My relationship with education began when I was 14. Living in Brazil, that age was the time for us teenagers to choose a career, or at least try to decide on a field in which we might later aim to develop a career. All the students had to meet with the psychologist responsible for overseeing our possibilities. Every Monday, during my 8th grade (equivalent to Year 9 in the UK) we spent one hour taking tests, talking, and exploring many different professions. At the end of the year, a report was produced giving us some indication of how we might each best choose the next step in our school life – in which direction to specialise.
It was a kind of ritual, receiving those reports, a life changing event, much like that of the character Tris in the ‘Divergent’ series, when she had to be tested to see which faction she was best suited to, even though, later, she could choose a different one if she wanted. Searching back through my memories, yes, it was something like that!
As my friends came from their meetings with the psychologist they were talking definitively about being doctors, physicists, teachers, engineers, lawyers…but that just seemed to make my waiting more difficult. Finally, it was my turn to hear the prognosis and to get my report. I was the last one in my class to do so. The psychologist said my report was ‘inconclusive’, I had too many interests, and that my aptitudes were so diverse that I could effectively choose whatever I wanted, and would probably do very well. Trying to minimise my perplexity, she listed some professions she thought would be particularly suitable: engineer, lawyer, physicist, teacher… So, it was that day that the idea of being a teacher knocked at my door for the first time.
After I finished high school, I actually went on to study engineering and I dreamed of becoming a bio-engineer, but ended up in electronic engineering, specialising in software development.
Many years later, in 1994 when I had already set up my own software company, it was something of a surprise when ‘education’ came knocking at my door again. A friend asked me to help her implement a crossover between education and technology. This time I accepted.
So, by 1995, before most schools had really started to explore IT in Brazil, I was working to organise a computer laboratory for children from ages 1 to 17. But it wasn’t just the IT lab that I had charge of; all the IT in the school was my responsibility all administrative process – from enrolment to payments controlling – were under my supervision. More, I was also the head of science and technology. Each classroom had its own computer with access to the Internet, used for research and presentations, and to share experiences between my pupils and those in other countries. My pupils ‘travelled’ with a family in a boat around the world, they exchanged emails with other pupils in Australia, Japan and Finland. Their window on the world was effectively wider than any other students in the Brazilian educational system. From writing, formatting, illustrating, printing, and selling books, to creating simulations on the computer representing the eruptions of volcanoes, or the traffic in a city, my pupils solved problems and implemented solutions, using technology of all levels.
Just to emphasise the range and extent of their production achievements I will cite: A CD-ROM about transport; a virtual book illustrating different cultures around the world; a model where cars, boats, planes and trains were controlled by a computer (including signalling too). They built robots, defied adults to solve quizzes that they had programmed into the computer, and more than that, all took the responsibility for their learning into their own hands. My laboratory became the basis of a holistic approach to education where we discussed law, science, different cultures, working in groups, and success and failure as consequences of having the courage to do something different.
From teaching children, my next step was to help prepare teachers to embrace this new style of learning. For two years, I taught a postgraduate course in a university in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Everything I had implemented and learned was used to teach the teachers. Never have so many teachers, of all ages been so fascinated with the act of learning!
For 10 years I worked on developing an approach to using information technology as a common basis for teaching across subject boundaries, helping to break the lines dividing the different subjects, turning teaching and learning into a more comprehensive experience. The core of my studies (later a paper I presented to the Capella University for an On-Line Education course I ran there) involved combining science, maths, language, and, potentially, any other aspect of knowledge within the mantle of technology.
I left the educational field in 2005, but have continued to follow developments around the world. Now, I want to share my experience and the vision gained through living and learning in that environment, and to comment on the changes I am seeing today. The world is changing again, in the same way that it saw a change in emphasis from manufacturing to the management, sharing and use of information. The next step is towards AI, involving situations where machines are much more efficient than people. What will we need to teach to future generations to enable them to make the most of living in a world like that? It’s not too late to think and to change, but we need courage, and people with vision. Perhaps you, too, will be inspired to join those who are investigating the ways of making the most of such a future…