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August 5, 2014

Lemann Foundation Conference …and feedback

by pdranoff

Today, the Porvir office had a different kind of morning. Every August, Fundação Lemann, a Brazilian organization that addresses issues in education, and is a close collaborator of Porvir, hosts a seminary on education and innovation, called the 3rd International Seminar on Entrepreneurship and Education in Brazilian Education. In addition to founding the Lemann Center at Stanford University, the Lemann foundation provides valuable learning tools such as translation of online courses, and scholarships to a Brazilian audience.

While I was very excited to hear from today’s guest speakers, whose papers I had been reading for the first half of the summer, I was also a bit apprehensive about the panels. In my own quest to define the term “innovation” (more on that later), I am coming to the conclusion that there is no definition, and that this research is almost in vain. At the start of my project this summer, I thought that in doing research about innovation in education, I had to first define the term itself. Over the past few weeks, I have realized that innovation is not a single action, event or piece of technology, but a combination of factors that make sense when applied together in a new way. With this in mind, my focus in the innova+ project has shifted toward a better understanding of what we are looking for in our publication, and thus, describing the project to our partners has become much more natural.

So, back to this morning’s event. We all met up at Espaço Manacá, on the busy Avenida 9 de julho, for a half-day conference on education reforms, the role of innovation in education, and a presentation of the results of recent policy changes in education. Among the speakers at the event were Paulo Blikstein, creator of FabLab@School, David Plank, a policy analyst and professor at Stanford, Martin Carnoy, researcher on the relationship between development and education, and Eric Bettinger, associate professor in the Stanford University School of Education and researcher in “the economics of education.” The panels were a way for each professor to share his work with a Brazilian audience, and to engage the audience in debates on the various approaches to policy changes, despite the time crunch and limited time for Q+A at the end.

What struck me most from all the panels was Professor Bettinger’s, presentation on the statistics of Brazilians studying abroad. He showed that a significant majority of Brazilian students who study abroad return to Brazil after their studies. In his discourse on the question of education across borders, he asked whether sending Brazilian students to study in other countries was a brain drain or a brain gain, to which the answer will only be determined in the next few decades, if ever. Throughout his presentation, I began to think of my own experience with studying internationally. While my entire academic life has been in the United States, I feel very much that I have been educated by my two countries: Brazil and the US. I continued to think of the challenges as well as advantages of an international education, and the new culture of “global citizens” that is beginning to form.

Throughout his discourse, I also thought of the work I am doing here at Porvir, and how, methodical our approach has been up to this point. We outlined our goals: to make contacts, get input, sort out the entries and publish the document. From my first day here, I was growing increasingly frustrated with the factors that were limiting our very clear outline and pushing our deadlines back each and every day. When working with partners, our dates and meeting times depend on a larger variety of factors. I had an “AHA!” moment when I realized that the solution to this was approaching the process in a different way. Understanding the obstacles of working across continents and timezones, we had to accept that our process would not be linear, but more like a series of waves, in which we have a ton of deliverables from one day to the next, and then await feedback from the other side of the Atlantic. The process is much more malleable and should have room for new input all the time. Just this notion has been a huge learning experience for working internationally, and with some of the bureaucracies of the non-profit world.

I left the conference feeling ready to take on the next stages of innova+ project, and having made many contacts to connect with for input in the next few weeks!

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Selfie with my conference nametag!

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