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Education

Fun approach

Schools and cities adopt software for children with special learning difficulties

PROJETO ENSCERTested impulsiveness: haste transforms the worm into a snake, which kills the chickenPROJETO ENSCER

Children of school age with learning difficulties brought about by neurological problems such as hyperactivity, attention disorders, impulsive behavior and dyslexia – a disorder that brings about problems of understanding reading and writing -, when they do not receive the necessary supervision in the classroom, are candidates to enter into the vicious circle of repeating the year and dropping out. As the school is the first experience of socialization by the child, this stage needs to be adequately worked upon, as is proposed by the project named Teaching the Brain (Enscer in the Portuguese acronym). The research is the unfolding of a study begun in 1997 that had mentally handicapped children as its focal point, conducted by the company Eina, from the city of Jundiaí, one of the first in the Small Business Innovation Research (PIPE) program financed by FAPESP (see Pesquisa FAPESP nº 61).

Tested and put into practice via the municipality’s Association of Parents and Friends of Exceptional Children (Apae), the study resulted in the launch during 2001 of a CD-ROM with audio-visual resources. The studies were also transformed into two books, O cérebro [The Brain], a brief summary of how it functions, and O cérebro na escola [The Brain in School]. “During the project’s development, we could see that it could be widened to other children and we began to also work with a public school network and private schools” says the medical doctor Armando Freitas da Rocha, a partner at Eina, the coordinator of Enscer and a visiting professor at the Pathology Department of the Medical School of the University of São Paulo (USP).

In this amplification the focus again fell upon pupils with learning difficulties and behavior disorders. In order to be able to attend to the children’s needs, a system that encapsulates the training of teachers, neuro-pedagogic attention by doctors, psychologists and physiotherapists as well as support material, was developed, such as software, elaborated by a multidisciplinary team.

The original software also evolved and resulted in a series that has as its protagonists two characters, Juca and Laura, who teach how to do arithmetical calculations with exercises divided up into two modules, adding and calculating, and three levels of complexity, as well as working on reading and writing with exercises that make use of many images, associations and puzzles. This was the starting point towards a portal on the internet ( www.enscer.com.br ), financed by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), which serves as a support instrument for teachers and professionals involved in the project and can count upon biographical references, software and information about the program.

Brain map
Through the portal it is also possible to carry out a diagnosis of pupils with learning difficulties. The teacher completes a series of pieces of information, which are analyzed by the team responsible for the project. Starting from this evaluation, activities for the children are suggested, done with the help of software. “This is a process of refinement of the child’s situation, so that we can then work on their problems” says Rocha. In the case where it is necessary to make a diagnosis of a more detailed evaluation, the researchers can count upon another tool, a brain map that points out the areas involved in the execution of tasks done on the computer by the pupil, registered by electrodes. The information is processed by a system developed by the researchers during the project directed towards handicapped children.

“One of the first schools to adopt the project was Clip Primary School, in the city of Guarulhos, in order to make an adequate inclusion of children with neurological deficiencies” advised professor Rocha. When the project started in 2002 the school was small. Today, with a growth in student numbers, a second school was established at the same location, where the Enscer techniques are applied and the children are accompanied by various other professionals. Depending upon the degree of the child’s neurological difficulty, the student can manage to accompany the regular class up to a determined point. With the passage of time, the difference of age and of cognition (acquisition of knowledge) there is the creation of a gap between the regular pupils and those called handicapped. “When they arrive at this phase, the handicapped go to the second school but continue to have interactions with the original school, because inclusion has to be carried out with respect, providing the child with that which it needs to develop” stated professor Rocha.

There also exist cases of children who take the reverse pathway, such as those with cerebral paralysis. They need to be prepared for inclusion, but their main problem is not cognitive, but one of motor control. For this reason, these pupils normally need to develop motor control abilities before going into a regular school. The school that houses the Enscer project  is also working with children with learning difficulties who need extra reinforcement. In practice, the two schools operate together.

Municipal networks
As well as Clip Primary School, the program is being applied in the municipal network schools of the towns of Mogi das Cruzes and Guarulhos. In Mogi there are two schools, located within housing schemes, which have been participating in the Enscer project since 2003. One of these housing schemes is home to people who were relocated from slums and transferred to a peripheral region of the town, completely isolated. “This is one of the communities that, as well as all of the problems of aggression inherent in the very condition in which they live, closes itself more” says Rocha.

The other housing scheme is also home to people who had lived in slums, but is located within a large district of Mogi das Cruzes, consequently, with a distinct population profile. Initially the work consisted in preparing the teachers to avoid the children coming from the slums being marginalized within the school. Once this initial stage of inclusion of the pupil into the school was complete, the Enscer team went on to make an evaluation of the pupils. After the diagnoses had been completed, the project’s professionals worked in conjunction with the teachers.

Since 2003, the city of Guarulhos has also adopted the Enscer system in all of its network schools that have information technology laboratories. Starting in 2006 the project was implemented in four public network schools that received information technology laboratories with the support of FAPESP’s Public Teaching Program. In this project, the evaluation of the 400 participating pupils was able to count upon an ample information system that covers right from the period of the mother’s pregnancy, the composing of the family until scholastic development. All of this data is cross-referenced and evaluated using software developed by the Enscer researchers. As well as accompanying the pupils via the internet, the team also has periodic meetings with the schools’ teachers. Through the way that the project is advancing, other progress has been obtained in the public schools of Guarulhos. One is the access of these pupils to the practice of sports in some of the city’s clubs, who cede times to the prefecture in exchange for debts within the public coffers.

The Projects
1. Enscer – Integrated informatics system for teaching and evaluating the pedagogic and neural progress of mentally handicapped children (nº 97/06020-9); Modality Small Business Innovation Research (PIPE) program; Coordinator Armando Freitas da Rocha – Eina/USP; Investment R$ 176,992.00 (FAPESP)
2. A study on neoro-cognitive development of children matriculated in primary schools in the city of  Mogi das Cruzes (nº 04/00743-4); Modality Public Teaching Program; Coordinator Armando Freitas da Rocha – Eina/USP; Investment R$ 164,389.77 (FAPESP)

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