College of Education students explore Brazilian educational systems

A College of Education class gave seven students a unique opportunity to not only experience Brazilian culture but more importantly, also its educational system.

EDUC 497C: Special Topics in Education with Embedded Travel to Brazil is taught by Jason Whitney and was offered during spring semester and highlighted by a two-week trip during Maymester.

“The purpose of EDUC 497C was to provide students an opportunity to travel to Brazil for the purpose of learning about the educational system in Brazil in order to make comparisons between Brazil and the United States,” Whitney said.

While in Brazil, the group toured both public and private elementary and secondary schools, as well as public and private universities. 

“In Brazil, the whole schema is essentially the opposite (of the U.S.). For students to receive a good preschool, elementary and secondary education, it is common to attend a private school. Everyone that we talked to reiterated, if the parents can afford private school, they would never put their child in public school,” Hanna Mincemoyer, a senior secondary education mathematics major, wrote in the class blog, The Penn State/ Brazil Connection.

“This means that starting around age 3, for a child to get the best quality education, they have to start paying tuition. If they are able to pay when they are young, there is a good chance they can get accepted to a public university after graduation, which is completely free. The public universities are able to continuously get the best students because of the competition for a free quality higher education.”

Following the Penn State contingent’s 10 days in Brasília, the group visited the experimental GENTE (Experimental School of New Technologies) Project, a recent project taken by the Municipal Board of Education in Rio de Janeiro in partnership with UNESCO to revitalize some of the poorest performing schools in the favelas (slums). The Andre Urani school is located in Rio’s Rocinha favela, a neighborhood whose cartels shunned outsiders and obstructed government services until it was “pacified” in recent years.

“The purpose of EDUC 497C was to provide students an opportunity to travel to Brazil for the purpose of learning about the educational system in Brazil in order to make comparisons between Brazil and the United States.”

-- Jason Whitney

The project aims to transform educational facilities and pedagogy. By providing a notebook computer to each student, the school uses a curriculum whose online lessons are individualized to match the level of the student. Weekly evaluations are conducted at the end of each week’s lesson, and students who perform poorly on these evaluations are given additional feedback and tutored by their classroom teachers. Teachers are assigned to the role of a facilitator who monitors each student’s work and creates a positive learning environment that encourages student autonomy. In addition, the school feeds students meals and provides health care.

The relationship between Penn State and Brazil started in 1959 when Jack Searles, a Penn State College of Education professor, moved his family to Brazil for two years. During that time, he taught in the Brazilian states of Belo Horizonte and Brasília.

Later, Searles would lead groups of Penn State students on trips to Brazil. Those trips were reciprocated.

One Brazilian, Eda Machado, came to Penn State to earn her doctorate. Her faculty adviser was Searles.

Now, more than 50 years later, one of the seven Penn State students who made the most recent trip to Brazil was Conor Searles, who graduated in August with a degree in education and public policy. He is Jack Searles’ grandson. By hosting Penn State students. Machado, who founded and is part owner of Instituto de Educação Superior de Brasília (IESB), has brought the exchange full circle. 

“Words cannot describe how excited I am to be here in Brazil to experience first hand some of the places, and to meet some of the people that my grandfather loved so well,” Conor Searles wrote during the trip.

“The foundation for this trip began in 1959 when my grandparents moved to Brazil for a two-year stretch, bringing my father, my uncles and both my aunts with them. Now, 54 years later, and a year after (my grandfather’s) death, here I am in Brazil. I see this trip as not just a wonderful educational opportunity, but as a tribute to my grandfather who dedicated much of his life to forging connections between Penn State and Brazil.”

Further strengthening the bond is the fact that Machado’s son, Edson, is currently working toward his doctorate in higher education at Penn State.

Whitney said he hopes to offer EDUC 497C every spring

“The class is a good fit for aspiring classroom teachers, and it also fits a wide range of majors in our college,” he said. “For instance, it offers education and public policy undergrads an opportunity to interact with those who shape policy. They can see for themselves that things are done differently in Brazil — though this year’s students were surprised by how many similarities exist between the two countries. Our Brazilian partners have been extraordinary hosts, and we were all astounded by the warmth and hospitality we received. We’ve made a great start, and we hope to offer this experience for many years to come.”

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Last Updated September 17, 2013