“The power of education lies in the power of the information itself, the full access to it and what we can do with it.” – Portugal
You never know when inspiration may strike. For Luis Fernandes, it was in 1984. “When I was 15, I saw the movie WarGames starring Matthew Broderick and I felt it was fabulous, the idea of the world being dominated by computers for good or for evil,” he says.
“I have always longed to tinker with these machines. My first encounter with a PC happened in 1985… I will never forget it because from then on, I developed a special fascination for computers that would remain with me forever.”
Fernandes went on to get his teaching degree, and his love of computers never left him. In fact, it was this fascination with technology that has helped Fernandes transform his school. When Fernandes was made principal of Freixo School Cluster in 1997, the first computer with an Internet connection was installed. However “it was stowed away in a room next to the library and could only be used with the permission. Today, over 200 PCs and laptops are available throughout our school with full Wi-Fi coverage within the entire vicinity.” Today, Fernandes shares his perspective on innovating as a principal, and how communication – implemented correctly and effectively – makes all the difference.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
My role as principal at Freixo School Cluster is demanding, since it relates to core tasks of management, education and of representation. Therefore, balancing all of these functions is not always easy because it involves time and a wide range of skills. The ability to manage information is crucial to ensure effective and safe circulation of communication and guarantee its accessibility at any time, anywhere.
During the Innovative Leaders training course (Microsoft Portugal/Portuguese Ministry
of Education) I presented an improvement plan for my school, where I set the challenge to ensure that information flows effectively and that it is permanently accessible to everyone. Thus, the implementation of the Microsoft Live@Edu platform enabled the whole school
community, with around 2000 users (parents, students, teachers and non teaching staff), to access a common tool of communication with enormous advantages for the circulation and sharing of information. Now, everyone, from the administrative offices and classrooms to each individual user, can access work tools.
After registering my school and 93 percent of our teachers on the Partners in Learning Network, I raised a discussion with a real question facing us, of course, in provocative terms: “Are teachers afraid of ICT?” As a first step, the intention was to launch a debate between all teachers of the Freixo School Cluster. Astonishingly, teachers from 19 countries, from all continents, are participating in this discussion online, which highlights the significance and universality of these issues.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
The improvement of communication in the Freixo School Cluster through the implementation of the Live@Edu platform was a personal passion, which counted on the involvement of many teachers. I believe that apart from streamlining the use of emails across the community, this platform has played a key role in sharing information and experiences, in collaborative work and in the engagement of our students in school life.
Participating in the PIL program made our school open its doors to the world, share experiences, doubts and expectations with so many teachers from different countries, with one common goal: Using ICT to provide significant improvements for education. Therefore, our teachers became even more motivated and more active participants.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
First of all, it is important to be confident that the project to be implemented will succeed. Secondly, the planning stage is of vital importance. Then, we have to present it to a group of people who are able to support the implementation of the project, motivate them and generate open discussion. Hence, pick a restricted group and try it out to collect data you might use as a reference, and then expand the project to the entire community. It is
important to follow the progress of the project personally.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
Information and communication tools become particularly important if they provide people with something immediately useful that goes beyond work-related skills and allows people to use it on a daily basis. The Live@edu platform can support the management of different devices (mobile phone, PC, tablet) in a wide range of operational scenarios. It is useful in an educational context as well as for professional purposes, and for cultural and
personal reasons. The platform is characterized by its flexibility.
Due to the need for training in the field of technology tools, more than 40 percent of our teachers participated in educational Webcasts organized by the fantastic Partners in Learning Portuguese Microsoft team, and are passing on their knowledge to their peers.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
The ongoing changes in national educational policies. Every Minister of Education changes education laws, which makes it impossible to undertake medium- or
long-term planning and organization of our work (usually beyond a year).
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
All Portuguese schools have broadband Internet access and PCs are available to students.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
I think we need to establish a long-term program for education, thus creating stability within the educational community.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
The best opportunity is the burning desire to surpass ourselves and accept challenges, such as emerging technologies, by following the excellent examples of many schools throughout and all over the world.
Initiatives such as the Partners in Learning program and the organization of forums like those held in Lisbon (PIL European Forum, 2012), in which I took part, showed excellent
results in the sharing of good practices and in terms of added motivation, energy and passion we apply every day to school life.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
We must always learn from each other. We should follow our paths with humility, moving forward when convinced of the importance of our ideas, even when others apparently are not following us. Only when the path has been completed can the results be fully assessed.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
I think that student-centered learning is a very positive trend. Sometimes, the simple use of technological tools offers no guarantee problems will be solved. Misuse of ICT does not help solve problems and may actually exacerbate them.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
It would be definitely a tool for communication. The power of education lies in the power of the information itself, the full access to it and what we can do with it. We need a vehicle to make communication circulate, which was formerly orally transmitted or written on paper.
Nowadays, everyone can access factual knowledge almost anywhere throughout the world. I do not mean that teachers no longer have a place in education. However, it has been widely acknowledged that teachers now have a different role.
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About Luis Henrique Fernandes
Birthplace: Vila das Aves, Oporto, Portugal
Current residence: Viana do Castelo, Portugal
Education: Degree in Portuguese and French Teaching | Master Degree of Education – Curriculum Development | Innovative Leaders (Microsoft Portugal-Portuguese Ministry of Education training course)
Website I check every day: www.aefreixo.pt
Person who inspires me most: My family.
Favorite childhood memory: The long sunny days in the beach eating ice-cream.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Probably Greece.
When was the last time you laughed? Why? Today! Looking at me.
Favorite book: Pioneers of Globalization: Why the Portuguese Surprised the World.
Favorite music: Depeche Mode
Your favorite quote or motto: Never give up and enjoy what you are doing.