Learning communities spring up all over the country

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Learning outside school is a growing trend in Portugal. Learning communities are springing up all over the country, and sometimes even within public schools, as is the case in Leiria. There are no tests, no classrooms, and nothing reminiscent of traditional teaching.

It is the children who, without knowing it, have brought together a group of mothers and fathers who are growing every day, with the aim of creating a learning community in Leiria, within the public school. Today, a Facebook group has 700 members and is part of a movement born a few months ago, with its sights set on the example of Agrupamento Rainha Santa Isabel, which isn’t even close to the city, despite being part of the municipality of Leiria. The change came at the start of this school year, under the impetus of headmistress Adélia Lopes, who decided to implement a pilot project in three basic schools in the villages of Lameira, Ortigosa and Moita da Roda, inspired by the model of the bridge school in Santo Tirso, created by teacher José Pacheco in the late 1970s.

Every day, Isa Morouço walks more than fifty kilometers so that her daughter can attend elementary school in Moita da Roda. She lives in Maceira, closer to the city, but is willing to make the journey knowing that in this village there is a school where children have “the opportunity to learn and grow in a different way”.

Adélia Lopes explains how difficult it was to adopt this project, which she is ready to replicate in other schools – and at other levels of education. She has found the group of teachers in [her] cluster receptive and enthusiastic, and on Saturdays they all take part in a distance learning course with Ponte mentor José Pacheco.

Meanwhile, in Moita da Roda, community involvement has gained ground, through the Associação Pró-Futuro da Escola da Moita da Roda e dos Conqueiros. It’s also where the children of Micael Amado, a former GNR soldier who now devotes his time to personal development, go to school. “What happens there is unique,” he tells DN, referring to the educational project.

The “traditional” school made no sense to him. Neither for him, nor for hundreds – or thousands – of parents. It was this certainty and the constant search for alternatives that led Andreia Ribeiro to work with teacher José Pacheco. From Batalha (where she lives), she has mobilized other parents for this change, which she hopes will take place within the public school system. The group organized a tertúlia at the end of April and, in May, invited José Pacheco to a series of meetings in the region’s schools and municipalities.

A more inclusive school

“Our fight is for a public school that includes everyone. I’m convinced that this type of education will help those on the margins much more and prevent them from dropping out of school,” Carla Marcos, mother of two public school students of different ages, tells DN. The group is committed to initiating this change as early as the next school year.

It’s this sense of inclusion that most of these advocates of education – and especially learning – in the public school context want to see born in the community. “If you think about it, most kids who drop out of school do so because they don’t feel good there, because they don’t feel like they belong. Then disinterest and revolt set in, and of course that can’t work,” adds Andreia Ribeiro. “What we feel is that families are very receptive. Everyone says he’s lonely and the easiest thing is to point the finger. What we need to do is create an alliance between everyone, bearing in mind that we need to respect each other, and let the teachers, class and group leaders naturally awaken to the need to change a school that’s operating as it did at the time of the industrial revolution, in the 19th century,” adds this mother. But like any revolution, it can take time. “Everyone has their own time, as in learning. And we all have to learn to respect it,” she concludes.

Homeschooling ganha adeptos

Sandra Quádrio’s time has always depended on her two children, who have forced her to move house and town because of school. Or rather, a school, in Marinha Grande. But not everything went according to plan. Her daughter, now 9 and part of the vast list of dyslexic children, “felt very lost”. Sandra followed a winding path – which may or may not happen in state schools – that involved therapies with psychologists, support classes and other forms of help. In February of this year, she made the difficult decision to cancel her school enrolment and opt for home schooling. Without realizing it, she was opening the door to another way of life. That’s how she came across Se7en Academy, which operates as an explanation, tutoring and free-time center, and became a co-owner of the space. In September, one of the services on offer will be Homeschooling.

Since February, her daughter has been monitored remotely by teachers from the American association Clonlara, a “global community of students, families, educators, mentors and partners”, a structure created 50 years ago in the United States of America, which also operates in Portugal. What Clonlara stands for is “a personalized approach that places each student at the center of the learning process”. In a way, this is what happens in any learning community. “Students don’t have to be enrolled in an American school. They can attend public school or another school and, when they enroll, choose to homeschool,” explains Sandra.

“We’ll teach according to what they like. What we want is for the child to learn a bit of everything. But at their own pace. So that a slower child doesn’t feel inferior”, explains one of the Se7en Academy managers, who is committed to working on “the social and human side that doesn’t exist at school”.

Two years ago, Portugal approved Decree-Law no. 70/2021, which establishes the legal regime for individual education and homeschooling. According to the decree, this regime applies to pupils covered by compulsory education in both public and private networks. According to article 4 of this decree-law, it can take two forms: home schooling (provided in the pupil’s home by a parent or a person living with the pupil) and individual schooling (provided by a qualified teacher to a single pupil outside school). In individual or home schooling, the school of enrolment, the teacher-tutor (teacher appointed by the school to follow the student) and the educational tutor (student’s family member or appointed teacher) are responsible for the student.

Parents are also responsible for submitting their child’s file to the school of registration, and for registering the student for assessment/equivalency tests and final exams, guaranteeing that they will be present at these times. This task currently occupies most of Adriano Félix’s time. With a degree in literature and pedagogy from the University of São Paulo, and a master’s in education, he came from Brazil in 2018 to do a PhD on democratizing the curriculum (built from the child up), pedagogical innovation and learning communities. He arrived after the famous Escola da Ponte and discovered along the way the Educational Community of Cerejeiras, in the municipality of Penela, where he remained as pedagogical manager until last January, when he left, accompanying several parents, to create the Online Learning Community, dedicated to e-learning. “We believe that children can explore learning and thus develop their autonomy, with lessons in context.” In other words, each child, in his or her own context, can energize it. In addition, there are individual courses.

As in the Ponte school model, there are no exams throughout the year, and no classrooms. It’s a curious phenomenon: when it comes to exams, students also score well. Adriano Félix believes that the work done with the students throughout the year results in precisely this performance. “The students have no problem tackling a test or exam. We practice with them, even in the context of a competition, and they are very enthusiastic about taking the exams”, instead of being anxious. “It’s important to make them understand that the exam is not an enemy, on the contrary.

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