Ricardo Semler: classroom revolutionary
When Ricardo Semler was 21, he was put in charge of the family firm that made pumps and propellers. One of the young Brazilian’s first moves was to fire two-thirds of his managers. “I’d come from having fun in rock bands,” he says, “and I’d seen that there were ways to make people enthusiastic if they were involved entirely.”
The result was Semco, one of the most revolutionary and counterintuitive companies in the world, where employees choose everything from their dress code to their salaries. Critics said it would never work – yet it became one of South America’s most successful conglomerates and, 25 years later, Semler is applying his principles to the classroom.
Semler realised that “the young adults who joined our company were awaiting direction. Tracing this back made it evident that schools, from an early age, were torturing kids with useless formats.” He and his wife Fernanda, above, gathered a group of education experts to imagine a new school, removed from structures that were “created to make life easier for adults”. The concept is Synapses, a “self-driven” system now being offered to children in São Paulo.
At his “Lumiar” schools, the masters are rarely trained teachers, but have a passion about a particular subject; pupils choose their own courses, from basketball to planets, Star Wars to fashion and meet weekly to make decisions on all aspects of the running of the school, from discipline to class outings. The schools’ results have been astonishing, scoring 96.15% in government tests, “even in rural areas,” says Semler, “where one third have no electricity at home, and the average income of the parents is £170 per month”.”
Synapses projects are already in development in the UK and India, although this is defiantly not a programme to be rolled out: for Semler, the whole point is in taking control away from “authority” and giving greater freedom to pupils just as he did to his employees.
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- A escola do futuro já existe, no interior – O Estado de S.Paulo
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- Microsoft terá programa de apoio a escolas em São Paulo – Site BBC