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Reinforcing public education

São Paulo is investing in distance teaching to guarantee university education for teachers

The setting up of the Virtual Paulista University Teaching Expansion Program in the State of São Paulo, also known as Univesp, was made official by state governor, José Serra.  This is a distance teaching plan that is going to involve the universities of São Paulo (USP), Paulista State (Unesp) and the Campinas  State (Unicamp) to provide university education for a target public of 35,000 teachers using virtual learning environments.

“The program will bring about the expansion of knowledge, taking into account three basic principles: access, equal opportunities for university education and an obsessive search for quality”, said Carlos Vogt, state secretary of University Education and the program’s coordinator. Univesp will receive investments of R$ 152 million, of which R$ 52 million is coming from the State Department of Education and R$ 100 million from the State Department of University Education, which created the program with the support of Cultura TV (Padre Anchieta Foundation) and the Paulista Administrative Development Foundation (Fundap). “These universities are going to go do a great job because they are the three best in the country and will only provide quality lessons”, said Governor José Serra at the launch ceremony. “This is a new instrument, with great potential, and we have to learn more and more and take advantage of it”, he stated.

The idea is to offer teachers 6,600 free places immediately next year, divided up into 5,000 places on the teacher training course, 700 undergraduate places in biology and 900 in the sciences. Specialist courses will also be developed, aimed at teachers from the state education system, from the 5th grade to high school. Through a partnership with the State Department of Education 110,000 teachers are likely to enter 16 post-graduate courses next year.

The program will have a further two modules. One of them includes offering various undergraduate courses in subjects such as Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Portuguese. The second will offer courses for teachers who already have a university degree and want to improve professionally. Specialization courses in elementary school and high school teaching and school management are also planned.

Studies and teaching activities will be accompanied both by classroom-based lessons at 70 support centers set up in universities and other participating institutions, as well as on the internet or by a 0800 free-phone number. Laboratory lessons and assessments will be carried out at the centers where the students will receive teaching support. A group of tutors will be constantly available to help students via the internet. As from February Cultura TV’s digital channel will transmit program lessons 24 hours a day.

The main justification for the program is a continuing scarcity of qualified teachers in Sao Paulo state: 36% of all primary school teachers and 27% of those from the 1st to the 4th grade have no university degree, according to data from a census carried out by the Ministry of Education (MEC) in 2005. In all there are 60,000 active teachers without a university education. Univesp is going to be additional to a program launched last month by MEC and by the Coordinating Body for the Improvement of University Level Personnel (Capes), which is promising to invest R$ 1 billion in preparing teachers both through classroom-based lessons, with more places being made available in public universities, as well as by distance- teaching, using the Open University of Brazil (UAB). The National Public Teacher Training System is promising to invest R$ 1 billion in the initiative.

Part of the money will be directed at federal, state and municipal university institutions to cover the cost of offering new places; another part will be used for scholarships for university professors who take on more undergraduate groups and a further part for scholarships for elementary school teachers. It is expected that some 600,000 teachers (who are not graduates or who have no specific training in the discipline they teach) will qualify over the next three years. “Our objective is to offer continuous education, thereby qualifying teachers and making what they learn in the university more appropriate to what they come up against in reality in the classroom”, said the Minister of Education, Fernando Haddad.