I voiced seven questions in preparation to this study trip.
In the course of two days I spoke with colleague teachers and professors of the school for teachers. Below a summary of the answers, as concise as I could be. For more details, contact me.
- How does Portugal get children ready for formal education? (—> children are prepared)
The aim of the Portugese education system is to start teaching cognitive capabilities at an early age. This implies that very early on, important content is offered and the children are expected to absorb that. The younger the child is, the more hours it will spend at school.
- How does Portugal design curricula concepts for mastery (and context for motivation)? (—> children learn)
The curriculum is nation wide the same. It is stacked with content of a seriously high level. Mastery of all this content is achieved at school, but many student take extra lessons – at their own expense – in the afternoon, after school. The motivation to learn is two fold: you need to pass a state exam to be allowed to follow secondary school and beyond. And on top of that, the school atmosphere and teacher guidance is to firmly work on tasks. Students follow these two drivers dilligently.
- How does Portugal support children to take on challenges (rather than making concessions)? (—> all children learn)
All the children follow the same curriculum up until the age of 15. After that, they choose a secondary school with a theme. Partially based on their desire, mostly based on the advice they got derived from their exam results. There is little room for concessions, as all children need to achieve the primary curriculum.
- How does Portugal treat teachers as professionals? (—> teachers are highly skilled)
Teachers are employed through the ministry of Education. This means they work at a school, not for a school. Teachers can be reassigned per school year on another school, even in another city. Because the curriculum is nation wide the same, little time is needed to be able to work effectively in their new assignment.
The workload generated by the curriculum fills up all the available time for teaching, there is little to no room to experiment or add material. However, teachers have full freedom in how they present and teach the curriculum. In experimental school other methods of learning are tried and tested, for instance project based teaching.
- How does Portugal combine school accountability with school support (rather than sanctions)? (—> schools are effective)
Achieving a high PISA turnout is important. In addition, there is a surplus of teacher employed through the ministry of Education. This means there is extensive support for students that lag behind or have trouble understanding the curriculum. Moreover, children with special needs, for instance with autism or even down syndrom, are part of the ordinary school. They may be offered special sessions, but are truly part of a class. Which proves to work: the other students accept the students with special needs as their class mates.
- How does Portugal use humor during lessons and how does that influence stress reduction?
Sparingly. The humor that I witnessed during classes is content oriented, not aimed at the student or teacher. During sessions the use of humor is valued, but the initiative is mostly left to the guests.
- How does Portugal manage the complex dynamic systems that a class and students are?
They understand a class and every student is a complex dynamic system. They know about autonomy and they appreciate the effects of diversity. But, there is no process or approach to address the CDSs they work in. In fact, teachers of the teacher university are struggling with this complexity and dynamics. They understand there is a need to work on CDSs in a academic manor, but do not know how yet. We have had interesting discussions on this, and are very interested to jointly improve our understanding and approach for talent development in CDS-environments.
Lucy Crehan (2016), Cleverlands – The Secrets Behind the Success of the World’s Education Superpowers. Cornerstone (isbn 9781783522736)