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Science at the service of society

To arm public authorities with modern instruments of administration, to map out the social ailments, to examine the various faces of urban violence and of public health, to dive into the difficulties of public schooling, to recycle teachers implanting new pedagogical methodologies that stimulate the pupils to learn and to participate – are many of the results of the programs of Research into Public Policies and of Applied Research towards the Improvement of Public Schooling, which FAPESP has come to decisively stimulate. They make up part of a strategy for an approximation between the system of science and technology and society, developed at the start of 1995 and composed of two other programs: the Program of Partnership for Innovative Technology (PITE) and the Small Business Innovation Research (PIPE).

The spirit is to finance projects that diagnose and propose solutions for concrete problems, of considerable relevance to economic, social and community sectors, creating at the same time effective mechanisms for the transfer of knowledge. Launched in 1998, the program of Public Policies brings together, on one side, research institutions and universities (public and private) and, on the other, organizations from the public sector (State Departments, State companies, city hall authorities) and the third sector (cooperatives, foundations, NGOs). The regime is partnership – which is common to the other programs.

This means that there is an interaction of two forces, the research groups, who structure the projects, and the partners, who promise to execute them. FAPESP provides financial support – help for the researchers, scholarships, the purchase of material (computers, videos) – and defines the criteria for approval and development. The projects are carried out in three phases. In the first, lasting six months, the project receives a grant of R$ 30,000.00 for preliminary studies and viability. In the second, which can last up to two years and goes to the completion of the work on a pilot-scale, the funding can be as high as R$ 200,000.00. In the third phase there is no financing via FAPESP, but it is at this stage that the change occurs between research and real life: when the partner effectively puts the project research into operation.

So far, the program of Public Policies has approved 102 projects (the details of which can be read as from page 42 onwards) involving investments of R$ 5.5 million (until May). The majority are in operation and their sphere is wide regarding both the sectors of activity and to the origin and location of their execution. The themes reveal important social signals: they range from urban violence and domestic and sexual violence against women, to an inquire on the situation of health in the State; from a program of minimum income to the employment suitability of discriminated social groups such as women and blacks; from digitalized libraries to the environment. Nevertheless, it is worth emphasizing the interest of city halls (local authorities) to incorporate into their system modern management tolls, either in taxation (a key area in today's world) or in planning.

For example, in Presidente Prudente, researchers have developed software that will allow for the collection and cross-referencing of social, economic and environmental information and will serve as ammunition when taking decisions. They intend to give to other city halls (since the model can be applied to any town or city) an instrument that will assist them “to promote social inclusion” as Eliseu Savério Sposito explains, of the São Paulo State University (Unesp), the project's coordinator. It is not possible to guarantee that this will happen or when it will happen, because it doesn't depend only on the local authorities, nor is it a task that will be carried out in one administration. However, Sposito adds, “if it doesn't happen it won't be for the lack of information.”

The Program for the Improvement of Public Schooling was launched in 1995, but has been operational since 1996. Sixty two projects have already been approved (details at the end of this supplement) many of which have already been completed. FAPESP has invested in them R$ 11.2 million (up until June) – money destined to research assistance, grants for teachers, for the purchase of computers or for re-equipping laboratories. Its coverage is also wide since it brought together projects from various fields, emphasizing their interdisciplinary nature.

Common to all of them are objectives of particular importance for public schools: to train and re-cycle teachers, making them more participative, which means more a teacher-researcher; to implant new pedagogical techniques which come from real life situations; to motivate pupils; to recover the pleasure of learning and of teaching, mainly in the more difficult disciplines such as science and mathematics. In reality, to no longer make of the school a mere mechanical transfer of information, but to turn it into a generator of knowledge.

For example, teachers at the State school Prof. Architiclino Santos, located in Parque Continental, in the west side of the city of São Paulo, complained about the lack of equipment and material. A project, coordinated by Mansur Lutfi, of the São Paulo State University of Campinas (Unicamp), allowed for equipping the school with televisions and VCRs, but to set up the video library the teachers had to carry out meticulous research into the existing titles on the market. In the case of physics, they believed that the problem would be solved simply by the purchase of a didactic kit, but quickly they realized that this did not add to an adequate understanding of the concepts: they began to research and build their own more efficient instruments to equip the laboratory.

Another example: in the primary and junior high school school named Anne Sullivan for students with a hearing disability, the teachers looked for new technologies to teach reading and writing to deaf children. With the help of the University of São Paulo (USP), in a project led by Leland Emerson McCleary, the group realized that, in order to read and write, the pupil above all needed to acquire a first language – the language of signs.

The school then began to invest in the training of teachers and to give incentive to the parents, so that they too could learn sign language. Today, in the Anne Sullivan school, pupils who had difficulty learning to read, speak fluently to their colleagues through signs, telling them about the stories that they have read in the books.Similar experiences – promoted through the programs of Public Policies and Public Schooling – are reproduced in this supplement This is what is to follow.