Educational Policies in Brazil: What can we learn from real cases of implementation?
That is a question that brought three Brazilian alumni from the Graduate School of Education at Stanford together. They were fellows at the Lemann Center during their time as Master students and were inspired by a course that took an innovative approach to deal with this subject at the University. After going back to Brazil, Felipe Michel Braga (Education MA 2015), Danilo Dalmon (Education MA 2015), and Caetano Siqueira (Education MA 2017) decided to join forces and build a collection of six cases studies, at the subnational level, covering all country regions.
Felipe Michel Braga at the book release event at ENAP in Brasilia
This book is a contribution to the improvement of leadership preparation to deal with Brazilian public educational reforms, through the study of real experiences, with careful analysis of facts and a robust theoretical background. At the same time, it disseminates the case studies teaching methodology, which is still uncommon in Brazilian schools of education and public management. The digital version of the book is available for free at the project website, only in Portuguese.
These cases are not reports of “successful” policies, as we often see available, the organizers say. Their point of views are not unique, in such a way that the readers must analyze the decisions and actions, and by them own, identify the strengths and weaknesses of each implementation.
Check below some of the main takeaways and more information shared by one of the organizers, Felipe Michel Braga:
What is this work origin?
We all, the three organizers, attended a course at Stanford University called Leading Change in Public Education (EDUC 447X). This course explores the experiences of public education leaders in districts and states in the United States. It inspired us a lot. We thought “we need that in Brazil”. On one hand, because it was about real issues and real decisions. On another hand, because it had an innovative approach on teaching, bringing students to a center role during class, raising the limits and alternatives of decision makers during discussions, defying students to figure out what they would do in those circumstances. In addition, on each class one of the protagonists from the case joined the students on the discussions. Besides that, the method of using case studies is still particularly uncommon in schools of education. That was the gap we were looking forward to fulfill.
How was the experience of selecting the cases and organizing the book?
The process had an interesting collaborative perspective since the beginning. As we advanced, we invited David Plank, one of the Lemann Center directors and an expert in educational policies implementation, and other specialists to join a committee that helped us to select the appropriate stories to cover. They also reviewed the first versions of each chapter. Cleuza Repulho, Pilar Lacerda, Luis Felipe d’Avila, Eugênio Mussaki, Mozart Ramos, and Ricardo Henriques were our strong references to confirm the cases selection we were looking for. Besides them, we got the financial and operational support from Fundação Lemann, Instituto Natura, Instituto Unibanco, and Fundação SM. With all this, we hired journalists and scholars with expertise in education to collect, summarize, and analyze data, write the cases and discuss them with us. To help readers have a contextualized view of the cases, we also produced chapters on the history of education in public policies in Brazil, public management and leadership concepts.
Why did you opt for these six particular cases?
We decided the cases should present policies with bold goals and big challenges to implement, but also should come from all parts of Brazil. They should be representative of issues that any given leader would face, but contextualized to each environment. In Amazonas, for instance, it is quite complex to deliver education services to small communities spread throughout the state, connected by rivers that are navigable in part of the year, but not always. How to deliver secondary education in such context? That innovation was bold and not clear from the beginning. In the city of Belo Horizonte, there was a curious organization of political actors: the mayor from PSB, a socialist party, the secretary of education from PT, the workers party. Nevertheless, they took the challenge to establish a public–private partnership to increase the number of day care centers in the city. That chapter elucidates how it became an option and what were the challenges in taking that course of action.
Considering they together, with cases from the state of Goias and the municipalities of Sobral, Rio de Janeiro, and Florianopolis, you have at least one experience from each region in Brazil. Each one is specific. At the same time, the actors that are present are almost the same: bureaucratics, legislators, teachers unions, the media, non-government organizations, with international or local background in education and philanthropy. Did it work out in the best way in each scenario? Well, that is up to you to decide when you read the cases...
We got that, you won’t give your standing on each case. But considering them as a whole, what captured your attention comparing the cases?
I have my opinions, for sure, but even among the organizers, we do not agree in every aspect and that is the beauty of this type of case writing. We agree, however, that some points are common and important to notice.
First, there is a need of a clear leadership. The decision maker must focus on making the change happen, whatever are the goals, they might only be achieved if there is a commitment to do so. With differentiated approaches, sometimes top-down and in others bottom-up, each case illustrates leaders that took up the challenge and tried to change things.
Second, communication matters a lot. You need a plan. And you need to communicate it. How to get information to move from the planners to the implementers is a game changing thing. And there is a need to continue the work with a system of monitoring and learning from the process. Each case shows the cost of not having a good communication, or having it and how it mitigated some risks.
Third, the actors involved do not vary as much. For example, teacher unions. At the same time, some would say they represent a resistance for change, but as we see in the stories, they are legitimate representations of education professionals, their interests and goals, and they have power to invervein. Also, we could talk about the role of external organizations in setting the agenda and carrying out innovations and reforms: Instituto Ayrton Senna, the InterAmerican Development Bank, Ceará University, to name a few, are examples of organizations that have influenced the educational reforms in Brazil.
And there are some actors that are not as much present, but we can talk about what it means. Teacher and parents associations are not common, neither are students organizations. These two groups are more organized in the US than in Brazil. Anyway, it is a strong point to discuss, how democratic and plural are the educational policies developed in Brazil, and why these groups do not take a leading role in the changes about to happen.
What are your goals now, that the book is out?
We hope people will use it! Sabine Righetti, a professor at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, already gave a class on the Amazonia case. I gave a full course, similar to the one I took at Stanford, in Belo Horizonte, covering all cases in the book, for 40 Public Administration grad students at Fundação João Pinheiro. Danilo used some cases in a course at Insper, in São Paulo. We know that people are reading and using the book at many universities in Brazil, since we delivered copies to hundreds of public administration and education departments all over Brazil. We hope the Stanford community, and its audience, will also take ownership and spread it!