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June 25, 2014

On Design Thinking and the Education System

by pdranoff

Every month at Porvir, everyone sits around a large table for what is called “confraternizção,” or fraternization, in English. This is a moment for everyone to share a short bit about what he or she (but mostly “she” here at Porvir)  is currently working on. There is always a new theme to start the discussion, but the conversation is free to flow in any direction. In terms of an office culture, this creates an environment where everyone learns a little bit about the people with whom they share the space on a daily basis. It’s also an opportunity for everyone, no matter what position within the organization to sit down and listen to each other. On my first day at Porvir, there happened to be a confraternização scheduled. To start off, each person was asked to share a story about how they arrived at Porvir, or a funny experience related to their work in the education world. 

As the women around me began sharing their stories, I grew more nervous about what I would say. I decided to share a story that to me, was a big moment of realization of the potential of the education system, and how it currently works. 

I have spent my summers in São Paulo each year since I moved to the US. Every time I come, I engage in a community service project, usually related to the arts. Last summer, I discovered a day care program in the heart of Paraisópolis, São Paulo’s largest favela, that offered programs for kids before and after school. I contacted Instituto Prof with a proposal to prepare some workshops and drawing classes during my stay in São Paulo. The director was thrilled with my idea, and we set a date. I arrived at Instituto Prof with a big bag of art supplies, some of which I had even brought from the US (because pipe cleaners don’t exist in Brazil)! I was greeted with many smiles at a tall white gate and was guided past a basketball court to a large classroom. Inside, ten desks were arranged to form a large work surface. There were paper and drawing tools set up and everything seemed great…until I looked up at the faces around that table. They were all teachers! 

I was a little confused with my situation, and started to wonder if the teachers were there to instruct me on how to manage the kids, or whether they wanted to introduce themselves before bringing in the students. But their eager smiles and curious eyes told me otherwise. They were there to take the workshop! At that moment, I realized the value of educating educators, and the extent to which teachers are undervalued in the Brazilian educational system. After overcoming my initial intimidation with the situation—the teachers were just about twice my age—I began to pull the supplies out of my brown shopping bag and sharing them with my “students.” 

The workshop went really well, and I was asked to return the following week for another class, with the kids this time! From that day on, I was enchanted by the power of small tools that can make a big difference. By just showing a classroom of teachers the power of creative expression through freehand drawing and coloring “outside the lines” I saw the potential of making an even bigger difference. Since that day, I have kept up with innovations in education tools and different pedagogical styles—beginning with reflecting on my own education, from primary school through my experience at RISD. 

This story sums up my initial interest in applying my education in design, and more importantly Design Thinking, toward addressing a problem in the education system. My first week at Porvir can be summed up in short with the absorption of lots of new material. I am delving deep into the world of education, and exploring the use of different media to communicate innovations in education from around the world to a Brazilian, but eventually more international audience. 

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