Pro-Sciences: a positive balance

Program has made it possible to qualify 7,942 high school teachers

With the agreement between the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Level Personnel (Capes), the State Secretariat for Education and FAPESP for the implementation of Pro-Sciences in the State of São Paulo, now finished, the balance of its activities was positive. In all, and in the course of six years, 123 projects were implemented, under the coordination of faculty of the University of São Paulo, the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), the São Paulo State University (Unesp) and the Pontifical Catholic University of (PUC-SP), amongst others, for qualifying 7,942 high school teachers from the state of São Paulo. “In São Paulo, Pro-Sciences worked”, is the assessment by Marília Pontes Sposito, of the School of Education at the University of São Paulo, the program’s coordinator in the state.

Known as Pro-Sciences, the Support Program for the Improvement of Secondary School Teachers of Mathematics and Sciences, is a venture by Capes and the Ministry of Education’s National Secretariat for Teaching and Technology. Its main objective is the on the job improvement of secondary school teachers, in the areas of mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology, by means of support for pedagogical innovation.

The strategy for implementing the program was unite public schools and the universities, in order to improve, in the ambit of the secondary schools, mastery of the contents of the curriculum, in harmony with the advances taking place in the various areas of knowledge. In its first stage, the program was implemented in several states, in partnership with the Research Support Foundations and the State Secretariats for Education. The projects had as their starting point the current guidelines that make up the proposals for the Law on Guidelines and Bases (LDB), the National Curricular Guidelines for Secondary Schooling, and the School with a New Face – a Program for Further Education.

Between July 1996 and February 2001, through the agreement with FAPESP, in the case of São Paulo, Capes invested R$ 9.3 million in the program, to the benefit of high school teachers, who were the students then in the four areas of knowledge addressed by Pro-Sciences. The Pro-Science projects in the area of biology served 1,133 teacher-students. In the area of physics, there were 1,837; in the area of chemistry, 1,044; and in mathematics, the one with the greatest attendance, there was a total of 3,928 teacher-students.

The program was implemented using projects presented by universities. Each one of the projects was coordinated by a teacher with the rank of at least a doctor, who was responsible for implementing and following up the courses. The approval of the project also depended on confirming that there was the necessary physical, administrative and managerial infrastructure for carrying out the activities of an on-going training of the teacher-students.

On the various courses, the students would receive lessons on the fundamental concepts of the discipline, and they were given guidance of the methodologies compatible with the current trends for the subject, not to mention laboratory practices. Each one of the courses had a workload of 120 hours of lessons and a minimum of 130 teacher-students per class. Each teacher-student was given a maximum amount of R$ 450.00 for the 120 hours of activity in lessons. The courses were accompanied by the Secretariat for Education’s Coordination of Pedagogical Standards. Capes also created a group to follow up the programs in the several states.

The total investment in these grants, throughout the time that the agreement was in force, added up to R$ 4.6 million. The teacher-instructors received R$ 60.00 per hour of tuition, which amounts to a total expenditure of R$ 2.4 million at the end of the six years. Pro-Sciences also sponsored the purchase of the permanent material needed for the courses to be run (R$ 814,000), authorized in the last call for tenders, and the expendable material (R$ 729,000). The program was also responsible for the payment of third party services (R$ 393,000), for the expenses of transporting the teachers to the places where the lessons were given (R$ 87,200) and, when applicable, for the payment of daily allowances (R$ 187,300).

“We made a positive assessment of the project and of its capacity for impacting the process of qualifying the teachers, such as its innovation in the creation of didactic material”, explains Marília Sposito. The demand and the number of projects presented in reply to the announcements grew in the course of the program’s six-year duration. “We recognized its widespread legitimacy, not only with the teams of researchers, but also in the midst of the public schooling system of the state of São Paulo. FAPESP still frequently receives queries – and even demands – about the continuity of the program, both from researchers and from teachers, who have access by electronic means to the institution’s website”, Marília reveals.

In the classroom
In their several areas, the projects sought to qualify teachers to perform better for their students, using the resources available in the classroom. One of the projects in the area of physics, entitled Demonstrations in Physics, coordinated by Fuad Daher Saad, from the Institute of Physics, of the University of São Paulo, had the objective of giving the teacher-pupils guidance on the need for demonstrating some experiments in the classroom, using a few available resources and materials. Besides the theoretical and methodological issues on the theme, an attempt was made to put forward suggestions of a didactic nature: visual persistency, it was suggested, could be shown by rotating rapidly a little card with a dog stamped on one side and a bone on the other. Spinning the contraption, the images overlap each other in our retina.

Another project that was part of the program was Environmental Education Through an Integrated Vision of the Hydrographic Basin Via the Internet, coordinated by José Galizia Tundisi. The goal was to teach the students to interpret and to learn lessons using the river basin of the São Carlos region, and to insert this data into a big map on the Internet. The lessons were given at USP’s Center for Scientific and Cultural Dissemination, in São Carlos, and the teacher-students were encouraged to set up their own homepages, where they would make available the data gathered by the team.

The project On the Job Qualification of Secondary School Chemistry Teachers, presented by USP’s Institute of Chemistry and coordinated by Reiko Isuyama, aimed to bring science closer to the exercise of citizenship. Besides drawing up, for example, a balance of the quantity of ingredients that go into the composition of a given substance, its teacher-students would also debate the question of the economic interests behind the fertilizer manufacturing. In the area of mathematics, a good example came from the project coordinated by Celia Maria Carolino Pires, from PUC-SP. Before classes began, a survey was carried out with the teacher-students to find out the needs of the group. The contents most indicated – Functions and Geometry – then became the subjects for the classes.

A fifth example that helps to demonstrate the scope of Pro-Sciences was the project to update teachers from the public network in Santo André in Plant Ecology. Its objective was to facilitate an understanding on ecosystems dynamics, the technology for the production of seeds of native species, and the recovery of degraded areas. Besides visiting places like the Paranapiacaba Biological Reserve, the Mogi Biological Reserve and Experimental Station and the Juréia Ecological Reserve, the teacher-students also set up a herbarium.

Second stage
Pro-Sciences, which also had positive results in the other states, is now entering its second stage. “In the first stage, the program was financed with funds from Capes. Now, the funds are from the Young School Project, of the Ministry of Education’s National Secretariat for Secondary and Technological Schooling. The management and monitoring of the project are handled by the State Secretariats for Education”, says Rúbia Silveira, Capes’s coordinator of Special Projects. The Coordination now, she explains, is only responsible for the selection and qualification of the projects presented in answer to nationwide calls for proposals. “In this case, this strategy exempts the states from competitive processes, which makes it feasible to implement several courses”, she says.