The two institutions signed an agreement seeking to develop innovative solutions in access to technology for East Timor’s children and teenagers
In 2020, Insper and UNICEF signed a partnership agreement to propose Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) initiatives focusing efforts on digital transformation and creating ways to enhance the education of East Timor’s children and adolescents through technological solutions.
The partnership was developed in the first semester by Juliana Miranda Mitkiewicz, Professor at Insper. As a first experience, a five-day workshop was held in East Timor in February. It brought together representatives from Insper and UNICEF, as well as guests from MIT’s D-LAB and the University of Singapore. The meeting discussed the strategic challenges in the different fields of UNICEF’s activities in the country.
Based on the challenges listed in that first meeting, a pedagogical proposal involving students from Insper was planned. Its objective was to develop innovative solutions to challenges in developing countries other than Brazil. “As in the Design in Social Contexts course — which takes place in the São Paulo community of Paraisópolis —, we want to develop sustainable business models for empowering the local community,” Juliana explains.
“UNICEF Timor-Leste is proud to be a partner of Insper in creating content for teenagers and young people. The content, focused on finance and entrepreneurship skills and based on Insper’s expertise in creating targeted teachings, will help to highlight skills critically-needed by youth in East Timor,” says Valérie Taton, a UNICEF representative.
In the first semester, a first stage was developed with students from Insper’s Social Action Group (GAS, for its acronym in Portuguese). In the form of complementary activity, the challenge of creating a video script to teach family financial education to adolescents in the context of the pandemic was proposed. “Through that activity, we wanted to assess whether students would remain engaged and deliver value to UNICEF with their proposals,” comments Juliana.
Luís Eduardo Barros Bayer was one of Insper’s students – and a GAS member – selected to participate in that complementary activity. “Since early this year, we have been working with the institution to develop a basic finance curriculum for young Timorese.”
The complementary activity was successful, and the script UNICEF approved will be presented to East Timor’s Ministry of Education. The country’s government is reformulating the elementary education’s school path, and there is an interest in including the skills discussed in the video in the students’ curriculum.
Based on students’ interest in continuing the activity’s proposals, a course was launched to continue posing solutions to the ICT challenges diagnosed by UNICEF.
An international course
The discipline created, Participatory Design for Humanitarian Development, is within Insper’s Graduate Programs’ International Track. Were it not for the current situation that makes travel impossible, and it would be divided into two parts: First, students would design projects and, second, they would do a local immersion in East Timor to implement solutions proposed during an internship at UNICEF. “It would be quite rich for our students to have this internship within the international body but, with the pandemic, that was not possible,” Juliana Mitkiewicz explains.
In the context of the new coronavirus, the course was remodeled to the remote format, and the idea of including East Timor’s students in it came up. UNICEF management selected seven students to attend the online course. They were divided into multidisciplinary groups made up of Insper students and international ones, mostly from Europe and Brazil’s neighboring countries like Colombia and Peru.
The Timorese students also could enroll in other elective courses in English offered by Insper. “Students from East Timor were regularly enrolled as international students, being able to take part in the Insper Community throughout the semester,” Juliana reported.
Edilberto de Oliveira was one of the East Timor students selected to participate in the working group formed at Insper. He praised the exchange experience and the initiative to create innovative solutions in his country. “All the professors gave us a lot of support and provided an excellent learning opportunity.”
For him, the opportunity for cultural exchange with students in an international context was beneficial and exciting. “My colleagues, in particular the Brazilians, enriched the experience by providing me with a view of Brazilian academic life, even if by virtual means,” Edilberto commented.
Brazilian Isabela Assis, who has lived in East Timor since 2001, also worked with Insper students in the first semester’s complimentary activity. She was invited to attend the program proposed for the second semester. “I received an invitation for these proposals for innovative solutions using ICT for education, and the idea caught my attention because the technology is not very developed here.”
She believes that access to technology by children and teenagers in East Timor is essential at the country’s current moment. “Contributing to the creation of projects for bringing technology and the internet closer to the neediest communities is a privilege. Moreover, I believe that it can change many lives,” the participant reports.
Although the pandemic made it impossible to conduct the exchange to East Timor, Luís reinforced the importance of integrating the interdisciplinary project with other students. “It is amazing to meet such different people and share knowledge to solve a problem that is so latent and harmful to East Timor,” the Insper student reported.
An innovative learning proposal
At the end of the meetings, students are expected to present business proposals with a social impact to solve ICT problems. “Today, they are dealing with three main ICT challenges, namely the access to devices such as notebook and mobile phones, internet access, and digital illiteracy,” Juliana explains.
The course, developed in an express learning format, was designed for students to learn quickly and continuously from real-life experiences and global humanitarian development cases. The course continues to be carried out with a semiannual pace, always with new students, passing on the challenges. “We apply Design Thinking and Participatory Design methodologies developed by Stanford and the MIT and recoded for the Brazilian reality,” says Juliana.
For Luís Bayer, attending the course also serves to face other challenges within Brazil. “With this learning, we can work on creating sustainable, long-term solutions to make our country a more socially and environmentally fair place.”