them.”
With an estimated 32 million school-aged youth, Brazil has the largest number of students in Latin America. The team at Nova Escola, an online platform designed for teachers to access free student-ready curricular resources, are adapting their work for the distance learning era. Guilherme Luz, CEO of Nova Escola, shares what his organization is doing in response to the pandemic, and why he refuses to give up hope.
Can you describe Nova Escola’s mission and the original 2016 project funded by Google.org?
Our goal as an organization is to create curricular resources that are based on Brazil’s new National Learning Standards, and freely accessible to teachers throughout the country. As with the US, Brazil is a very big country. Educational materials have to be adapted to each state because we have different cultures and different geographies. We know that no two classrooms look the same but we want to ensure that students across Brazil are receiving the same high-quality education.
In 2016, we received a grant from Google.org which enabled us to create 6,000 lesson plans. The lesson plans put the student in the center of the learning process, creating a very active approach. That original project also helped us design our Nova Escola process, grounded in interviews with teachers to understand what works and what does not. We learned that the best way to deliver content to teachers is to develop the content together with them. We also learned that testing and prototyping via this back and forth process is crucial in creating the resources that actually help teachers and students.
Four years have passed since we created the project, and two years have passed since the first lesson plan was published. They’re all free and available at our platform 24/7. We currently have at least 500,000 teachers visiting the platform every month, which means that there are at least 20% of the teachers in Brazil using our lesson plans. And that number doesn’t count the teachers that may have downloaded them or printed the lesson plans to share with multiple teachers.
“At least 20% of the teachers in Brazil are using our lesson plans.”
- Guilherme Luz
What have you and your team found to be the hardest part of shifting your resources during COVID-19?
It was especially tough for Nova Escola because so much of our work depends on human contact. Our programs are typically very much reliant on us meeting with the teachers locally. The teachers were very used to receiving these kinds of training programs on site. We had to change everything overnight because there were no planes to get on, and we had to keep the wheel spinning.
Nova Escola had to rethink how we could do the training program with the teachers remotely: how to break out in groups, keep an active discussion and encourage participation. We had to put ourselves in the shoes of the teachers and rethink the way we delivered our programs. This was both challenging and fun at the same time. We were forced to view the situation through our teachers’ perspectives and consider what difficulties that they are facing right now.
“We had to change everything overnight because there were no planes to get on, and we had to keep the wheel spinning.”
As states have tried to keep learning going during the pandemic, we’ve also seen them using our lesson plans. For example, the state of São Paulo, which is the biggest state in terms of population in Brazil, is using the lesson plans that we developed together.
What are the greatest needs that teachers are facing and what are they looking to you all for help with?
First and foremost, a sizable portion of the teachers in Brazil need some help with the tools required to work remotely. Moreover, some of them don’t have the needed technology available or, in some circumstances, rarely use technology.
They’re coming to Nova Escola to understand: what kind of tools and content are available, how to prepare remote classes and how to retain the attention of students. We have been connecting the teachers with video creators so they can learn from each other. That has been helpful, especially in this period when teachers have been very busy with creating videos and conducting live sessions. Secondly, teachers want to know how to communicate with families and students at home. What’s the best way to do that? How can they ensure the learning process is continuing at home? The final concern they have is how can they continue to give good classes to students in this situation and continue to help students progress?
“When I think about the effort teachers are putting forth so that their students do not cease to learn during this period, it makes my heart explode. Teachers don’t give up.”
During these dark and challenging times, is there anything that has you especially hopeful?
I am a hopeful person by nature. I strongly believe in the power of education, and that’s why I work in this field. When I think about the effort teachers are putting forth so that their students do not cease to learn during this period, it makes my heart explode. Teachers don’t give up. They are scared of the virus and they are scared of the effects of this stoppage on the economy. In many cases, they have their kids at home as well. I think many of them have the reasons to say “well, I need to take care of me and my home and family right now.”
But what we are seeing is exactly the opposite. They work even more: they try to reach the students via whatever platforms they can and they don’t give up on any students. I think this is the best of humanity. A crisis like COVID-19, reveals the best and the worst in all of us. I’m seeing more of the best than of the worst. So that makes me very hopeful for the future.
This series on distance learning is brought to you by Google.org, a proud supporter of Nova Escola since 2016. In April 2020, we made an additional $550k grant to ensure that every student in Brazil has an equal chance to learn, even during COVID-19. This grant builds on our 2016 Global Education Portfolio which focused on nonprofits using technology to address education gaps.