Damione Damito is a professor of network infrastructure at Instituto Federal de São Paulo. Founder and host of the podcast Papo de Professor (Teacher Talk, in portuguese), which has been disseminating content on new ideas, theories and good practices in education for two years. During a five-month stay in Finland, he attended a special program in Professional Education at HAMK University of Applied Sciences where he developed research on new educational technologies, online collaboration tools, internationalization and continuing teacher education. According to him, the success of the Finnish educational system, a reference worldwide, is consequence of a set of factors that favor innovative and entrepreneurial education. Promotion of informal teaching environments and of the teacher figure as an agent of inspiration are some of them.
Damione argues that resilience is the main attitude that defines entrepreneurship because it is helps focusing on the ultimate goal and works as a fuel to overcome challenges. In this interview, he talks about the experience in Finland and how to innovate in the classroom in a simple way, using the resources already available.
Brazil and Finland are geographically, economically and culturally very different. Is it possible to compare Finland’s teaching with Brazilian education?
It is not wise to compare Brazil with Finland in any aspect. The entire population of Finland – 5 million people – is half the population of São Paulo. These countries have different background and even totally different climate. Their realities are different and that also applies to education.
What can we bring from the Finnish experience to Brazil?
When we talk about teaching in Finland, it is very important not to think that the same model they have there will work in Brazil. I spent five months there and when I came back I decided to completely change my classes. For one semester I tried to apply absolutely everything I had learned and my result was surprising: I failed. It was completely chaotic for me and for my students.
What we can do is observe some of their examples, understand how they work and, as far as possible, apply them, adapting to our culture. Another recommendation I give teachers is to start slowly, step by step. For example, one of the changes that teachers can apply right away is to rethink the standardized assessment model since our curriculum allows individual evaluation of students. Another change is to start listening to the student, to know what he longs for, what he likes. These are simple, small, and very significant changes that can be applied.
How do you try to bring informal practices into the formal teaching environment, which is the classroom?
I teach networking infrastructure for 14 year olds and I know they like to play games. Rather than simply building a computer network with them, we decided to build a lan house or a cyber café network. I developed my class from that background, and with that, the number of dropouts was basically zero.
In some subjects, students have to present a project at the end of the semester. This is what practically every teacher does. To better prepare them for the job market, I invited two students from a more advanced grade to share about how they should dress and behave during a presentation. The dynamics in the classroom changed: there were students talking to students. With that, they felt much more comfortable to ask questions and make comments.
Initially, I would only explain that the student should dress in a coherent manner, pay attention to what to talk and understand about the identity of the company, to establish a connection with it. From the change we made, students began to address complex issues such as bias, paradigms, and cultural appropriation. All that was brought by themselves into the classroom and made the environment more comprehensive. Our learning objectives have been expanded.
Is it possible, in your opinion, to innovate within a traditional model of education?
It is very important to understand that the traditional classroom – the classic model of 50- minute classes – is not enough. But that should not be an impediment to innovation. Teachers can innovate within the traditional model. It is not the ideal scenario, but it is possible with creativity. Teachers have the mission of innovating and bringing about changes because we are educating those who will define the policies of tomorrow. So if the teacher is not inspired, he can not be an inspiration himself. However, that does not eliminate the need for changes, they are necessary.
What are the main challenges for teachers in dealing with the new generation desires and ways of thinking?
Generally, international exams that measure the quality of education in Brazil point out that there is no continuity in Brazilian teachers training. The teacher is put into the ecosystem of education and usually does not recycle himself, does not learn new things. From then on the standards are perpetuated.
When the teacher continues his education, he builds support networks and learning communities, shares difficulties with other teachers, creates identity, strengthens bonds, and thus strengthens himself. Some studies show that those attitudes help decrease the number of medical licenses because they start to have a sense of belonging.