More than 40 kilometres stand between my house and the public school where I teach history, in Guadalupe, a suburban neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro. My journey to work includes two highways, a long car ride and a huge change in environment.
Emilio Carlos Municipal School has been open for nearly 60 years. It faces challenges typical of all schools in Rio. Teachers here are trying to educate a generation growing up amid drug trafficking, gangs, violence and socioeconomic inequality. Nevertheless, the school remains an important part of the community, attended by around 400 students between the ages 12 and 16.
Lessons start at 7.30am and students attend in two shifts. I teach a double lesson with one class – 100 minutes – then a double lesson with another class before lunch at noon. All public schools in Rio serve two or three meals, including a quick snack or a piece of fruit in the middle of lessons. Although not all of our students eat with us, offering these meals is hugely important for their nutrition, given the poor communities they come from.
Teachers have an hour’s break for lunch before the afternoon students arrive for the second shift. I teach two more double lessons and leave school between 4pm and 5pm.
In a regular week, I teach for 30 hours and have 10 hours of paid planning and assessment time, as dictated by Rio’s Education Office. Lesson planning overflows into my time at home and my weekends, but having dedicated time for it at school is essential, given the students I teach.
I started teaching here in 2013. It was the first school that I worked at – and was a tough beginning to my career. I went to private schools as a student and although I had trained in public schools in neighbouring cities, I was not ready for the difficulties that I would face in Rio. Issues from the community migrate to the classroom. Students can be inattentive, disrespectful and aggressive. Underachievement and a disregard for education are common.
My solution for reaching these students came in the form of education technology. In 2014, I attended a workshop about blended learning, a method of teaching combining online digital media with traditional classroom methods. I felt that this would enable me to teach in a more dynamic and personalised way.
I began to use the school’s eight simple computers – small netbooks that could be carried to my classes – and present videos to my students that I had made and published online. If students had access to the internet at home, they could revisit the material and test themselves with a short online quiz. Or, they could catch up on these digital materials during my classes using the school computers.
The use of digital resources helped me to spend more time moving around the room and working with individuals. Although I could not entirely escape the regular system of evaluations and grades, I managed to excite my students and found the space to hear them and establish a dialogue.
By using resources that are closer to the daily lives of my students, I have been able to overcome some of the distances that stand between us – distances far greater than the geographic one.
Eric Rodrigues is a history teacher at Emilio Carlos Municipal School in Rio de Janeiro. He is one of hundreds of educators associated with projects partnered with the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE)