Education is a carnival: the “Brazilian touch”

What can we learn from Carnival to transform education? In one of my blog entries, I mentioned an article by Seymourt Paper about samba schools:

“At a samba school the dominant activity is dancing. But it has another purpose related to the Carnival, at which each samba school will take on a segment of the more than twenty-four hour long procession of street dancing. While people have come to dance, they are simultaneously participating in the choice, and elaboration of the theme of the next carnival; they are engaged in a common activity – dancing – at all levels of competence from beginning children to superstars. The fact of being together would in itself be “educational” for the beginners; but what is more deeply so is the degree of interaction between dancers of different levels of competence. What counts is the weaving of education into the larger, richer cultural-social experience of the samba school.”

Paper identified two innovative features in the learning process that takes place at a samba school: learning together and learning from each other. These two simple ideas take us back to the pre-digital era when socialising with friends was seen as fundamental for a child’s development. Roger Hart and Colin Ward were two experts insisting early in their works on the importance of children’s informal participation in their communities.

Learning is nowadays increasingly seen as a mix of formal and informal experiences, and this is one of the greatest achievements of digital learning. But the socialising experience should remain central. This is what Paper tells us about the samba school and this is what is progressively emerging with the latest trends in digital learning.

photo by Luiz Fernando Reis/Flickr Creative Commons License - See more at:

photo by Luiz Fernando Reis/Flickr Creative Commons License

What we call “social learning” refers to the degree of interaction between learners of different levels of competence. Learning from others and learning with others are fundamental elements of the learning experience and essential for students to get full ownership of what they learn.

A few months ago, I wrote about MOOCs as “Maracana Open Online Courses” taking the Maracana stadium as the symbol of a new learning experience where tens of thousands of students get together and learn in the same place. I should have added, paraphrasing Colin Ward, that no learning is governable if it does not grow learners who feel it is theirs.

Carnival and football are two experiences that create incredible ownership among the participants. Let’s learn from the “Brazilian touch” to transform education!

Citizen MOOC: engage and feel engaged

On January 27, 1945 the world discovered the horror of the Shoah, when Russian troops entered the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Seventy years later, while antisemitism remains a massive threat, Tel Aviv University and the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem (dedicated to Holocaust memory) have announced a MOOC on the Holocaust.

I like the quietness and intensity of the Yad Vashem. I like the idea that somewhere on the planet, there will always be a special place that keeps Holocaust memory alive, as though it were part of the landscape. I always shiver when entering the buried memorial almost entirely plunged into darkness, with tiny lights and tiny words that recall the names of all the children who disappeared during the Shoah. What will I experience with this MOOC? Will this online course provide me with the emotions that I feel when visiting Yad Vashem? In fact, it shouldn’t, it can’t.

I do not yet have any idea how this MOOC has been designed. I hope it will leave aside the emotion and concentrate on the Holocaust as a social learning experience.

This MOOC on the Holocaust can’t be a guided visit to the Yad Vashem or a video archive. A MOOC on the Holocaust should be, above all, a social learning experience: learning with others and from others, enabling learners to gain ownership of what they learn.

An experience took place in the USA called the “deeper learning Mooc”, challenging teachers and educators to question their practice. Interestingly enough, Holocaust memory was one of the subjects explored in depth by the teachers, school leaders and educators that joined the course.

We often question the utility of MOOCs. In this case, we should look at the MOOC as a unique opportunity to massively and openly reach tens of thousands of educators, engage them in a reflexive and interactive process to keep the Holocaust memory alive in our classrooms, and strengthen core values that hold as much importance today as they did in the past.

A light in the darkness: new approaches to Holocaust memory in the classroom © P.A.U. Education

A light in the darkness: new approaches to Holocaust memory in the classroom © P.A.U. Education


I hope this MOOC can be the first Citizen MOOC. A Citizen MOOC will convert any social issue into a learning experience based on dialogue, participation and citizen engagement.

Will this first Citizen MOOC on the Holocaust respond to these expectations? It will depend –mostly – on the learners and their capacity to engage and feel engaged. After all, this is what innovative learning should be about.

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