How Children Learn: A World Tour of Class Portraits

A lens on the environments in which we educate the generations around the globe.

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Since 2004, Julian Germain has been capturing the inner lives of schools around the world, from England to Nigeria to Qatar, in his large-scale photographs of schoolchildren in class. Classroom Portraits (public library) is part Where Children Sleep, part Bureaucratics, part What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets part something else entirely -- a poignant lens on a system-phenomenon that is both global in reach and strikingly local in degree of peculiarity, revealed through more than 450 portraits of schoolchildren from 20 countries.

classroomportraits1.jpgJessore, Bangladesh. Year 10, English

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Brazil, Belo Horizonte, Series 6, Mathematics

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USA, St Louis, Grade 4 & 5, Geography

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Nigeria, Kano, Ooron Dutse, Senior Islamic Secondary Level 2, Social Studies

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Taiwan, Ruei Fang Township, Kindergarten, Art

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St. Petersburg, Russia. Year 2, Russian

The extent of concentration and mutuality required for each portrait offer a beautiful metaphor for the teaching-learning process itself. Germain writes:

I never tell the students how they should look but ensuring that everybody has a clear view of the camera requires concentration and patience. Each pupil has to be aware of their place in the picture.

In order to achieve sharp focus in both fore- and background, the exposure time is usually a quarter or half a second so the pupils have to be ready for the moment the shutter is released. I am waiting for them and they are waiting for me. The process itself generates an atmosphere and the time captured in the portrait seems significant.

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England, Seaham, Reception and Year 1, Structured Play

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Tokyo, Japan, Grade 5, Classical Japanese

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Havana, Cuba. Year 2, Mathematics

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Lagos, Nigeria. Basic 7 / Junior Secondary Level 1, Mathematics

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England, Keighley, Year 6, History

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England, Washington, Year 7 (first day), Registration

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Holland, Drouwenermond, Primary Year 5, 6, 7 & 8, History

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Qatar, Grade 8, English

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Bahrain, Saar, Grade 11, Islamic

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Peru, Cusco, Primary Grade 4, Mathematics

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The Netherlands, Rotterdam, Secondary Group 3, Motor Mechanics

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Yemen, Manakha, Primary Year 2, Science Revision

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Argentina, Buenos Aires, Grade 4, Natural Science

(Is it just me, or do the kids in Natural Science class seem most mischievously engaged? Perhaps every child is a scientist.)

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All photos courtesy of Julian Germain

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This post also appears on Brain Pickings, an Atlantic partner site.

Presented by

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

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