Peer Pressure, For a Purpose: Cooperative Learning in Brazil

Professor Manoel Andrade Neto anxiously scanned the list of students admitted to Brazil’s Federal University of Ceará. He hoped that one student, Toinho, had been prepared enough to qualify. He turned to the last page of the list, where the lowest scorers would appear. Toinho had prepared for the high-stakes exam in a completely unconventional way: teaching and learning from his peers who were also high school dropouts. Andrade’s heart tightened as he turned each page, not seeing Toinho’s name. But then, there it was: at the top of page one.

This sounds like a scene from an ’80s after-school special, but it’s a true story from Brazil in the ’90s. Andrade grew up in the poor, rural community of Cipó, a town so small it’s barely on a map. He was one of few kids who made it: he got into university and went on to teach chemistry at the Federal University of Ceará. He attributed a large part of his success to what he learned from his peers in a study group in Cipó, and years later, when he saw that adolescents in his hometown were unable to attend high school because of a teacher shortage, he convinced a few teens to try teaching each other, supplying books and encouragement. 

After another boy from Cipó was admitted to the Federal University of Ceará, word spread, and more students in the region formed their own cooperative learning groups. As a result, hundreds of students have been admitted to Brazil’s highly selective federal universities. Over the years, many of these students have become classroom teachers themselves, implementing the cooperative learning model that led them to academic success.

When the municipality of Pentecoste opened a new high school in 2012, they partnered with Andrade to incorporate his peer-to-peer learning methodology as a core part of their program. On Brazil’s national assessment, this high school now ranks first in the performance of low-income learners among all schools in the state of Ceará. Other Brazilian municipalities, including the state capital of Fortaleza, have sent teachers to be trained in this methodology. This approach also holds promise for schools in the United States.


Read the story of Cipó and learn how peer-to-peer learning works here. 

This video and story are part of the "Scanning the World" series developed by The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE).  Republished with permission. To learn more about CRPE visit their website

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