Enabling Public Schools - Paraná, Brazil
The Education secretariat of the State of Paraná in Brazil has developed a web portal that enables the public school teachers in the state to collaborate and develop course contents in various subject areas as well as other teaching resources. Currently, the project has resulted in the publication of over 300 course materials covering both primary and secondary education.
The Education secretariat of the State of Paraná in Brazil has developed a web portal that enables the public school teachers in the state to collaborate and develop course contents in various subject areas as well as other teaching resources. Apart from the objective of providing subject materials for the teachers in the preparation of their work, this project also aims to contribute towards increasing the Portuguese content of the Internet as these materials will be published in Portuguese. The application software that provides the environment and facilitates the collaboration and creation of the content is the APC (Ambiente Pedagógico Colaborativo) system. This system was developed using Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) development tools and it is released as FOSS itself.
The portal through the APC system, allows the distribution of curriculum content created by public school teachers in Paraná. The published materials may be worked on collaboratively by registered users of the portal. Through this project, the government of the state of Paraná has taken the initiative to develop information system solutions suited to its needs and making them available to other teaching institutions, both public and private. The usage of FOSS in the project has enabled it to be deployed at low costs and the software solution can be made available for free to other interested states and/or governments.
A culture of collaboration and sharing had to be established first among the teachers before the project can take off and for this to happen the teachers themselves must be convinced of the importance of the project. The teachers had to be trained in the areas of basic computing as well as understand the pedagogical concept of the system.
Currently, the project has resulted in the publication by the public school staff of over 300 course materials covering both primary and secondary education. The Ministry of Education is considering implementing the APC system as a public education policy in Brazil and the Venezuelan government has shown interest in introducing this system into their public education system.
Background of Organization
This project was carried out by the Education Secretariat of the State of Paraná, Brazil as part of its responsibility to ensure universal access to education and to offer complete basic education to its population. The Secretariat is entrusted with raising the level of performance in schools and encouraging improvement among the teaching, technical and administrative staff in the education sector. It is also the Secretariat's responsibility to guide, control and monitor the performance of pre-school, primary and secondary teaching establishments both regular and supplementary, and special education in the public and private sectors.
Objectives of Project
The web portal “Day-to-Day Education” aims to provide educational information, teaching and curriculum content to teachers, students, school managers and the community. Information and content relating to various subject areas as well as other resources that help educators in their teaching tasks are made available in the portal. The portal offers teachers a reliable, free and effective environment to interact and work together thereby encouraging them to collaborate on content production. In this way their knowledge and experience can be passed on to educators and other users of the system.
The project has its own identity that is a result of the collective work of the local teachers at various levels and can be viewed as part of the social benefits of information and communications technology (ICT) to the country. As the portal is in Portuguese, it also contributes to the Portuguese content of the Internet.
The main target groups of the project are the teaching staff in basic education in public and private schools all over Brazil and in Portuguese-speaking countries.
The main partners in the project are the government of the state of Paraná, the Companhia Paranaense de Informática (CELEPAR – the Paraná Computing Company) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The interactive education portal is designed to provide information and content collaboration and sharing to the educators and the community. It is designed such that it enables the user to explore resources that are of interest to him or her and contribute new information at any time. Basic FOSS software used in the development of the portal include the Apache web server, PHP web scripting language, PostgreSQL database, OpenOffice.org office application suite and Firefox web browser.
The application software that provides the environment and facilitates the collaboration and creation of the content is the APC system. This has three main modules:
• Publications/Collaboration: interactive system between users (teachers) to collaborate on content production.
• Validation/Correction of Language: interactive system between teachers validating and correcting content to ensure the quality of content being made available.
• Administration: administration system for system managers including sending out reports, updating tables, authorizing users, etc.
The APC system is distributed as FOSS and is licensed under the LPG-AP (Licença Pública Geral da Administração Pública - General Public Licence for Public Administration).
Choice of FOSS
The choice of FOSS is based on reasons of cost and quality. The usage of commercial proprietary software will incur high licensing costs. Another important factor in using FOSS is that it will be possible for the owners/developers of the project to have complete knowledge and understanding of the software used as the source code is available.
Development and Implementation
The portal application is recommended to run on a GNU/Linux platform with Apache, PHP and PostgreSQL. To access the portal, the user only needs a web browser and an Internet connection. Even with low-speed connections, the portal may be accessed satisfactorily.
Several other states/municipalities have started to implement this system too, thereby increasing collaboration on content production and helping to increase the share of Portuguese language content on the Internet.
The developers and implementers of the software have found that by using FOSS they can count on a huge community to help them solve problems that may appear and that the support response time from the FOSS community is faster than that from the commercial companies. There has been a significant increase in productivity in developing the solution using free technologies. One of the advantages is the ability to re-use other free solutions found within the community. The developers are able to re-use codes from other applications in different parts of the world, a situation that has led to the creation of a network of technical cooperation to find solutions and to share knowledge generally.
The usage of FOSS in the project has enabled the project to be deployed at low costs and the software solution can be made available for free to other interested parties.
The staff of public schools has participated in the publication of materials and this has resulted in the widespread distribution of curriculum content created by these public school teachers in Paraná. Before publication, to ensure the quality of the information published, these materials are checked by a team of teacher-guides. After publication, these materials may be worked on collaboratively by any user registered with the Day-to-Day Education portal. These registered users can add on to the information published on the APC system. This has generated much technical cooperation between different public and private institutions.
