A makeshift classroom: education’s in the air!

Right now, I’m in a room full of people, most of whom I’ve never spoken to. But there’s one thing I know we have in common: we have spent the majority of our lives learning, as we continue to do nowadays.

Formal education is deeply rooted in our culture. It strongly influences our lives in many aspects: which job we’ll get; our knowledge about the world; our beliefs and political orientations; whether we can do something as simple as reading a street sign. Importantly, there’s no opting out, it’s mandatory. Education is very powerful and certainly worth the spotlight of an ‘Ar event’. Most, if not all, of us agree that it should be the best education possible. So what have we achieved so far, and what can we do from this point onwards?

Improving the system is not an easy task, a point Prof Paul Howard-Jones put forward very convincingly in his lecture. As he explained, we can’t just go around changing things without being sure of what we’re doing. We first need solid scientific knowledge, which is itself a lengthy and gradual process; then, we need to find a way to give that knowledge a practical use; and finally, we need to get that use into schools. Quite a task! He warned that skipping any of these steps may result in a disaster – which in fact has already happened in the past – with wrong information unwittingly being disseminated by teachers. Furthermore, if we can’t transpose what we find in the lab to what is taught in schools, we have ultimately done nothing. However, stagnation is not an option. Change always comes as something risky and uncertain, but not improving upon something as important as education is even scarier.

As Prof Domingos Fernandes pointed out, although we have achieved a lot – nowadays, virtually everyone in Portugal has attended school for the duration of the so called ‘ensino básico’ – we still have a long way to go. In an ideal educational system, we would account for and work on many currently neglected aspects, such as individual variation. That, however, does not come without its own logistic and economic problems, distancing us from this hard to reach, but perhaps not impossible, goal.

Escola da Ponte, located in São Tomé de Negrelos, is an interesting case: a school that on its own volition radically deviated from traditional educational methods. Taking a different approach, they place emphasis on team work, a more creativity-oriented curriculum, and engaging the students in the organization of their own study plan, therefore giving them much more independence and freedom. Having the guts to innovate like that is not something we see very often. However, this method can be criticized, since we still don’t know how beneficial it is, as a rigorous evaluation of this methodology is missing.

This evening, we were shown why education is not an easy and straightforward topic: this ‘Ar event’ certainly gave us much to think about, although I feel this is just the tip of a very, very big iceberg!



Gabriel Matos was born in Rio de Janeiro but moved to Portugal when we was just 7.
He is studying Medicine in Lisbon and he is mostly interested in neuroscience and related fields.
Additionally, he likes mathematics, programming, drawing and arts.




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