When you meet Tim Vieira, you are immediately aware that you are in the presence of someone who knows what they want to achieve and has not a second to waste. He has an impressive energy and talks very quickly with a passion that is infectious. As the child of two teachers who had a very traditional British education, I admit to arriving at the interview to discuss Tims new Brave Generation Academy with a touch of scepticism. I am subconsciously challenging him to win me over.
Tim Vieira became known to the Portuguese public in 2015 after participating in the first season of Shark Tank Portugal. (The equivalent of Dragons Den in the UK). Born in South Africa to a Portuguese father (born in Portimão) and a Mozambican mother, he moved to Angola with his wife in 2001.
Tim initially focused on media opportunities. In conjunction with his partners Nuno Traguedo and Odair Peres, they founded Special Edition Holding, one of the largest media groups in Angola, employing more than 400 people. Billboard advertising businesses, along with event rentals, brand activations, digital printing and media planning companies, are all part of his impressive business empire. The entrepreneur also has interests in companies that operate in Mozambique and Ghana and established one of the first independent microbreweries in South Africa.
As former president of CCILSA (Portuguese-South African Industry and Commerce Chamber) and a member of the Nova School of Business & Economics Advisory Board, he encountered students who found it difficult to think outside the box. He began imagining an education system that was more relevant to the modern era of tech start-ups and a rapidly developing workplace.
As an entrepreneur, I feel as if I have been educating people my whole life, he tells me. He is the founder and President of Be Brave, an entrepreneurship booster association, and founder of Escolhe Portugal. I found that many of the young people I was helping through this scheme had the certificate but none of the skill set that the modern workplace demands.
Tim established the Brave Generation Academy (BGA) in 2020, which provides an online curriculum for 12 to 18-year-olds that is recognised by the worlds leading universities as the gold standard of international education. It aims to create a holistic learning experience to prepare young people for the future. Its goal was to set up hybrid hubs around the world, making education more accessible and flexible.
Having been involved as an angel investor, I was always involved in entrepreneurship, so I came to BGA with a new mindset, explains Tim. At the beginning, he used his own three children as guinea pigs. He took his two boys out of an international school and found that more and more parents wanted to join his project. His firstborn will finish his studies at the BGA at the end of June. His second son leaves in November. Tim uses his own experience as a parent to exemplify the benefits of the new system One is leaving the system at 16 and the other at 18, which shows how young people work at different speeds. My daughter loves BGA as it allows her to spend time doing her first love, horse riding.
Tim, however, feels that traditional education is still essential up to the age of 12. You need to go through the learning curve of how things work in your pier groups, learn alphabets and numbers, poke someones eye and get told off, then cry about it. But he firmly believes that 12 -18 year-olds are missing out in a traditional school. For many, its the worst period of their lives. They dont know why they are going to school, they get angry, they lash out. And many are just not happy.
While Tim acknowledges that some kids thrive in traditional education, there are many that dont. We offer a different alternative for families whose dynamic has completely changed in the last generation. How we live, how we travel, how we watch movies. BGA allows families to enjoy nomadic lifestyles; we can allow young people to have new experiences but still get an education. We are great for sporty kids who need more time to pursue their interests but at the same time benefit kids who are super academic as they can move at a faster pace and take more subjects.
Visiting the Lagos hub, I soon had to become familiar with a new vocabulary that would not be understood in traditional schools. Pupils are learners. Its not a school but a learning hub with learning facilitators who help the children instead of teachers. The children do not have lessons but engage in self-directed learning on a learning platform with live online workshops and tutorials. Thankfully I have Meghan Robinson to explain everything to me.
Initially a learning facilitator, Meghan is now the Development Coach for Southern Portugal and an enthusiastic advocate for the brand. She shows me the platform that the children log into daily using their own laptops. It looks very much like my own screen on an average working day, with documents stored in a google drive and a weekly schedule. Meghan explains that each pupil has a target; for example, obtaining a GCSE, they can input how quickly they want to achieve this qualification and algorithms then set the structure of their learning, which can be altered if they lag behind or complete tasks more quickly. A remote course manager is responsible for the content and platform, facilitating workshops and tutorials, which are advisable but not mandatory. Instead, the learners are encouraged to do their own research on the internet or help each other. All age groups work together. There is certainly logic in this approach when we consider how adults work today, i.e. many remotely, with co-workers of different ages and experiences while spending a lot of time on Zoom calls or Teams.
