How Children Learn: A World Tour of Class Portraits

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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.

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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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