Volume 26, No. 3: Revving Up for the 2016 Conference in Indy!

Update on a Career Pathways Project in Brazil

Agustin Navarra, Vice President for International Projects, CORD

In 2005 Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer, through its Embraer Education and Research Institute (Portuguese: IEEP), launched an ambitious plan designed to build and maintain a high school, the Colégio Eng° Juarez Wanderley (CEJW), in which "poor students have the opportunity to see their dreams take flight" (Geri Smith, “Embraer Helps to Educate Brazil,” Business Week, July 31, 2006).

IEEP wanted to design a really innovative high school that could leave a legacy. The school was envisioned as consisting of three pathways: pre-engineering, pre-humanities, and pro-biomedical (as shown in the following image, adapted from "Embraer High School: Engineering in the Preparation for College Program" by Paulo Lourencao, Agustin Navarra, Mirian Branco, Natasha Puntschart, and Priscila Soares; paper presented at the 10th International CDIO Conference, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain, June 16–19, 2014).

With the help of CORD (Center for Occupational Research and Development, the parent organization of the National Career Pathways Network), a career pathway project in pre-engineering was planned and implemented beginning in 2006. The first cohort of students graduated in 2008. To attend the school, students had to have attended public schools during the previous four years of their education. CORD proposed a comprehensive pre-engineering program based on an innovative approach to curriculum and teaching.

A challenging "preparation for college" strand of 800 hours (four semesters) was established on top of the regular high school timetable. This enrichment strand, which was integrated with regular school subjects, included courses with titles such as Personal Development for Career Success, Principles of Technology, and The Nature of Things. Students were tasked with applying the scientific method in business- and industry-oriented projects. The following image shows the course organization of the pre-engineering program.

This new type of enriched and context-adapted curriculum (college-prep plus work-readiness skills and attitudes) requires that teachers be adequately trained in “contextual teaching and learning” (CTL). CTL theory recognizes that learning occurs only when students process new information or knowledge in such a way that it makes sense to them in their own frames of reference. CTL theory encourages five essential student engagement strategies—relating, experiencing, applying, cooperating, and transferring—which CORD refers to collectively as the REACT methodology. (For more on CTL, go here.) For the IEEP project, CORD conducted a three-year REACT-based teacher professional development process to get teachers ready to teach and coach following this new context-oriented instructional methodology.

The enriched curriculum and excellent team of contextual teachers were key components of the project, but two conditions were also required: strong leadership at the school level and strong, long-term business-industry support. Support from the Embraer Institute provided curriculum input, laboratory supplies, and assistance in annual career fairs. These fairs were led by teachers but were organized and coordinated by senior students (grade twelve).

The program has produced excellent outcomes. According to a news release from Embraer, all of the December 2008 graduates, including the CORD pre-engineering students, were admitted to at least one undergraduate institution. This is no small accomplishment, given the rigor of the university system in Brazil.

Although these students had to stay in school two additional hours per day for four semesters, without receiving a grade, they were grateful for the opportunity to enrich their abilities with knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are valued in the workplace.

The first cohort of students who graduated from the PE program left CEJW in 2008. Since then, a longitudinal evaluation process has been applied to determine the impact of the program on former JWEHS students through their academic (university) and professional lives.

During the years 2009 to 2012, IEEP and CORD organized meetings with CEJW teachers and students, CEJW graduates at universities, and university professors. Surveys were conducted to get first-hand information on the performance of current CEJW students of CEJW graduates’ college work. Starting in 2013, those meeting have included employers of CEJW graduates. Results have been exceptionally encouraging.

The IEEP pre-engineering process has brought to light the following points, among others:

  1. Follow-up and monitoring generate a very important two-way feedback process between the curriculum and pedagogical practice in place and the results produced. Lessons learned from the results generated several modifications to the original plans.

  2. The relatively large scope of the project (design, implementation, and assessment) allowed for an expanded concept of the "context" in which learning takes place—going beyond the circumstances of students during their typical learning years to encompass their subsequent experiences in the workplace. The assessment component of the project enabled graduates of the program to provide information that ultimately helped to improve the experiences and outcomes of current CEJW students.

  3. This project also intersected with the CDIO initiative. (CDIO derives its name from its emphasis on engineering fundamentals set in the context of conceiving, designing, implementing, and operating.) CDIO normally works in higher education, but the CEJW project presented a CDIO application at the high school level.

As a direct consequence of the positive results from CEJW, in 2012 IEEP decided to build a second school—CECMF—in the city of Botucatu (State of São Paulo, Brazil). This new school applied the same philosophy with a pre-engineering strand, as proposed by CORD. The first cohort graduated at the end of 2015. Starting in 2016, the follow-up longitudinal assessment process will be carried out.

Results will be presented in a future article.

For more information, contact the author at anavarra@cord.org.