Pearson's Brazilian Sistemas: Raising Achievement Through Collaboration

The town of Cajuru tops national test table

Cajuru superinendent Isabel Ruggeri and Elias Draibe principal Rita de Cassia Fonseca
Cajuru superintendent Isabel Ruggeri (right) and Elias Draibe principal Rita de Cassia Fonseca (left)

Surrounded by livestock farms, coffee groves and rolling cornfields, the sleepy town of Cajuru (pop. 23,353) in southeastern Brazil looks pretty unexceptional at first glance. But looks can deceive.

Arriving at the doors of the EMEB Aparecida Elias Draibe school on a sparkling late spring morning, Cajuru school superintendent Isabel Ruggeri flashes a smile and holds her index finger aloft in a “We’re Number One” celebration.

The primary school serving 240 students aged seven to 11 was the top-performing school in all of Brazil in the IDEB test, a nationwide assessment given every two years to students aged seven to 14, scoring 9.0 out of a possible 10.

In addition to the top score of this individual school, the town of Cajuru also topped Brazilian municipalities with a score of 8.6, compared to a national average of 4.6. About 2,000 primary-age students attend public school in Cajuru.

The Brazilian government’s target is to improve the national average of IDEB (Indice de Desenvovimento Da Educacao Basica) to 6.0 by 2021 – a figure that Cajuru, located about 300 kilometres north of Sao Paulo, already dwarfs. But it wasn’t always that way.

Partnership with NAME raises scores

Cajuru’s rise to the top of the league tables is due in part to its collaboration with NAME (Nucleo de Apoio a Municipalizacao do Ensino), a component of the sistemas, or school learning systems, business in Brazil acquired by Pearson in 2010. These Brazilian sistemas combine curriculum design and support, teacher training, content and technology to help schools and school systems raise achievement.

Beyond NAME, which serves 209,000 students in 134 municipalities, the other three parts of Pearson’s sistemas business serve 300,000 students in private schools, under the names COC, Dom Bosco and Pueri Domus.

“Before NAME we didn’t have any methods to teach the students,” says Mrs. Ruggeri. “Students just came in with a pencil and a notebook, and each school taught the national curriculum differently. Now, NAME comes in after each bimester– they see how the teachers are doing, how students are improving, and they work with the teachers, the schools and also their families – which make the work even better .”

Adds Rita de Cassia Fonseca, principal of the Elias Draibe school for the past seven years: “It’s the pedagogical support and the methods that are so important. Everything we need is solved through NAME. They prepare how to connect better with students.”

95% of schools above national average

NAME workbooks at editorial offices in Riberao Preto
NAME workbooks at editorial offices in Riberao Preto

NAME began serving Cajuru’s primary-school students in 2004, shortly before the town’s schools scored 5.2 on the IDEB test of 2005. By 2007, the town had improved to 7.0 and then soared to 8.6 in 2009. The 2011 tests were taken in November, with results due in May 2012.

Nationally, Brazil’s schools had an average score of 3.8 in 2005, rising to 4.2 in 2007 and 4.6 in 2009 – while the average score for the 1,000 NAME-served schools was 4.7 in 2005, 5.0 in 2007 and 5.8 in 2009 – with 95% of NAME’s municipal clients scoring above the national average in 2009.

The IDEB score is based on several factors including student achievement, attendance and the proportion of students studying in the correct grade for their age group.

Pearson’s acquisition last year of the school systems business of Sistema Educacional Brasileiro for R$888 (£326 million) was Pearson’s largest-ever acquisition outside of the U.S. Paced by growth in emerging markets such as India, China, South Africa and Brazil, the Pearson International education business has been the company’s fastest-growing unit over the past five years.

Building ‘centres of excellence’ in Brazil

“We are building centres of excellence in Brazil, and the achievement in Cajuru is an example of that,” says Guy Gerlach, president of Pearson Brazil, leaning forward in a chair in his Sao Paulo office. “We can now make available in Brazil other products from Pearson around the world, and that’s how we intend to make an even bigger difference here in Brazil.”

Pearson views its new Brazilian sistemas as a model that can be exported elsewhere, beginning with other countries in Latin America.

“We have a real partnership with the municipalities we serve,” says Jose Milton Carvalho Pereira, educational coordinator for Pearson’s NAME business. “We build a relationship, and go to the school and ask what the challenges are for the school and the teachers and the community, and find ways to make improvements.”

Although NAME’s contract with Cajuru calls for at least four visits a year, Mr. Milton estimates that he’s visited Cajuru schools more than 30 times in the past four years – and he’s welcomed warmly by Mrs. Ruggeri and other school officials on this warm November day.

NAME has fine-tuned these partnerships through experience. While Cajuru is located in relatively well-off Sao Paulo state, NAME discovered that afterschool classes for special needs students were proving less effective than expected in some poorer areas of Brazil – partly because the students had duties at home, including caring for younger siblings, so their parents could work longer hours.

So in the town of Nova Ponte, in the southern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, special needs classes were launched not after school but instead during morning hours, so more students are able to attend.

A trip to the ‘Authors Room’

Four students at the EMEB Aparecida Elias Draibe
Four students at the EMEB Aparecida Elias Draibe

The different parts of Pearson’s sistemas business in Brazil work together in developing content and methodology, as shown by a visit to COC editorial offices in Riberao Preto, an hour’s drive west of Cajuru.

Walking past the “Authors Room,” where authors of content for the sistemas meet with COC editors (many of them teachers), computers swarm with interactive online content being developed for primary school students.

“Look, it’s an elephant,” a teacher says in an animated adventure with her students in an open-air Jeep down a jungle path – with the sounds of lions, giraffes and other animals echoing from the speakers. “Take a picture quickly.” By so doing, the students save real photos of animals in their own computers for study later.

Back in Cajuru, which means “entry to the savannah” in the region’s native language, teachers access these sorts of online teaching from the NAME website, known as NETNAME, for extra activities.

“The website is very big, and very helpful,” says Mrs. Ruggeri.

In addition to fun stuff like the online animal photo shoot, there are math exercises, material for students who have difficulty understanding letters, and various other remedial activities at the touch of a mouse – technological advances which got Mrs. Ruggeri reflecting on the educational changes she’s seen in her lifetime.

“My mother was a teacher,” she says. “She used to visit farms outside Cajuru to teach people, and I remember riding with her on a horse-drawn cart when I was a very little girl.”