Sightlines Initiative

promoting creative and reflective practice in early childhood education


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Democracy in Education: the Portuguese Modern School Movement

Bicycles & Bricks, Vision & Determination ~

Online Conference set:  narratives of the real and possible in shaping education

Seminar Five: Democracy in education: provocations from the Portuguese Modern School Movement

Dr. Diana Sousa, University College London

MEM school reflectionWe want to arrange a party for the baby with Fernanda’s mum; We want to learn things about whales and sharks.

Democracy as a value, ethic, practice and purpose is largely absent from education in England. In this presentation, I will contrast the situation in England with the attention paid to democracy elsewhere, in particular focusing on The Portuguese Modern School Movement (Movimento da Escola Moderna Portuguesa), also known as MEM, in which democracy is a central component.

MEM is one of the most active and widespread democratic pedagogies to be found in any country today. Remarkably, it emerged out of repression and consequent struggles for freedom, in a Portugal marked by a dictatorial regime that lasted almost half a century (1926 -1974). This oppressive rule, which ended with a democratic revolution, was pivotal in establishing democracy as a national aspiration for both education and society and consequently, a political period, which inspired those who were looking for progressive alternatives. In MEM, learning and teaching focus on the socio-cultural development of sciences, techniques, arts and everyday life, within the spirit of communication and cooperation between all stakeholders in education. The organisation of work and learning is based on a dialogic and cooperated system in which structures of educational cooperation, communication, and democratic participation inform each other in a reciprocal relationship, and education is defined as a shared journey towards active and democratic citizenship where everyone teaches and everyone learns.

Diana SDr. Diana Sousa is Senior Teaching Fellow at UCL Institute of Education, University College London. She previously worked as an educator in a variety of early childhood settings and, her particular research interest is the place of democracy in early childhood education.

2016 project 1These are times of possibility. Amidst calls and demands to ‘return to normal’ there are also many who have lost patience with the ‘old normal’ or have seen that other ways of living and learning are indeed preferable. Multitudes of educators, head teachers, parents and advocates are striving to protect and also develop possibilities for educational experiences with children’s rights, wellbeing and proclivities for natural enquiry at the heart.  

This online conference set of seminars is designed to nourish all those who are actively promoting and creating these ‘visions of the possible.'

Seminar Five: Democratic alternatives in education: Provocations from the Portuguese Modern School Movement

The core frame of reference in these seminars is work of the preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy.   2020 is the centenary of Loris Malaguzzi’s birthday, the pedagogical teacher, psychologist and civic campaigner who worked closely throughout his life with Reggio Emilia’s emerging preschool services between 1945 - 95. Reggio’s preschools continue to be a tirelessly evolving example of an embodied vision for the future. 

We are also showcasing selected innovative educational experiences from other countries. We will consider these alternatives, in order to learn and ally with their experiences as we forge a new education for our children. 

The series culminates in a panel discussion with Peter Moss and others to consider the questions and possibilities that these generate, and the principles and directions which they imply for us. "

women's resistance 1944
building the preschool 1946 2

" It is the spring of 1945.
I hear that in a small village called Villa Cella, a few miles away from the town of Reggio Emilia, people decided to build and run a school for young children. That idea seems incredible to me! I rush there on my bike – I find women intent upon salvaging and washing pieces of brick …you have to agree that seeing an army tank, six horses and three trucks generating a school for young children is extra-ordinary. … [Reggio Emilia's] valuable (and continuing) history confirms that a new educational experience can emerge from the least expected circumstances. "
Loris Malaguzzi

the truck of the people LM summer fresco

Communicate with presenters prior to the presentations: When you register you will be given a link to write about your interests, foci, wishes, questions.

If you register before Friday 18th December these will be submitted to the various presenters. This will be helpful to them in honing their presentations and give them a sense of connection with you and your interests.

Dates, Details & Booking

Date Tuesday 2nd February 2021
Price £40
Member Discount 10%

Dr. Diana Sousa, University College London

Please Note:

  • Recorded sessions: to support the participation of registrants in other time zones, we will be making recordings of the sessions available to registrants for a period of four days subsequent to the presentation.
  • Times 4 - 5.30pm

    We are no longer accepting registration for this event