Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, Brazil is also one of the least equitable. One of the most significant and alarming inequalities exists within its education system. It is estimated that 48% of children in Brazil today experience “learning poverty” — by age 10, they are unable to read simple text. At the current rate of improvement, it will take Brazil 260 years to improve their literacy rate, according to the Lemann Foundation, whose mission is to make Brazil a more just and equitable place by guaranteeing access to high-quality public education for all.
In late 2019, the Lemann Foundation approached Reos Partners to help explore this issue based on Reos’ previous work on public education in Brazil. With Reos Partners’ support, the Lemann Foundation convened a diverse group of stakeholders with backgrounds in education and technology. The goal of the group was to think together and construct a set of scenarios about the short-term future of education and technology in Brazil in a post-Covid world.
Here, Christel Scholten of Reos Partners and Lucas Machado Rocha of the Lemann Foundation discuss the project, the impact Covid has had on education and technology in Brazil, and how the scenarios of possible futures are being used today.
Christel Scholten is a Managing Director at Reos Partners São Paulo where she designs, facilitates, and supports systems transformation processes with organizations and multi-stakeholder groups. She brings a systemic perspective and understanding to her work, supporting groups to identify and collaborate around key leverage points for transformation.
Lucas Machado Rocha leads innovation at the Lemann Foundation. His team is responsible for research and experimentation of new technologies and methodologies that can contribute to a more hands-on, active, and collaborative education experience. Lucas has advised the federal and local governments on policies around innovation and technology and has founded a movement in Brazil to promote “code to learning.”
What did the Education and Technology Scenarios Process consist of?
CS: After conducting a series of in-depth interviews with 30 participants, the joint Reos-Lemann team facilitated eight four-hour virtual workshops. Over two months we held six workshops with these 30 participants who represented different perspectives and roles in the education and technology ecosystem including students, educators, administrators, technology specialists, entrepreneurs and start-ups, foundations that support education, and education research and innovation centers, among others.
We then paused for two months to write up the scenarios we had collectively developed. We reconvened two months later for two final workshops to discuss the implications of these scenarios and create recommendations for the education system and the stakeholders.
What perspective did the students bring to the process?
LMR: First, they brought a sense of reality. They faced connectivity issues to even participate in the online meetings. One of the students had to borrow a cell phone from a neighbor. In seeing how they were struggling to participate in the workshops, you can imagine how they were struggling to participate in their online classes.
Second, their contributions were so genuine. It was very moving to hear the perspective they brought to the discussions around how they felt about not being heard by their schools in the solutions they were proposing. The students want to be part of this. They have their own ideas. That was really powerful to hear.
How did Covid affect public education in Brazil when so many students were required to attend school virtually?
CS: The system in Brazil was not prepared to use technology for online learning. It made the project feel very relevant. The pandemic exacerbated inequalities in general, but especially within education. While the part of the population that had access to computers, laptops, and iPads were able to adapt, the other part struggled to share the one phone they had amongst the various family members for work and study. In general, private schools were better able to adapt to this new reality than the public schools.
The impact of Covid also influenced the team’s recommendations for education and technology in Brazil. One recommendation, for instance, involved guaranteeing investment in access to technology and connectivity for all states across the country so that everyone would have equal access to online education.
Because of Covid we adapted the traditionally in-person process to an online format and adjusted the time horizon of the scenarios to focus on post-Covid as opposed to decades in the future. We referred to it as a rapid response scenarios process, something new for Reos. As co-facilitators, the Lemann Foundation representatives also brought in a lot of really helpful innovations to our methodology. It was a really strong partnership.
Can you share the set of scenarios the team came up with in the rapid response scenarios process?
LMR: We came up with four scenarios around how the education system in Brazil might look in 2023. The first and most desirable one, called Connections, is around how we can come out of this pandemic stronger and with reduced inequalities, primarily through increased democratization of access to the internet and digital devices and increased multi sector partnerships.
The second scenario, Mosaic, is one in which the pandemic affects the country unequally. There is an absence of federal leadership and state and municipal initiatives emerge, creating a mosaic of experiences and public policies. This scenario most resembles where Brazil is right now. The Covid vaccination rate across the states is a good example—there are some areas of the country where 60% of the population has been vaccinated while other states are much lower.
The third scenario, Transactions, is one in which the private sector takes the lead. Private investments in internet connectivity are made possible and while technology is more present in schools it is often not coupled with pedagogical innovations. In the fourth scenario, Control, the federal government takes full leadership, while state and municipal secretaries and networks become divided and are weakened. Within this scenario the pandemic exacerbates health and economic problems, leading to even greater socioeconomic and educational inequalities.
Based on the scenarios, the Scenario Team proposed a handful of high-level recommendations that were guided by the overriding vision of promoting learning experiences that recover the damages of the pandemic, reduce educational and technological inequalities, and build an education that is more active and meaningful for students and teachers.
How have these recommendations been used so far?
LMR: Currently the Lemann Foundation is entering a new 10-year cycle of our long-term learning process. The scenarios project is one of the resources we are using to base our discussions around. Other organizations that were involved in the Education and Technology Scenarios Process are also using these in their planning.
It helps the mindset for the planning process when you are planning for specific scenarios. That can be very powerful because instead of planning for a single path, you're planning for multiple possibilities. Secondly, if you look at the scenarios and recommendations, there was a strong push for connectivity. Because of this we've doubled our investments in connectivity.
We’re also exploring the idea of interoperability. How can we make sure that data being generated by software and applications is being shared across platforms and being used by teachers to plan their classrooms and their activities? This notion of interoperability was explored in the Connections scenario. We have opened a new line of work around interoperability in response to this.
We are hopeful that this set of scenarios and recommendations makes a meaningful contribution to education and technology in Brazil and that it contributes to building a brighter, more equitable future for the people of Brazil.