Last August, I was in São Paulo teaching English to a camera and also to millions of students from every corner of Brazil, from the arid lands of the Northeast countryside to the rainforest in the Amazon, from poor neighborhoods in big capitals to the wide rural pampa near the Argentinian border. In a few weeks, my 30 English classes for High School will be broadcast for free on Futura Channel, both on satellite television and YouTube. Those classes are part of the beautiful project #Nem1PraTrás (Not One Behind) which aims to be an important source of knowledge, information, extra material and content to help all young people from Brazil to keep up studying and somehow build a bridge over the abyss created between struggling students and what they need to achieve all their potential while facing hard times away from school due to the pandemic of Covid-19.
I started my career as an English teacher in late 1990’s at a public school in my small town in Serra Gaúcha, Rio Grande do Sul. I had barely begun my degree in Language and Literature, but I did love teaching, and I did love foreign languages. The school couldn’t count on the good course books from prestigious American and British publishing companies I has studied with both in language school and college – too expensive for the kids –, so I had to create my own materials in order to teach a little English to my dear teenage and young adult students. Most of them were evening school students who worked all day long and at first glance took me for an “upper-class moron” who couldn’t really understand their life circumstances of working all day and studying all night and trying to get by on minimum wage.
Fortunately, together we thrived. I proved to them that studying English wasn’t something destined only for those fortunate ones who could travel and study abroad. They understood that learning a foreign language could open many doors, because lots of countries had already been doing business ignoring limits of distance and borders, and the Internet had just emerged to materialize the idea of a global village – an English was the lingua franca of the new era. Among episodes of Friends and MTV music videos taped on my old VHS recorder, handmade flashcards and posters, photocopies of rare American magazines and newspapers and a huge amount of chalk dust on the blackboard, I may say those classes are still in my sweetest teaching memories and some of the best moments of my life both as a professional and as a human being. Public schools at that time didn’t seem so far away from private schools: it was possible, even achievable, to get a good education at a public school when teachers and students built some sort of unbreakable rapport.
However, two decades later, here we are facing a dreadful pandemic which has taken a toll on students and teachers, both in private and public schools. But there is no doubt public schools and poor communities have been hit the hardest. While online and digital tools have been developed and overanalyzed to keep teachers connected to their students with arguable success, a huge part of our country has poor or zero access to technology. Learning remotely has been a frustrating experience to teachers, parents and students who struggle to keep up with the syllabus established by the National Curriculum Parameters (PCNs) of the Ministry of Education.
This is unacceptable! As educators Emiliana Vegas and Rebecca Winthrop wrote in their article about education after Covid-19, “strong and inclusive public education systems are essential to the short- and long-term recovery of society and that there is an opportunity to leapfrog toward powered-up schools.” Not a single developed society has flourished in the history of humanity without good basic education for all children, for all teenagers and for all young adults.
While I was adapting the High School syllabus into 10-minute, all my former students from the 1990’s were in my mind. Those big and curious eyes avid for more, open to a universe that can be accessed only through knowledge. And I also thought about hundreds of teachers who have been overwhelmed by the hard truth of inequality: how to teach online classes when hardly few students have an internet connection? Besides, some students had to miss several assignments and even quit school to help their families facing an economic crisis or to take care of their younger siblings. How could I get them back? How to teach, for example, a foreign language in such poor conditions?
#Nem1PraTrás came in times of need. It started last year with Fundamental Education and will continue with High School in 2021. All teachers – including my colleague Deborah Cornelio, who is already on YouTube with English classes for 5th to 9th grades – created content to help teachers on the front to rescue students who might have been behind for a while. Not one kid shall be lost, discouraged or forgotten: they are curious, they are eager to learn. Let’s create at least a bridge so they can have a path to walk over the abyss. Canal Futura started something. What else can us, educators, do to help public schools? I will end this article with an invitation: brick by brick, step by step, and we’ll end up building a strong fortress of knowledge and expand the horizons of those who come inside.
English teacher and consultant at Canal Futura. Coordinator and teacher at Link Idiomas e Comunicação. Certified translator and interpreter in Rio Grande do Sul State, Brazil