Sonia Coutinho

Ashoka Fellow
Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
Fellow Since 1994


This profile was prepared when Sonia Coutinho was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1994.
The New Idea
For adolescent Brazilian boys and girls whose learning impairments prevent their continued progress in standard schools, Sonia Coutinho's Art and Alternative Education Center has developed a methodology that engages them in "production units" and uses all stages of the production process to develop their intellectual and social skills, enhance their self-confidence and self-esteem, and prepare them for independent and productive lives. Programs for more severely disabled individuals generally focus on their participants' handicaps, treat them as passive learners, and emphasize the mastery of highly repetitive tasks. In marked contrast, participants in Sonia's initiative are seen as active managers of their own, open-ended learning processes. Sonia's program is also very different from the usual "handicraft workshop" that limits its participants' role to the production process. The young people in Sonia's "production units" are engaged in all phases of managing a small business-planning, acquisition of materials, production, marketing and sales, and assessment of results. Center staff work with them in all of those tasks and use the tasks as the focal points for supplemental educational activities (e.g., in the mathematics used in planning and pricing and in consulting and reading articles and texts on various aspects of the production and distribution process).
The Center also serves as the working nucleus and learning laboratory for a larger project, the Association for the Development of Special Education, which is playing a rapidly expanding role in disseminating the Center's approach to other localities in the northeast and beyond and in training professionals for work with young people with learning disabilities.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

More For You