I recently had the honor of working with Harvard University’s non-profit affiliate organization, Laspau, and the Brazil STHEM Consortium to conduct a STEM Revolution workshop in Lorena, Sao Paulo. The Brazil STHEM Consortium focuses on innovating Science, Technology, Humanities, Engineering and Mathematics education in Brazilian higher education. It was an incredible opportunity and a fascinating look into Brazil’s education system.
We were initially contacted by representatives from Harvard because Brazil has an intense desire to close the knowledge gap between K-12 and college. From my limited time there, it was clear that participants – who were 150 professors and administrators from 47 universities across the country – are motivated to make the necessary changes; they are just looking for the best way to do it.
The group participating in the workshop was very interactive – even despite obvious language barriers, but technology is the great equalizer. Headphones worked very well for translation! And they were very impressed with the STEMBus, but believed for the time being, STEM Revolution camps and workshops likely made the most sense.
There are obviously challenges in Brazil – some unique to the country, some that occur across the world. Many of their universities are funded solely by tuition; little to no government support or grants are made available to Brazilian private colleges and universities. If these schools do not recruit more students, it’s a big financial hit. Brazil’s economic turmoil over the last few years had led to a large scaling back of education loans and grants for students to access a college education. Therefore, outreach and engagement is key. And many students have jobs while going to school. Unsurprisingly, the load often becomes too much, leading to a very high dropout rate.
I see a real opportunity for business to engage with universities and their students, especially since these students will be the workforce of tomorrow. Government should also be involved to ensure the country has a vision for the future to lift people out of a lot of poverty through a 21st Century education system. This is absolutely critical in a country in which unemployment, for example, is “the worst in 20 years.”
From my view, Brazil could really benefit from expanding startup initiatives to engage young people and create economic opportunity. In that respect, a focus on STEM and project based learning from grade school through university could be tremendously beneficial. Business can and should be a part of this effort, ideally with the help of the government. Dubai recognized a similar need and along with the US could offer an example for Brazil to follow with respect to STEM education.