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LIANE MARIA RIBEIRO MARCONDES

Brazil,

Liane Marcondes spearheads the introduction of interactive and multimedia computer teaching tools into Brazilian education. From its original base in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, her program is spreading rapidly into schools throughout the country.

This profile below was prepared when Liane Maria Ribeiro Marcondes was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1993.

INTRODUCTION

Liane Marcondes spearheads the introduction of interactive and multimedia computer teaching tools into Brazilian education. From its original base in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, her program is spreading rapidly into schools throughout the country.




THE NEW IDEA

Liane Marcondes says that her work began with a question: "Education is changing: what can we do with it?" She has pioneered the use of computers as a classroom tool, helping Brazil to leapfrog its severe shortfall of qualified schoolteachers and educate its children for the future. Through her program, children learn to use computers, an important skill in the emerging information era. Moreover, the technology facilitates a degree and range of student involvement that was previously all but impossible. A child can, for example, listen to a presentation of a realistic social situation that includes racial and class elements and then discuss it among a diverse group of his or her peers. That same child can learn alone about history and math or create a personal data base. The "teacher" in each case is a computer, programmed with special software to ask questions and in turn respond to children's answers– put to work in classrooms by teachers Liane has trained.

The interactive computer and multimedia curricula that Liane and her team are developing is Brazil's first. Beyond its benefits to children, her work is demonstrating that computers are economically beneficial to the country. They leverage teachers. They reduce the waste of high grade repetition rates (and demoralization of black and poor students). They produce computer literacy in the work force. And they give a window of discovery and escape for the high talent and/or motivation minority.




THE PROBLEM

There is a dramatic imbalance between Brazil's educational needs and its available resources. More than 35 percent of the population are currently under age fifteen, of whom one fifth have either less than a year of formal education or no schooling at all. Roughly half of all Brazilians leave school before completing primary education; only about five percent finish secondary or higher levels of education. The deficit of schools and teachers is so great that few solutions using conventional methods exist; even if training facilities operated at full capacity they could not produce enough teachers to catch up.

The quality of the education provided is equally deficient. Rote learning is the norm in overcrowded classes. Teachers, especially in the public schools, are typically lower middle class (separated by a cultural chasm from Afro-Brazilian and poor kids), poorly educated, underpaid and therefore often moving from one of several jobs to the next. Curriculum materials do not connect with children's lives; the small market in Portuguese books means a limited supply of texts. Educational conditions conspire to give Brazilian students little chance of competing in the modern world.




THE STRATEGY

Liane began to demonstrate computer-assisted curricula in a private school, because, she explains, that setting was more open to innovation than the public system, and there were more resources to work with. Sponsored through a partnership between the local municipality and IBM, Liane and a team of colleagues established her pilot project in 1985 in Rezende, an industrial city between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Students ranged from preschool through fourth grades. Of the 30 preschool children, fifteen were disabled (Down's Syndrome, cerebral palsy and hearing and speech impaired). She used specially tailored interactive software which she developed in partnership with IBM and the University of São Paulo. The four-year experiment produced positive results. The preschool children mastered reading and writing within three to six months, and the children in the elementary school group did better than their counterparts in other classrooms.

Having established a track record, Liane founded an organization and began to move into the public education system. She held workshops and discussions and took educators on trips around the world to see what was happening in schools in other places. The formal system began to back her work, beginning with a commitment to modernize and change the curriculum. It established a consultative body made up of representatives from schools, universities and municipal and state educational secretariats, the Group for the Future of Education; and the Group began to plan how to implement structural change in the educational system, incorporating Liane's new models. She now collaborates with all representatives of education in Brazil–at the city, state and national levels, and her program is backed by funding from both the government and private business. The university system provides facilities for her to train teacher interns in the use of her interactive software, and through the training of teachers Liane is "invading" the entire system. Public and private school alike absorb the trainees and she maximizes the value of her contacts in both systems: one of her strategic techniques is the establishment of "twin schools," where each private school in her program teams with a public school. She says this process has produced "very interesting" results. It has not only given public school children more access to the resources of a wealthier system, but it has had the added benefit of bringing kids of different races and classes into classrooms where they can learn together and from each other.

Liane's program has three new curriculum developments. In one, secondary school students learn about the environment though tailored computer programs linked with the natural history information in the national parks system. She is also developing computer-based literacy training for adults and computer-based teaching strategies for mentally and physically disabled students. She is developing the appropriate software and the necessary teacher training programs and is working in conjunction with a network of groups active in the disabilities arena. The strategy behind this software is a commitment to educate a diverse society, "the society of the future," as Liane says.

A new development in Liane's work is what she calls the "long-distance class": where classrooms across the country are interlinked with each other, and information available at one site is instantly at the fingertips of children in all other classrooms.




THE PERSON

Liane is a member of the first generation of engineers to be formally educated in computer science in Brazil. She began her career by consulting with businesses that were introducing computers to their operational systems and became increasingly fascinated by the interaction between people and machines. After graduating from engineering school in Rio de Janeiro, Liane was invited to participate in an IBM-sponsored graduate program. The program's objective was to generate research on the relationship between data processing and education. Although most of the program's 21 participants returned to the universities, Liane and a few of her colleagues decided to apply their knowledge to a concrete situation. They then founded the experimental school in Rezende.

In 1988, in response to the increased demand for her consulting services and to the diversity of human needs related to the computerization of businesses, Liane established and became the first president of a multidisciplinary cooperative consultancy organization. This cooperative provided technical support to the Rezende experiment. As her new interactive approaches demonstrated their potential to have significant impact on young people, and as she came to understand the severity of the problems in the traditional Brazilian education system, Liane decided she needed to pursue her vision full-time. She founded an organization, Dialog, and set out to bring her alternative to millions of children who had not had the opportunity to learn.




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