Eliza Erikson
Investment Partner

From Paper to Practice: Using Technology to Accelerate Education in Brazil — A Partnership between Lemann Foundation and Omidyar Network

May 17, 2017

By Eliza Erikson, Venture Partner, Omidyar Network and Denis Mizne, Executive Director, Lemann Foundation

Last month, after years of work, Brazil launched its first set of learning standards for the nation’s schools. They represent a strong countrywide effort to dramatically improve educational outcomes for Brazil’s 40 million school-age children, driven by the belief that each and every one of them deserves access to high-quality education.

Now comes the really hard work: taking those standards experts have put on paper, and making them reality in the classroom and beyond. With an aggressive estimated timeline for implementation by the 2019 academic year, success will depend on the development and deployment of, among other tools, innovative technology for students, teachers, and parents.

National standards are the foundation of successful public education. According to the OECD, world-class academicstandards are “a consistent predictor for the overall performance of education systems” in high-performing countries. They help prepare students for life in an increasingly fast-paced and complex global economy.

In Brazil, the standards were created by bringing thousands of pedagogical experts, teachers, and policymakers to the table. The effort was led by the Ministry of Education, with the support of a multi-sector movement, which included the Lemann Foundation. The goal was to reshape an educational system where achievement levels have remained stubbornly below those of other emerging markets.

Even as the standards were being debated and developed, however, we knew that was just the beginning. Changes of this magnitude are never easy to implement. We’ve seen that in the experience of numerous developed countries, including the US, which have created or significantly updated their standards over the past decade or so. In order to bring the standards to students, significant investments will need to be made in curriculum development, instructional resources, teacher training, and communications.

What we know doesn’t work is to rely solely on traditional models to implement these advanced standards. In the US, for example, large publishers of paper-based textbooks were reluctant to adapt their content offerings, because the cost to update their materials didn’t fit into their business model. Instead, we saw digital providers use the flexibility and rapid time to market to seize the initiative.

In fact, a whole new generation of ed-tech businesses was born to support those standards, delivering flexible, modular digital content, curriculum, learning products, and instructional resources. Without them it would have taken many more years to establish the standards, and kept millions of students from superior learning experiences and results. Without digital innovation, it also would be impossible to make the frequent changes in curriculum and resources needed to keep pace in today’s fast-moving world.

The opportunity that now stands before us is why Omidyar Network and Lemann Foundation have created a long-term partnership to identify, seed, and expand technologies that will support the successful implementation of the National Learning Standards in Brazil, through an innovative co-investment initiative. We believe these innovations will come from brand new leaders as well as established actors in the education space. The more ideas that are able to come to the education sector, the better the likelihood of meeting the needs of teachers and students, both inside and outside the classroom.

Brazil is embarking on a great experiment with its new National Learning Standards, one that has the potential to bring the country’s education system up to the same level as other world-class education systems. If it succeeds, not only will it improve the lives of students, but everyone in the country. By acting as a catalyst for developing the digital resources vital to this effort, we are committed to its success.


Image Credit: Lemann Foundation  

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