Tell and show: animated children’s stories put Brazilian students at the centre of learning

By Andreas Schleicher

Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Education today is no longer just about teaching students something; it is about helping them develop a reliable compass to confidently navigate through an increasingly complex, volatile and uncertain world. Success in education is about identity, agency and purpose. It’s about building curiosity and compassion – about opening minds and hearts; and it’s about courage – about mobilising our cognitive, social and emotional resources to take action. That’s also going to be our best weapon against the biggest threats of our times: ignorance (the closed mind), hate (the closed heart) and fear (the enemy of agency).

That’s all easy to say, but how can we put these ideas into practice? There is a lot of talk today around student-centred learning, and around pedagogies through which teachers can help students build agency, so that they learn to think for themselves and work with others. But it is still rare to see students themselves at the heart of designing learning environments, particularly at young ages. An organisation in Brazil has done exactly that.

On my last trip to Brazil, I met Vitor Azambuja from By Kids to Kids, a Brazilian startup. Vitor showed me how his organisation puts students at the centre of the design of learning environments, using an approach that is so simple and intuitive that it is hard to understand how nobody came up with it earlier.

It all starts from the experience of children. In the classroom or other settings where they are accompanied by an adult, children tell and develop stories – stories that shed light on the things that move their hearts and occupy their minds, and how they see the world from their perspective. Sometimes it takes a single lesson, sometimes more than a week. In some cases, their story is motivated or guided by a theme or situation. But it is always the children who develop the characters in their story, and any other elements needed to tell it.

The children then draw the story based on something they have experienced, and explain the narrative behind their drawings. They record this narration on a mobile phone and take pictures of their drawings. All of this is then uploaded to the By Kids To Kids web platform, which develops amazing animated cartoons based on their stories within a couple of weeks. (An example is embedded above.)

This seems like an amazing tool that could help children in a wide range of ways. It can help them discuss current topics or difficult subjects, develop agency, work on their behavior, or work together to manage and resolve conflicts. Or, it could simply make learning at school more authentic and fun.