“We decided to tear down walls, gather students. We understood that alone we couldn’t teach everything to everyone. But, working as a team, following a project and making the act of learning autonomous, we could effectively respond to each student’s needs.”
José Pacheco, Portugal & Brazil
José Pacheco is a Portuguese educator and a visionary. Back in 1976, he almost gave up teaching due to the constant feeling that he was, somehow, excluding people from learning. The Portuguese school Escola da Ponte (https://www.facebook.com/escolabasicadaponte) was one among many public, decayed schools, with violent 14 and 15-year-old students who didn’t know how to read or write.
After asking himself repeatedly why wouldn’t the students learn, even though he delivered good, well structured lessons, he and two other teachers who shared the same concerns decided to apply their ideas in an innovative approach to teaching. They started by doing this on their spare time, while still teaching “regular lessons”, thus respecting the conservative attitude of those who didn’t want a change.
Gradually, they introduced a teamwork culture, opposed to the individual work practice present in the regular teaching methods. Through all these years, co-responsibility has been highly fomented in this learning place: students are grouped by their areas of interest and work together on research projects. They also work individually, sharing their findings with colleagues and educators afterwords. There are no classes, no exams, no school years. Teachers don’t teach just one subject, they are available to guide students as these may need. Students acquire, from an early age, a strong sense of citizenship, solidarity and, therefore, community.
As a team, and promoting an autonomous learning, José Pacheco and his fellow educators were able to tackle each student’s needs. In the beginning, the students didn’t respond well, simply because it was easier just to listen to the teacher than actually working on projects, doing research and develop critical thinking. Some teachers from other schools were also mistrustful and created quite a few obstacles to their vision.
In time, the student’s results started to show the high quality of their learning method. Recent assessment reports state that Escola da Ponte students obtain better grades than other schools’ students, and their level of social and moral development is even more significant.
Escola da Ponte teaching method places great importance on ethics and, as it’s known that aesthetics and cognitive developments are mutually influenced, knowledge is not fragmented. Escola da Ponte has proven that another education is, indeed, possible, associating academic excellence and social inclusion.
More recently, and after letting his cherished creation, Escola da Ponte, flourish by itself, José Pacheco was asked by the late Walter Steurer to help him “build a school” in Brazil, based on the LDBEN (Brazilian Guidelines and Basic Law for National Education) and that was how Projeto Âncora was born (http://www.projetoancora.org.br/) in São Paulo state.
Projeto Âncora school follows a sustainable education, effectively promoting social integration, going against the everlasting exclusion of the poorer children from the educational system. Brazilian schools lack reflective interaction spaces, and only when they discard the obsolete educational model most of them still rely on, as well as the bureaucratic management that places administration matters before educational ones, will they be transformed into places operating an integrative learning method, not dividing knowledge, not segregating students, but rather instigating values such as liberty, responsibility and solidarity (the three fundamental values sustaining Escola da Ponte too), and also autonomy, democracy and cooperation.
José Pacheco still visits his home country, Portugal, either to be with his beloved grandchildren or to follow up projects from his former students. He will be in Portugal, in 2018, for a teachers and educators gathering, providing mentorship and projects follow-up.
Today, the oldest students from Escola da Ponte are women and men in their fifties, that express on their day-to-day lives the values learnt at that school. They are fully fledged citizens, well accomplished and socially integrated.
Let’s hope for a wider political sensitivity and will to support the creation and maintenance of more learning and sharing places such as Escola da Ponte, in Portugal, or Projeto Âncora, in Brazil. We will all win from that!
. What have you done today to change the world? .
by Cláudia Gomes Oliveira