The system allows teachers in public schools to produce content from within their schools. This content is based on knowledge that teachers have created and gathered from their classroom experience. This initiative aims to encourage the publication of more web pages in Portuguese and Spanish languages.
By means of this initiative, the government of the state of Paraná has become a provider of information systems in the area of education. The state has also become a developer of solutions fitted to its needs and made available to other teaching institutions, both public and private.
The system aims to arm educators with information about the content of the various subject areas and other resources that help in their teaching tasks, making it an official repository of curriculum content. In this way it has an impact on the education community as it can play the role of a communication vehicle in which the value of the intellectual production of public school teachers is recognized and it can offer services relevant to all those working in basic education thereby encouraging the creation of virtual learning communities and stimulating continuing education.
To develop the initial content for the Day-to-Day Education portal, training was given to 1,257 teachers working in the 17 subject areas of basic education and representing the 32 Regional Educational Nuclei. From this exercise, it was found that it was a mistake to:
- provide temporary contracts to ICT university teachers to validate content
- have prior definition of content to be developed
- certify teachers for starting production of the content but not for publishing it
From this initial exercise, it was also found that the content validation process should be an activity within the functions of basic education teachers because it requires both domain knowledge as well as experience in the classroom. Another important point learned was to allow teachers to define the content on which they would work rather decide for them beforehand.
Current Status of Project
The APC system has published over 300 course materials for collaborative learning, all drawn up by teachers in public basic education schools in Paraná. Of the over 22,200 registered users, some 16,000 are public school teachers.
The content in the system can be used by teachers in public and private schools throughout Brazil to prepare their lessons. It is hoped that if the system can be spread to other states in the country, a large collaborative network of knowledge related to basic education can be created. Discussions are under way with the Brazilian Ministry of Education on implementing the APC system as a public education policy.
In 2006, an offline version of the system will be launched. This version will serve users with slow dial-up connections or who do not have Internet access. Content will also be translated into Spanish and English in 2006.
Benefits and Challenges
The general benefits experienced in using FOSS in this project include the opportunity to engage in cooperative development, independence from suppliers, low-cost, security, portability and the good support provided by the FOSS community.
High training cost was cited for this project but it was also noted that this cost would probably be the same or higher if proprietary software was utilized instead of FOSS.
The biggest challenge for this project was to develop the culture of collaboration among the teachers. For this to happen the teachers themselves had to be convinced of the importance of the project i.e. to build a database of curriculum content by collaboratively working together.
Another challenge is the training of teachers within the public basic education system of Paraná. This training involves mastering knowledge of basic computing as well as understanding the pedagogical concept of the system.
The State Secretariat of Education's policy is to distribute the content material without charge to the other states of Brazil. Discussions are under way on how to integrate the different databases so as to enable users to find specific curriculum content.
Making the computers available to teachers at their schools presents a significant challenge too. This was addressed by the Paraná Digital Project, described below.
The Paraná Digital Project
School teachers had their access to the APC system through Paraná Digital (PRD), a project that consisted of the installation of 40,000 working terminals placed in academic laboratories spread all over Paraná State, together with remote management to grant quality services and security. The FOSS that enables this to take place was entirely developed by the Computing Science Department in Universidade Federal do Paraná (UFPR). This ability to make available, manage and maintain the computer laboratory systems is the greatest difference when the PRD project (which makes the access to the APC environment possible) is compared to other similar initiatives. It is important to note that it is the appropriate combination of the two projects (education portal and PRD) that leads to the high quality of the final product (content and infrastructure).
The system has been demonstrated to the Ministers of Education and Science and Technology of Venezuela, who have expressed interest in introducing it into their public education system. Free distribution of the source code of the APC system, including the databases and specifications, will be given to all governments who show interest in this project.
The project has shown that with the proper tools, training and environment it is possible to get the teachers and educators to interact and collaborate to produce useful course content. The published materials can be used by teachers in schools throughout Brazil to prepare their lessons and it is important that these materials are available for all to share and make use of. This will further add on to the pool of materials available so that teachers in other states or countries can build on this.
The Paraná Digital project, which provided the necessary infrastructure for the APC initiative, is innovative because it is the first of its kind to attend to such a large number of schools and to maintain the operation of its systems by remote management. This project clearly shows the importance of adopting certain strategies, among which are effective remote laboratory management, good local access infrastructure and use of a multi-terminal model. The Paraná Digital project is strategic because not only has it accomplished its initial goal of providing the teachers access to the education portal, it also demonstrates the feasibility of providing continuous services and the development of products.
The use of FOSS for the software development and the release of the APC system and the PRD tools under a FOSS license is very appropriate as it will facilitate sharing and make it affordable for other groups to implement the solution.
Project: “Day-to-Day Education” Portal
Organization: Secretaria de Estado da Educação do Paraná (CETEPAR – Education Secretariat of the State of Paraná)
Contact Person: Glauco Gomes de Menezes
Street / Postal Address: Rua Salvador Ferrante, 1651, CEP 81670-390, Curitiba – Paraná, Brazil
Phone: +55 41 3376 3323 Ext. 234 / 3377 5068
Fax: +55 41 3278 7108
Project: Paraná Digital
Organization: Departamento de Informática – Universidade Federal do Paraná
Contact Person: Marcos A. Castilho
Street / Postal Address: Francisco H. dos Santos 100, Centro Politécnico, Jardim das Américas, Cx Postal: 19081, CEP: 81531-980, Curitiba – Paraná, Brazil
Phone: +55 41 3361 3567
Fax: +55 41 3361 3205
“Day-to-Day Education” Portal