Disrupting the Education Technology Industry in Brazil

Team Starline is in Belo Horizonte, Brazil looking to help our client, Starline Tecnologia, an education tech start-up, evaluate the opportunities in the Brazilian Education B2C market and define an appropriate business model for entry.

As our project is winding down and we work on our final deliverables we have had a chance to reflect on our wonderful experience in Brazil thus far. We spent the first weekend in Rio, where we visited with Team Funio, enjoyed the picturesque scenery and lively nightlife, and made sure that before we left we became experts in Samba.

View from Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf), Rio de Janeiro

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Team Starline enjoying Pão de Açúcar, Rio de Janeiro

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Enjoying Samba at Carioca de Gema in Lapa, Rio de Janeiro

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Our second weekend we stayed in Belo Horizonte; the holiday weekend promised a fun-filled two days. We took in an outdoor music festival, experienced the Mercado Central where we not only purchased souvenirs like Cachaça and Havaiana flip-flops, but also enjoyed sipping beers squeezed between locals that heckled every time someone wearing an opposing team’s soccer jersey walked by. We also had a chance to visit Ouro Preto, the picturesque former capital of Brazil from when the Portuguese reigned, that is surrounded by gold mines.

Sipping beers in the crowded bar at Mercado Central, Belo HorizonteImage

 Amy and Stephanie with our Host/Company Liaison, Marcelo, Ouro Preto

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Our project has come together very well in the last two weeks. While we had completed a lot of market research at home in Berkeley, we were lacking in ethnographic data and really wanted to get a deep and thorough understanding of what the day-to-day teaching life was like for both private and public secondary school teachers, our potential consumer targets. Thus, our first week consisted of visits to public and private schools.

Our first school visit was to Milton Campos, a public high school. In many ways it reminded us more of a prison—metal gates and high walls that are covered in graffiti surround the school.

Entrance to Milton Campos

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We were greeted by the Assistant Principal who gave us a tour of the school, which consisted mainly of dark halls and classrooms filled with nothing but old desks and a chalkboard.  

Typical classroom at Milton CamposImage

Vivek shows some Haas love

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The library had one computer, which was close to 10 years old and looked as though it had not been turn on or used in years

Ancient computer in the library at Milton Campos

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The public school kids were required to wear t-shirts as uniforms and go to school in shifts. At this school the 11th and 12th graders attend school in the mornings from 8-12 and the 10th graders came in the afternoons from 1-5. Others who work during the day attend evening classes from 6-10. We observed a chemistry class where on that day the kids were lucky enough to have a lab that they get access to only once a month. The students were very excited to show us the experiment they were conducting and shouted out the few English words that they knew.

We were told that many of the kids drop out by 10th grade and of the ones who graduate only a few will go on to private universities. The public high school students do not even attempt to apply to public universities, which are considered the elite colleges in Brazil, because they are too hard to get into and the students have not had the resources available to them to compete with private high school students. The irony is that one has attend a private high school, which is very expensive and elite in its own right, in order to be accepted into the free public universities.

Students from the chemistry class we observed

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The public school teachers that we spoke to were tired. They spoke to us about teaching more than 1500 students at any given time, and explained that they typically worked at two or three different schools per day in order to make enough money to live on. The school provides them with no resources and often times they have to pay out-of-pocket to provide paper or other materials for their students to use. They show up to work and struggle to connect with their students, frustrated by a lack of pay and the lofty expectations of the school administration. They all spoke of not having the time to track student progress or come up with new lesson plans.

 The next day we visited a private school, Isabela Hendrix, which houses not only grades K-12 but a university as well. Many of the students spend their entire educational upbringing at this school. One girl we met has attended the school since kindergarten and is finishing up her law degree this year. We were given a tour of the facilities by the program director, which included well-lit, clean classrooms with modern computers, projectors and white boards. The school had numerous science labs, kitchens to teach the younger kids how to cook, computer labs containing more than 30 modern computers and university caliber auditoriums. The contrast to the public school is like night and day. 

A computer lab at Isabela Hendrix

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Auditorium

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We sat in on an English class with graduating seniors. The teacher was excited to have us there and asked that we each sit with small groups of 6-7 students. We proceeded to tell them about ourselves, our project, and discussed what the students like to do on a daily basis. Some of the kids spoke very well, while others were just beginning to learn the basics of English—however, it was clear that these students have been given opportunities and a foundation for success.

 Amy telling the students about Taiwan

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Our new friends 

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Teachers at this school were much more optimistic. They all emphasized their love of teaching and were clearly much less stressed out. They don’t have to worry about resources for the students as the school covers their expenses– it also does not hurt that they are paid 3-4 times more than public school teachers. They work at only one school and are in charge of somewhere close to 100 students at a given time as opposed to the 1500 students that public school teachers are responsible for. The overall environment leads to both happier students and more satisfied teachers.

With our ethnographic research done, it is now up to Team Starline to come up with a suitable product for the potential B2C market. We will continue to contemplate our recommendations over Caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail. Saúde!

 

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