Sunday is voting day. A day to think about our biggest challenge: the difficulty we have in transmitting knowledge and skills to children. Public elementary and secondary education networks have failed.
We already know where this process has encountered the greatest difficulties. The biggest bottleneck occurs in the final years of elementary school, from 6th to 9th grade, also called elementary 2. There is an abrupt drop in the proficiency of students in elementary 2, compared to elementary 1. Repetition increases and, with it, the gap between age and the correct series skyrockets, reaching 45%. The student is late in teaching. Gradually, the student and his family fail to see benefits for the teenager when attending school.
The Laboratory of Studies and Research in Social Economy (Lepes) at FEA-USP in Ribeirão Preto (lepes.fearp.usp.br) has just released a documentary that provides a diagnosis of the greatest difficulties faced in this decisive teaching cycle.
A first obstacle appears in the abrupt transition between cycles. The student leaves a school with a generalist teacher, in elementary 1. This teacher had specific training in pedagogy and established an affective relationship with the students. At the new school, students come to interact with numerous specialist teachers, each licensed to teach a single subject.
In addition, elementary 2 ends up sandwiched between elementary 1, which is the responsibility of city halls, and high school, in charge of the state. There is also a lack of research on pedagogical methods for this cycle. There are many more studies for elementary and middle school.
The transition is simultaneous with the child’s entry into adolescence, with all the turmoil that accompanies this difficult phase of life. To make matters worse, it is the time when the family often distances itself from the child’s school life, when, in the face of challenges, the presence would have to be even greater.
Moment of many turmoil: domestic violence, cases of racism and bullying, suicides, alcoholism and drug use in general.
Teachers are not prepared for this challenge. The mismatch between teacher training and the demands of the classroom leads to several negative outcomes: the teachers’ proposals for themes and debates do not dialogue with the students’ demands. Additionally, the teachers, who are specialists, generally teach in several schools, reducing their interaction with other colleagues and increasing the distance in relation to the students.
The documentary does not offer ready-made solutions for the diagnosis it makes, but rather a starting point for reflection. The topic is complex, and there is no silver bullet. It is clear that at the turn from elementary 1 to elementary 2, the distance between the school and the student increases and, more generally, between the school and the community in which it is inserted.
It is also clear that a reorganization of the network that allowed specialist teachers to work in a single school would contribute to improving children’s performance — among other things, by creating a greater bond between students and teachers.
My memory is that everything I do today are variations of the skills learned in elementary school, 1 and 2. From high school and college, only skills that have already been acquired are deepened. Unlocking the fundamental 2 bottleneck is possibly the biggest challenge for the next government.