Give Life a Positive SpinCulture & Education | February 28, 2012
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MANACAPURU, Brazil – The mere mention of the word Amazon conjures images not just of the world’s biggest jungle, but also of enormity.
Amazonian is a synonym for huge, remote, overwhelming.
Just getting there is a journey. A flight from São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro to Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, takes almost four hours, or about the same as it takes to go from London to Moscow.
A trip into the state’s interior is even more fantastic. Some villages are four weeks from Manaus by boat, along some of the state’s more than 1000 rivers.
One of the problems for the Amazonas school system is finding qualified high school teachers in those small towns. Another is that pupils often have to travel great distances to get to class. Some are forced to come to Manaus if they want a high school education; others give up, defeated by the hassle or the cost.
A distance learning program aims to overcome some of those geographically imposed hurdles by using technology to beam lessons into the farthest schools. The program that started in 300 classrooms in 2007 is now present in 1300.
“What we do is offer the structure for people to study every day,” said Jose Augusto de Melo Neto, the program’s director. “We install a satellite dish, a generator, a television, computers, microphones and webcams and whatever else is needed for a school to connect with our studio.”
Teachers in Manaus give lessons in front of a camera and the pictures are sent to the remote classrooms. A local teacher is on hand to help students, who can also communicate with the specialist teacher via web cam and through a chat function.
The program has been a resounding success, according to Melo Neto’s numbers. Some 14 % percent of Brazil’s high school students fail to complete their second year. For those using the distance learning course it is less than 3 %. In Amazonas, 89 % of students taking distance learning courses graduate high school, compared to just 75 % in Brazil as a whole.
Melo Neto hopes to expand the program to reach 75,000 students by 2104, or half of the state’s rural children. Two other Brazilian states have already adopted the technology, and others are looking into it. The program recently won a World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) award from the Qatar Foundation’s global education organization.
However, there are downsides. While educators in Manaus love the program, the target audience is not so keen.
“It’s harder to resolve your doubts,” said Ana Caroline Souza, a 17-year old math student. “You can’t go back over things. I don’t see the advantage in it.”
The advantage is in the success rate and also in the convenience.
Many remote students have to abandon their studies when they finish primary school because there are no high schools nearby. So though they may not like the satellite dish and the screen, it is the only alternative.
“If we didn’t have it,” said Souza, “we wouldn’t be here.”
About the Author:
Andrew Downie fled a factory job in Scotland almost 20 years ago and set off to find adventure in Latin America. Since then he has lived in Mexico, Haiti, and now Brazil, writing and reporting for publications such as The New York Times, Time magazine, Esquire and GQ. He spent eight years in Rio de Janeiro and currently lives in São Paulo.
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