During the last presidential debate broadcast by Band TV on Sunday (10/16), candidates Jair Bolsonaro (PL) and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) answered questions from journalists on various topics, such as education.
When the candidates were asked what they would do to reduce the educational gap of almost 10 months without classes during the pandemic, which has mainly affected the poorest students, Bolsonaro cited an application focused on literacy as part of the solution his found. government.
“We are already doing this. Our Ministry of Education has an application that has been perfected and has been in operation for a year, it is called GraphoGame. That is, you can download the program on a cell phone and the children stay there. Letter A, you press A and the sound of A appears. Go to the syllables C and A: Ca. In the past, in Lula’s time, children took three years to be educated. Now, in our government, they take six months.”
What is GraphoGame and How Does it Work?
The app Bolsonaro cited is GraphoGame, a Finnish app adapted into Portuguese by researchers from PUC-RS’s Instituto do Cérebro do Rio Grande do Sul (InsCer) to be used in Brazilian schools.
The game begins with exercises that connect letters and sounds of the language. As you pass the level, the exercises become more difficult, working on the sounds of the syllables and the complete words.
The Ministry of Education (MEC) recommends GraphoGame Brasil for all first and second year primary school students and for those with reading delays.
But in a note to BBC News Brazil, PUCRS said that GraphoGame is not a literacy app, as Bolsonaro suggested, but simply an educational support tool.
“The university explains that the application can be a support tool, but by itself it is not capable of teaching literacy. This was not and is not the objective of the initiative and of the researchers at any time. instruction, and constant, needs experiences, and without the slightest doubt, support the school and especially the teachers”, says the PUCRS note.
According to the university, the MEC invested R$ 100,500 to adapt the game made by InsCer.
BBC News Brazil attempted to contact Augusto Buchowitz, the lead researcher responsible for adapting the app for Brazil, who is no longer associated with PUCRS. He said that he preferred not to speak.
Literacy in Six Months?
Data from the EDB (Basic Education Development Index) show that between 2019 and 2021, the proportion of second-grade children who cannot read or write doubled: from 15% to 34%, according to data from the SAIB (System of Evaluation of Basic Education). ).
“It is important to put the GraphoGame in the context of this scenario,” says Maria Alice Junqueira, coordinator of the project at the NGO Cenpec, which works with public education in the country.
Ella Junqueira rejects the idea that the app is effective in teaching children to read and write at six months. “If the app, which launched in 2020, had that power, the price would be better, not worse,” says Junqueira.
Another point raised by the expert is that the application must be downloaded from the Internet, after which it can be used offline. But many children from poor families don’t even have a cell phone or a computer.
“It’s a problem to think that the solution is a tool, like GraphoGame.”
For a specialist from Cenpec, schools need to evaluate students who have difficulties with reading and writing and provide them with reinforcements with materials that are already in schools.
For Professor Silvia Gasparian Colillo, a professor at the Faculty of Education at the University of São Paulo (USP) and a specialist in literacy, the game is “proof of how bad Bolsonaro’s advice is on education.”
According to her, by associating literacy with play, the general public will have a false impression of the modernization of education, while in reality the government will reproduce teaching practices that have already been superseded.
“The game can be effective in teaching parrots to read and write, but it certainly does not teach thinking subjects,” says the teacher.
“It is shocking to see that literacy in the 20th century is seen only as a kind of mechanical correspondence between phonemes and letters. It is an assumption that eliminates the most precious thing about language: the possibility of communication. In this way, written teaching is in conflict with the right of children to express themselves and interact with the community”.
In the mnemonic association game, in the analysis of it, the user does not have the opportunity to be seduced by the language or to form the habit of reading. This only happens if the literacy of literature and learning is carried out with context.
“Take the opportunity, for example, for the child to write a letter to the Easter Bunny and tell their own story about it.”
Colello believes that the game’s rewards, such as earning stars, are of little use for learning, and he considers the app’s setting, which features mountain shots and cannons in letters, a far cry from students’ everyday lives.
What So the Studies Say?
International studies, such as those conducted with English learners, show benefits in learning spelling and speech recognition skills using the app.
However, the authors note that “literacy is a social enterprise and therefore the app should ideally be used in conjunction with reading activities or in homes to reach its full potential.”
Most of the evidence collected came from students with learning disabilities, such as those with dyslexia.
Other research, focused on learning Portuguese, shows that poor students obtain lower results than richer students, reinforcing that complementary activities, such as family training at home, are necessary to achieve good results.
This is also what MEC recommends in its user manual: “Remember, GraphoGame works best when an adult interacts with a child, or when incorporated into literacy activities.”
Elsewhere in the document, the Department for Education and Culture adds: “Recent studies show that GraphoGame is most effective when used in conjunction with classroom activities, a literacy program and a rich oral language curriculum.”