Brain Pickings

How Children Learn: Portraits of Classrooms Around the World

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A revealing lens on a system-phenomenon both global in reach and strikingly local in degree of diversity.

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.

Jessore, Bangladesh. Year 10, English.

Image courtesy Julian Germain

Brazil, Belo Horizonte, Series 6, Mathematics

Image courtesy Julian Germain

USA, St Louis, Grade 4 & 5, Geography

Image courtesy Julian Germain

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

Image courtesy Julian Germain

Taiwan, Ruei Fang Township, Kindergarten, Art

Image courtesy Julian Germain

St. Petersburg, Russia. Year 2, Russian

Image courtesy Julian Germain

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.

England, Seaham, Reception and Year 1, Structured Play

Image courtesy Julian Germain

Tokyo, Japan, Grade 5, Classical Japanese

Image courtesy Julian Germain

Havana, Cuba. Year 2, Mathematics.

Image courtesy Julian Germain

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

Image courtesy Julian Germain

England, Keighley, Year 6, History

Image courtesy Julian Germain

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

Image courtesy Julian Germain

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

Image courtesy Julian Germain

Qatar, Grade 8, English

Image courtesy Julian Germain

Bahrain, Saar, Grade 11, Islamic

Image courtesy Julian Germain

Peru, Cusco, Primary Grade 4, Mathematics

Image courtesy Julian Germain

Cuba, Havana, Playa, Year 9, national television screening of film ‘Can Gamba’ (about Cuban participation in Angolan Revolution)

Image courtesy Julian Germain

The Netherlands, Rotterdam, Secondary Group 3, Motor Mechanics

Image courtesy Julian Germain

Yemen, Manakha, Primary Year 2, Science Revision

Image courtesy Julian Germain

Argentina, Buenos Aires, Grade 4, Natural Science

Image courtesy Julian Germain

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

feature shoot

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