Dario Victor Greni Oliveri has known he wanted to be a teacher since he was eleven years old. He dreamed of a different life from his family, most of whom had not completed school, but had been forced into the fields in rural Uruguay where they lived. He worked hard to put himself through teacher training so that he could give his students the chance to make different choices for their lives too.
After working in various rural schools, he found himself teaching at the very school his grandparents, parents and aunt and uncle had spent time at. The commitment he feels to his students is strong. He sees this as one of three cornerstones to successful teaching in rural communities. The others are active community participation and building robust networks.
Oliveri has come to realise over his many years of teaching in small communities, that his first task is to build the confidence of his staff and students. Rural communities in Uruguay have been neglected. Oliveri galvanises the community, staff and students collectively around projects. In this way, the learning is not only academic, but also develops skills of team-work, creativity and flexible thinking.
Within that framework, Oliveri is acutely sensitive to the need to identify the thing that sparks an individual students’ love of learning. He spends time, working out what motivates them, for example when a new student started at the school who wouldn’t speak in public. Oliveri eventually discovered his love of natural sciences, and used this to unlock his voice.
Oliveri has reorganised his school dramatically to make his vision for learning a reality. He removed the existing rigid structures, and brings students of different ages and abilities together. The timetable is structured around a series of rotating activities to foster interdisciplinary working (workshops in art, literature, IT, crafts, and agronomics). Staff are able to focus on the elements of the curriculum where they are strongest.
Projects that the school has undertaken include a water quality study looking at macroinvertebrates as biological indicators. Oliveri connected the students with a range of experts in the field, including microbiologists. Through this, students gained greater understanding of their local environment, the challenges affecting it, and what can be done about it. They have explored waste management and noise pollution, winning a place to present at the South Summit Kids event in Spain.
Where resources are not immediately available, Oliveri leverages technology. He has started English classes for years four and six via a remote teacher who gives online classes.
Oliveri’s methods are having a significant impact on his students’ performance. 98% of graduate pupils go on to middle school education, and 78% are high performing. In 2017, he was awarded a diploma in recognition of his work by the Global Learning Network. He has also won several national awards. He shares his learning with other interested teachers nationally, and has published several articles, which have been used in teacher training courses.