The learners google drive contains a weekly schedule including knowledge, skills and community. There is a weekly meeting with the learning assistants where targets and a checklist are set up. Meghan explains, We set up a framework which gives them the tools to succeed. Thinking of my own children, given a laptop, wont they just log in to Netflix? Meghan explains that they help their learners manage distractions. They have safes to lock away their mobile phones, which students do voluntarily rather than by coercion. Again this makes sense given that, as adults, we have to self-motivate. Meghan also stresses that the assistants main role is picking the children up when they fail and finding a working method to help them succeed. Again a vital life lesson!
The learning labs are deliberately set in appealing locations. The hub I visit is in the Lagos Marina. Tims vision is that instead of a school campus, the hubs benefit from the community and the community benefits from them. We work with the community to get what we need. For example, we dont provide school dinners, so the kids use local restaurants and shops or bring a packed lunch. We want to do it in a way that the community loves us, and we give an advantage to the community. You dont need school sports facilities if the municipality has tennis courts, a swimming pool and beaches. We thrive because municipalities want us there, businesses want us there and parents want us there.
The academy was born in Cascais, where Tim now resides and which boasts six hubs. There are currently 40 in Portugal, while hubs are also found in Kenya, Mozambique, the USA, Bangalore, Valencia and Marbella, to name a few. Quite an achievement in two years. We have worked hard, says Tim.
The hubs open at 8 am and close at 6 pm. Learners are required to attend five days a week for five hours a day. However, you can come in at whatever time; as long as you hit the targets, everyone is happy. The school only closes for three weeks a year, with no school holidays. It is obvious why this would appeal to parents. No longer having to travel when holiday companies and airlines increase their prices and make travelling with your family unaffordable. Tim observes, it reflects how we live today; everyone wants to be more flexible. The flexibility would certainly suit people like Tim. In 2019, he went on a 118-day trip around the globe with his family. A true lover of sports, he is an Honorary Legend of South African Rugby.
The flexible working setup also enables learners to take exams at different times, up to three times a year. It has the advantage over traditional schools, where all pupils need to progress at the same speed. BGA can offer its learners the chance to sit exams when in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, and there is also a third date in the year available. Tim believes this takes a lot of pressure off the students.
Another revolutionary element of this new education system is that it breaks down geographical barriers. Learners can attend any of the hubs around the world. For example, Tim is on the verge of being approved as an independent school in the UK, which he is anticipating being very appealing to UK residents who are tied to spending only 90 days in Portugal due to Brexit. We are currently planning our first UK hub in Hertfordshire. Many parents want this because it allows them to split their time between the UK and the Algarve. You can even do a week in one hub and a week in another, which suits parents who are separated.
Another key aim is to prepare its learners for further education. From July 2023, BGA will be launching university courses after forging an agreement with 142 universities. From the age of 16, learners at BGA can work with universities, completing two diploma years with BGA before attending a final year at the university when they are 19. Tim makes the point, I think from the age of 16, we can identify what learners want to do and help them on their way rather than forcing a kid who hates maths to keep going with it. We need more vocational education. Some kids may want to be an electrician as it gives them a lifestyle of being their own boss and enabling them to travel. Or if someone wants to go into software design, we can focus more on that. We want to get kids onto their path earlier.
So, does all this advanced technology come at a high cost? Although their fees are more competitive than International private schools averaging around 485€ per month, they are not all about profit and more about making a positive and sustainable impact on the community and environment. They also offer scholarships to those that cant afford fees. Tim says, Although our fees are competitive, we understand that it is tough times and sometimes parents cant afford the fees, so we look at giving help where it is needed. If you want and need BGA, we believe it is our responsibility to give you BGA.
There is a BUT! While BGA has Cambridge and Pearson accreditation, and most countries and universities recognise the academy, in others, you need to register as a homeschooler. And Tim has been defeated by Portuguese bureaucracy. BGA doesnt have a Portuguese licence, so their learners would not have the accreditation for a Portuguese university. Unsurprisingly, this hasnt stopped Tim. They still have over 700 learners in Portugal.
As Tim points out, parents recognise that sometimes you just have to go with what is best for the learner and the family. We have a system in Portugal where young people must attend a government-accredited school when often this is not the best option for them. In Portugal this year, we have seen 120,000 pupils unable to attend school as their teachers were on strike.
Parents arent happy, teachers arent happy, and something needs to change. It is a basic human right for parents to be allowed to choose their childrens education. If you are going to force your child into a bad situation, this is not the way forward.
