Teamwork keeps Brazilian children learning during COVID-19

Lemann Foundation and partners collaborate on content quality on a full range of platforms.

May 29, 2020 by Denis Mizne, Lemann Foundation
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5 minutes read
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Children in Brazil. Credit: Lemann Foundation
Children in Brazil.
Lemann Foundation

When COVID-19 forced school closures across Brazil, we quickly hit on four core priorities for our approach. For all of us around the world committed to education, it is good to take stock of these as we continue our responses, get ready for children’s return to school and plan for longer-term resilience:

  • Above all, we need to be collaborative. When aligned around shared priorities, strategy and division of labor, the work of the third sector, government, teachers and other players goes further, faster. It is also important to leverage news media as part of the partnership, making sure that information about resources for teaching and learning have a high profile.
  • We need to adjust the curriculum. In our response, we made it a priority to quickly trim down lessons. Content needs to be grounded in what can realistically be accomplished through distance learning. We can’t expect the complete curriculum to be covered. A revised curriculum should focus on the most critical elements for returning successfully to school.
  • We need a spectrum of delivery formats. We all know the Internet is a great way to teach. But we also know that its reach is limited. So, delivering lessons by broadcast and even print is critical. For our foundation, supporting broadcast initiatives has been a vital strategy. The crisis has taught us we need to do even more.
  • Consolidation of teaching and learning tools makes a difference. Just as we needed to respond quickly to the crisis, so did teachers and students. To do so, they had to find the right resources. Putting those resources all in one place made that easier and faster for them.

While there are many lessons to be learned and many factors that lead to success, these fundamentals helped us drive our response and will continue to do so. 

The learning crisis in Brazil

Almost 40 million children attend public schools in Brazil, an enrollment that is higher than the population of most of the world’s countries. Fully half already face learning poverty, which the World Bank defines as being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10. Unsurprisingly, most of the kids that suffer from this learning crisis are from historically marginalized communities — Afro-Brazilians, indigenous, rural, and poor.

Like most countries across the world, ours is grappling with the unprecedented dilemma of millions of children suddenly out of school at one time.

While it’s urgent everywhere to keep students learning, the stakes are even higher in countries like Brazil, where extreme inequality reigns.

A unified, focused response

Since the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in Brazil on February 25, 2020, we in the third sector and our partners began huddling together to reduce the immense harm we feared it would cause. The Lemann Foundation, which has been working to guarantee quality public education in Brazil for almost two decades, was fortunate to have partnerships in place.

The consortium has launched a variety of free high-quality learning and teaching tools:

  • Aprendendo Sempre (Always Learning) is the one-stop portal that consolidates all the materials structured by the consortium. It offers access to high-quality educational resources that had been previously scattered across various platforms. Bringing them all together helped many respond more quickly, making this an important underlying investment. There is content for both teachers and students.
  • Focus map gives teachers and other content creators a refined set of priorities. When students are learning remotely, we know they are not getting a full education. So, Focus Map emphasizes the core learnings most essential to pave the way for a successful return to school. They were created by Reuna Institute, one of the Lemann Foundation’s grantees.
  • AprendiZap provides lesson plans, content, and exercises directly through the most popular app in Brazil, WhatsApp. Leveraging the free messaging service for remote learning was critical because it offers unlimited minutes. This factor was crucial because while most Brazilians have access to an Internet-connected device, they do not have unlimited data plans. More than 60,000 students have already learned through the platform.
  • YoutubeEdu is being used to push out weekly video playlists that adhere to Brazil’s National Learning Standards. Curation ensures that the learning materials are aligned with the national curriculum.
  • Support for teachers is being provided by Nova Escola, one of Lemann Foundation grantees, through a partnership with Facebook. More than two million educators across Brazil now have access to free continuing education to help them leverage digital tools required for remote learning.

Reaching students with no Internet access

Lemann Foundation is also partnering with districts to support Media Center projects. The Center delivers instruction in various formats, including apps, digital channels and broadcast. The broadcast component is critical, reaching children with no access to Wi-Fi and computers.

Lessons are pushed out live and can also be re-broadcast by local stations. Information about lessons is promoted heavily through local media. In São Paulo alone, the biggest district in Brazil, we are supporting more than two million students with this solution.

The need for broadcast education will persist even after the immediate crisis has passed and so plans are in place to continue to use this medium. We are also preparing in other ways for the next stage of the crisis. Civil society in Brazil is already organizing a set of tools to help schools solve challenges when kids are back to school.

Re-planning existing projects

Besides working together with the consortium, Lemann Foundation needed to re-plan its ongoing projects, like many organizations had to do when COVID-19 hit. In addition to starting new initiatives, we reinforced our investments in old initiatives that we knew could make a fundamental difference during this crisis.

In that sense, we stepped up our investment in two projects to develop consultancy work with the states and municipalities school’s systems. We are now working to help them prepare for the returning to schools in the following ways:

  • Formar offers remote support for educators through conversation circles and sharing of best practices. So far, 25 public education networks are involved, benefitting the learning of more than one million students.
  • Educar pra Valer offers free technical advice to municipalities. The initiative is designed to help cities implement effective public management practices through remote training and consultancy.

Find out more about our education initiatives in Brazil during COVID.

About the Lemann Foundation

Since its birth in 2002, the Lemann Foundation has been working to advance Brazil’s development with equity by unlocking the potential of its children and future leaders. Founded by self-made Brazilian entrepreneur and “business-class hero,” Jorge Paulo Lemann, the family foundation reverses inequality in Brazil at scale on two fronts: education and leadership. Lemann’s mission is to guarantee all children a high-quality public education no matter what their background and to support future leaders committed to making Brazil a more just and equal place.

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Latin America and Caribbean: Brazil

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