A learning community project

Portuguese educator José Pacheco describes himself as an apprentice, but he also teaches many people. He designed Escola da Ponte, in Portugal, known worldwide for applying a new learning model with individual projects for each student, who do not learn in the classroom, but with a complete experience supervised by tutors.

In Brazil, the educator helped create several learning prototypes. One of them, Projeto Âncora, located in Cotia, São Paulo, implements a learning community, encouraging student’s autonomy.

In an interview for CER, José Pacheco talks about his experience in the project and at Escola da Ponte.

1- Is it possible to draw a parallel between Escola da Ponte and Projeto Âncora?

I came to Brazil at Rubem Alves’ request, because he was delighted by Escola da Ponte. But the school is European and has little to do with Brazil. For the first time in the world, 41 years ago – and in a public school – Ponte has totally broken with the educational model built in the 18th and 19th centuries, and still in course in schools nowadays. And it did so successfully, with academic excellence and social inclusion.

Âncora was not the first project that I participated in Brazil and it goes far beyond Escola da Ponte. It is a prototype of what a learning community can be: a new social construction that replaces the one from the 19th century. At Âncora teachers began to work with life projects, tailored for each student, in a triple dimension curriculum – with the community and not for the community. Today it is one of the best schools in terms of performance and works exclusively with students from classes E and F.

It makes no sense to have 21st century students and 20th century teachers working as they did in the 19th century. This configuration leads to high dropout rates, millions of illiterates, humiliated teachers, extreme violence, political and ethical crisis. If the way schools work does not guarantee the right to education, they can no longer work that way.

2 – What is it like to teach without one of the main educational symbols: the classroom?

Nothing is learned in a classroom, this is a taboo. The classroom is something from the time people said it was necessary to teach everyone in the same way. It is the Industrial Revolution’s standardized way of organizing time, it is mass production.

Classes dynamics are also outdated, from the 17th century. Learning is made with each other. One learns through relationships.

What concerns me are those who continue to reproduce the old model that condemns millions to ignorance. I have no solutions. I learn from others how to create a learning community. Communities that began in Brazil – the first one in 1905 – 90 years before they appeared in England.

3 – How are the students’ assessments made in non-traditional teaching?

I am constantly asked if I do not evaluate. I do. However, Brazilian schools that apply tests do not evaluate. They do classification, not evaluation.

In our integral teaching, evaluation happens not only in the cognitive sphere. It is emotional, affective, ethical, aesthetic and attitude based. Schools are made of people and people are made of their values. For this reason, evaluation must be formative, continuous and systematic. We do apply tests eventually to see how the general level is, but we ask beforehand who wants to take the test. The result is that children are much more advanced in comparison to their age standard.

Here, when the child wants to learn, she talks to the tutor and they put together a study plan, which includes internet research, time with the teacher, individual work, book reading, and more. When she feels she is ready, she talks to the tutor and shares what she has learned. Knowledge with action is competence.

In Projeto Âncora, it is not 4 hours of classes per day, but 24 hours, because we can learn even sleeping. It’s 365 days a year. The student’s bathroom is not separated from the teacher’s bathroom. Libraries are not closed or empty. The teacher is not alone.

4 – What are the main challenges for students when they find an educational system in which autonomy is key?

The biggest obstacle are the students themselves, because they want to have a regular class. It is easier to listen to the teacher talking while they play on the phone than it is to learn. But school is a place of learning, not of laziness.

Therefore, they need to transcend their culture, their anxiety, their family. When students arrive, we give them all the time they need to adjust. They begin in the Initiation Group, where they learn to research, evaluate, compare, synthesize and communicate information, to use digital learning platforms, to listen to and to respect each other. When they acquire these capabilities, they are directed to the Consolidation Group. No matter the age, everyone begins in the same group, 2 year- old toddlers or 80 year-old seniors.

Learning is not done within a building, it is done in many places: on the internet, in the woods, inside the community, in squares, through people. And students learn because they have a project. Thus, learning is significant. They are the ones who design the projects and the script is built together with the teachers, respecting the entire national curriculum, something that today’s schools do not do.

5 – How do you evaluate students’ progress in a teaching model that does not follow the traditional model? Are they prepared for the work market?

To prove this, we can talk about Escola da Ponte’s experience, which is more consolidated. It has thousands of graduates and most of them are entrepreneurs, who employ people with special needs, for instance. We have also educated many teachers, many artists.

Students of this teaching model are good even in the universities entrance examinations – which is interesting, since they do not take tests at school. But when they do, they do better.

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