Innovative practice - No timetables, no lessons

11th May 2012 at 01:00
A democratic approach to teaching and learning puts children in charge of the whole educational process

The background

At Lumiar schools, there are no lessons, fixed timetables or traditional teachers. Founded in 2002, the Lumiar Institute is based on a democratic process of teaching that puts children in charge of their education. There are now three Lumiar schools in and around Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Teaching is focused on building skills rather than transmitting information, and students are encouraged to be in charge of their learning. Every week the schools hold "the circle", where parents and students come together to decide democratically on issues affecting the school.

The project

Lumiar schools keep within Brazil's curriculum, but put an emphasis on student involvement. For example, this term at Lumiar Internacional, teenage pupils said they wanted to learn about the Apocalypse. Roseli de Freitas, head of education, arranged for an astronomer to come and speak to the class in response to their wishes.

Teachers in the traditional sense are replaced by "tutors" and "masters". Tutors work as advisers, mentors, and coaches, monitoring the students' progress and supporting them. The other half of the staff are masters of a particular set of skills, such as engineering or playing the piano, and work part-time to design and facilitate projects that equip students with these skills.

Lumiar schools encourage logical thinking, debating ideas and developing communication skills. "Knowledge is easier to find these days with Google and the internet. If a child can't remember the name of a Roman emperor, we are not going to fail them," says de Freitas.

The Lumiar schools do not make their underperforming pupils repeat the year, as is common practice in Brazil. Instead, they look at ways to improve the teaching of subjects in which students are struggling. Exams are not compulsory, either. Pupils are assessed by observation. There are grade cards, but with no grades.

Occasionally, giving children autonomy can cause problems. Canadian students at Lumiar Internacional wanted hamburgers on the menu in the school canteen. Lumiar prides itself on its provision of healthy meals, but the students highlighted the school's democratic principles and said their views should be heard.

Tips from the scheme

"Teachers must be very open and able to adapt to a new programme of delivering education. It is likely to vary from the way you have been taught to teach," says de Freitas.

The children have freedom and you need to respect that. If you want to democratise education, their opinions should be valued. But remember that you have the final say. De Freitas has not introduced hamburgers, but instead chose to educate the students about the effects of unhealthy eating.

Evidence that it works?

Lumiar Publica in Santo Antonio do Pinhal is the highest-performing state school in the municipality. In 2007, Lumiar schools were selected to be one of 12 projects on Microsoft's worldwide Innovative Schools programme.

This project was highlighted by the Innovation Unit in its report 10 Schools for the 21st Century. Read the report at http:bit.lyx9y41w

THE PROJECT

Approach: Making teaching democratic by giving students a say in what they would like to be taught

Started: 2002

Founders: Ricardo and Fernanda Semler

THE SCHOOLS

Name: The Lumiar Institute has three schools: Lumiar Internacional, Lumiar Sao Paulo and Lumiar Publica

Location: Sao Paulo, Brazil

Age range: 0-14.

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