When I have spoken to other parents about my visit to this new style of education, most voice their concern that their children would miss out on the social side of schooling. Tim dismisses this idea. When learners join our hubs, we dont tell them to stop socialising with the friends they already have. They can still meet them and attend clubs. We really work on pier-to-pier learning, which has been proven to be effective, where the big kids help the little kids. But if you are in a school of a thousand kids, you wont be friends with 1000 kids, and maybe 20 of those kids will bully you, so its not always a great dynamic for teenagers. We encourage all the hubs to get together. Every three weeks, we have events, sports competitions, team-building activities, community work, and even master chef challenges, all chosen by the kids. There will be a prom this year for the Algarve learners to socialise. Parents sometimes think the social element is an issue, but the kids never do. The learning assistants also work hard to ensure no child ever feels lonely.
I asked Tim what opposition he has come up against from traditional educators who may feel threatened. Not at all! Parents, teachers and universities know we need something different. Universities, in particular, want people to arrive with more independence and also more aligned with the course and what they want to do so there are fewer dropouts. Most people know there needs to be a change in education. We are offering solutions. I think many schools will start adapting to use our techniques.
Beneath it all, Tim has a great respect for teachers and their importance, which is why he feels there needs to be a rethink. I see in the future there will be a lot of upscaling in traditional education. They need to get teachers away from the traditional marking, spreadsheets, and assessments and allow them to educate and influence kids again. These are exciting times and there is space for everyone. I think we are doing the right thing. We are focused on the learners. We are not perfect, but we learn every day. I think we will help everyone improve by showing educators there is an alternative and that excites me.
Rather than being concerned over the debate of whether AI will allow kids to cheat, Tim is harnessing the technology in his educational strategy. They use AI to mark papers so the students get their results back faster. Not every learner gets the same questions as they understand that everyone is different. The AI can identify a particular area that you are struggling with and set questions or exercises to help you focus on your problem areas. If you dont understand the first example, it will give you a second example.
They can also help special needs kids by identifying and supplying them with their interests, which facilitates their development.
We are in very exciting times, says Tim. Technology is moving so fast that everything we develop has already been thought of. We have 21-course managers in the back office to input data, but in the future, their work will become solely interaction with the learners. Eventually, AI will be inputting everything into the system, actually freeing up the teachers. Why are we worried about whether AI enables learners to cheat? We should be worried about how the younger generation convinces us; how they win arguments; what questions they are asking; what is their mentality on solving problems and how they work with other people? If they have a bad day, how do they perform the next day? Can they pick themselves up when things dont go right? This is what is now important in education. Not if they can remember all the past Kings. Rather, what did you learn from how those kings ruled and how would you apply that to your life? Its about turning things on their head and looking to the future.
So what is there left to achieve? I look at what we can do in Africa and South East Asia. Education isnt working in many countries. I think that little changes will make big differences.
Brave Generation Academy is leading the charge into a brave new world for the future generation, but as Tim concludes, they have found that its not the younger generation that needs to be braver. Its the parents!
Did Tim win me over? Well, I still have a mental block at the idea of my children learning on a laptop, but that is a result of a culture that has been ingrained into me from childhood. I have worshipped at the temple of education my whole life and valued myself as its product. Its not always easy to see someone trying to take something you know apart and build it back in a way that is unfamiliar to you. Tims Academy is demonstrating what we probably all know. Just as the world has evolved at a faster pace than any of us could have imagined, so must our education system. We just need to be a bit braver!
Testimonials from young people that attend BGA
BGA is the perfect choice for me because it allows me to train and ride my horse everyday, as well as compete monthly. I am given a lot of freedom to pursue a life outside of school which has always been a big deal to me. It is very easy for me to build my career as well as keep up with my academics.-Maria Alenikova
For me there wasnt really a different option, Im very passionate about things I do outside of school and I didnt want to put these things aside to pursue my education. Whats really awesome is that BGA lets me not only keep doing my passions (those being photography and skateboarding) but it provides me with a flexible schedule which is a deal breaker for me since Im very chaotic with planning things. When I first started attending I was really pleasantly surprised by how personal the approach to learners is, rather than pressuring us into following the same system created 100 years ago, we are encouraged to find ourselves within
the things we like and give us the space for self expression. – Franek Dyrda
Original Post https://tomorrowalgarve.com/jun-2023-a-brave-new-world/