The title of this talk indicates that computing -- technology in general -- affects education more through the impact it has on a given culture than by attempts to integrate it into the curriculum of the school and into the pedagogical practice of teachers. Computers have been brought into the classrooms of many Brazilian schools mostly to support and sustain pedagogical approaches that were in place long before computers were even invented ?and so have not been allowed to trigger much needed pedagogical innovations. The quality of the education provided by most of the schools that received computers and other technology (televisions, VCRs, etc.) did not undergo much change and so the expected improvements in student performance did not come. Outside the school, however, computers and related digital technologies have been instrumental in profoundly transforming the way we communicate with one another, the way we access information, the way we work, the way we make use of our leisure time ?in a word, the way we live. Why hasn't technology been equally effective in transforming the way teachers teach and students learn within the school environment? In a program sponsored by Microsoft Brazil and coordinated by the Ayrton Senna Foundation, we tried to find an answer to this question. We started from the assumption that the task at hand was not simply to introduce computers in schools to help teachers and students basically do the same things they were used to doing. The challenge was, first and foremost, to improve the quality of the education offered by the public schools involved, so they could face the challenges posed by a society that made ample and effective use of technology and that placed a lot of faith in education, learning and technology -- but at the same time was greatly suspicious of schools. We started by discussing with the school ?principals, teachers, students -- their vision of education, their view of the role of schools, their conception of what students ought to learn and how best to learn it, the role of simple technology (books, for instance) and of discussion (between students and teachers and among students as peers) in fostering learning, etc. Part of this discussion took place through the Internet ?so technology was introduced as a tool rather than the focus of the undertaking. As the program evolved, it became evident that the most effective approach was for the school to start using technology to learn what its main problems were and to devise solutions to these problems. To do this students, teachers and principals had, of course, to learn to use the technology, but the focus was always on how technology could help them collaboratively learn the things they wanted to learn ?not the content of a curriculum developed without their participation.
Eduardo O C Chaves is Professor of Philosophy, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas, SP, Brazil. He is also Head of the UNESCO Chair of Education and Human Development, Ayrton Senna Foundation, Sao Paulo, Brazil, as well as a member of the International Advisory Board of Microsoft's Partners in Learning Initiative. Acknowledgement: Prof. Eduardo O C Chaves' visit to Hong Kong is sponsored by the Microsoft Partners-in-Learning Program.