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Interview: Jair Ribeiro on Model for Adopting, Improving Brazilian Schools

August 13, 2008

“[E]ach school is different from the other and requires a different set of solutions.”

CPM Braxis CEO Jair Ribeiro, in an interview with AS/COA Online Managing Editor Carin Zissis, discusses Partners in Education (Parceiros Da Educação), a program he established in São Paulo to match executives with schools—particularly in poor and underserved areas—to improve teacher training and boost students’ test scores. The program has proven to show marked results in the “adopted” schools. As the model developed by Partners in Education evolves and improves, executives from across Brazil approached the organization about adopting the model in other parts of the country.

AS/COA: Can you tell me a little bit about the history of Partners in Education and how and why you started it?

Ribeiro: Four or five years ago I wanted to give something back to the community. I involved many people in discussing what would be the best way to do that and I had worked already in other areas of assistance and charity but I wasn’t happy with the results. In the end, I concluded that the major issue the major problem we have as Brazilians is the quality of our education. I saw what a company called Porto Suguro was doing in this field in the slum of Paraisópolis, which is on the outskirts of São Paulo. They had a process going on for 10 years of adopting public schools. I got in touch with them and I learned their process. Then, with a team, we remodeled their practice and I began adopting a public school also in the outskirts of São Paulo. After that, we began to develop a model to replicate my experience.

AS/COA: Are all the schools that are adopted in São Paulo or in other parts of Brazil as well?

Ribeiro: 80 percent of them are in São Paulo. We have a few in the interior of the state of São Paulo but all of them are in the State of São Paulo.

AS/COA: How many schools are there involved in the program?

Ribeiro: We have 67 schools that have been adopted, we have 100 more schools that have been diagnosed and they’re ready to be adopted and looking for a businessman or a company and we have somewhere around 12 prospects in the pipeline.

AS/COA: It’s interesting this language you use in terms of “diagnosis.” How do you “diagnose” a school for the program?

Ribeiro: We go there and we visit the school, and we analyze the school from four different views: One, how’s the infrastructure of the school and how adequate is that. Second is the quality of the education being given, the quality of the teachers, the grades the kids are getting overall and the rating that the school is getting overall. Third is the quality of the management of the school and how involved the school manager is in the day-to-day operations of the school and whether the manager is effective or not. Fourth is how the school is inserted within the community that circles that school.

So we have those four issues that we analyze and then we form a diagnosis of the problems at the school, and we come up with a preliminary action plan for the school. With this diagnosis and preliminary action plan, this is what we present to the businessman or to the company—the eventual adopter—saying this is the school, and these are the issues and you can choose, including which kinds of problems you want to deal with as well as the location of the school and the size and scope of the adoption.

AS/COA: How do you find and identify executives and businessmen who want to work with schools?

Ribeiro: It’s still a very small community here in Brazil; initially it was my friends, then I ran out of friends. Around the number 40, more or less, I ran out of friends to bend their arms into doing something like that. I also found a co-coordinator who comes from a very wealthy family and she knows many people and she is very active in community service. She also brought some friends and now what we’re finding is that people that have adopted these schools are also involving other friends and other folks into this process and trying to convince more people to join in. So it’s like a virus being spread within the Brazilian community.

AS/COA: How did you come to this idea of having businessmen work with public schools instead of working with public officials. What do you see as some of the strengths of working with business leaders instead?

Ribeiro: It‘s really that the community has to get involved in this process. We have a few dogmas that we believe in. One of them is that each school is different from the other and requires a different set of solutions. So, in the state of São Paulo for example, the Secretary of Education controls 5,500 schools. It is one of the largest school districts in the world, so it is impossible to really provide quality to 5,500 schools—you’re talking about 6 million kids. Since each school has its own issues and problems, we find a partner that can help with the specific needs of that school and to also to manage and make sure that the goal are met, and to help manage the school in terms of some goals being set in terms of improving the education of the kids.

The other factor is that the private sector is much more efficient that the public sector, so with less money we can do a lot more. For example, I spent 10 percent of what the government spends in my school. With that 10 percent I can maximize the money that the government spends and transform that public investment, which was poorly used, into a much better and more efficient use of the capital.

AS/COA: Can you give me some examples of specific methods that you’ve seen that work or don’t work as the program has grown?

Ribeiro: We’ve learned a lot. We’re in version 4.0 of our model right now. Many businessmen are very enthusiastic about making the changes from the infrastructure side only; you write a check, you paint the school, and you put another sports field, and the impact on the output of education with the kids as we’ve seen it is statistically zero. So you have improved the quality of the infrastructure of the schools—they look much nicer than the way they looked before because some of them were in extremely poor shape, but the impact on the day-to-day of the kids and of their education is very small.

So what we tell our folks is that it’s not only investing in the infrastructure, but that the infrastructure is the entrance for us to be able to invest in requiring the school to set goals and to better manage the education being given. With that, yes, you have very tangible results on the kids. I can give an example: Last year we put together a program in my school of a bonus for teachers provided that they reached certain targets of improvement in classes. Many of them are looking forward to the bonus, and with a small amount of money we were able to increase by 20 percent the average grade of that school from kindergarten to eighth grade in one single year, with a bonus program allied with the program of training of the teachers.

AS/COA: Do you see the possibility for this model to be brought to other parts of the country? Are there ways that you’re looking to expand the program and grow?

Ribeiro: Businessmen in other states have come to us and asked us to expand to other states. What we’ve decided to do is focus on the state of São Paulo, but we will help any other business leaders to develop their own Partners in Education in other states. That’s being done already in the state of Rio, and in the state of Rio Grande do Sul where two business leaders decided that they wanted something similar, and what we do, we provide all the experience and the technology, that we developed. They are also adopting the model, so it is spreading around. I have a similar request from Minas Gerais and Bahia. But there has to be involvement of the local community doing this; it is not that we’re coming from São Paulo and trying to improve the education in your state