Ponta Grossa, Parana

Ponta Grossa, colloquially known as Princesa dos Campos and Capital Cívica do Paraná, is a city of 375,000 in the heart of the Brazilian state of Paraná. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the province, as it houses the beautiful Vila Velha State Park, established in 1953. The park boasts a myriad of scenic hiking trails, weathered sandstone structures that resemble a variety of objects and crater-like depressions called furnas. Ponta Grossa also plays host to a number of cultural events each year, including the München Fest, a week-long celebration of German culture that is the biggest event in the province. Despite the strength of its tourism, the city has created a diverse economy for itself, focused primarily on industry supported by local agriculture. Ponta Gross seeks to strengthen this economy and the culture behind it through infrastructure improvements, improved online access and a variety of other modern amenities to pave the way for a competitive, prosperous future.

Ensuring Broadband Access for All

Ponta Grossa has undertaken two major projects to provide universal broadband access for all citizens. The first project, PG Connected, was launched in 2018 with the goal of democratizing internet access. It provides free internet access, delivered via fiber optic, to in all neighborhoods and public health posts. The project has 114 connection points, and 90% of the population currently has access to the service. Roughly 52,500 are registered and using the service actively as of 2022, however the city hopes to grow this number dramatically in the future. PG Connected was fully funded by the Municipal Government.

The city’s second project, Connectivity, was launched in 2017. It aims to provide fiber optic coverage across the entire municipality, focusing first on bringing high-speed, stable connections to underserved areas, such as low-income communities and remote regions. As of 2022, the project has achieved 100% fiber optic coverage in all 310 public buildings connected to the Municipal Government Headquarters. This has improved the provision of public services, increased transparency and control, reduced costs and improved communication between personnel and citizens. Based on this success, private companies have also expanded fiber optic technology offerings in the area, broadening the range of products and reducing service costs for the population.

Focusing on Education Early to Foster Future Learning and Development

Ponta Grossa has established a number of early-education programs to promote interest in technological learning from a young age. In 2021, the city launched the Creative Learning Laboratory (LAC) through the Municipal Education Network to help public school students ages 4-10 develop their cognitive and reasoning abilities and also an interest in creative learning. The program provides a Maker-space area for students equipped with an educational robotics room, 35 notebooks, multimedia projectors, electrical-mechanical materials and workbenches for developing projects, all in a comfortable, air-conditioned environment. In 2022, the program served 15 schools and reached over 4,400 students, with plans to increase the number of schools to 35 in 2023. After completion in 2022, educations noticed a marked improvement in cognitive and emotional development for students who participated compared to their peers, so the city looks forward to further expanding the project in future years.

Another early-education project, established in the same year, is Ponta Grossa’s Young Entrepreneurs First Steps Program (JEPP). It aims to introduce public school students ages 4-10 to the beginnings of entrepreneurial culture. The program began as a technical cooperation agreement between SEBRAE/PR and the city of Ponta Grossa with SEBRAE/PR providing access to its Young Entrepreneurs First Steps courses through the city’s public education system. It focuses on various competencies, including cooperation and teamwork, creativity and innovation, ethics and citizenship and ecological awareness. The Young Entrepreneurs First Steps Program also provides teachers in the Municipal Education Network with online training courses as well as meetings and guidance on more advanced topics so that they can deliver the program directly in public school classrooms throughout the city. All 88 public schools in Ponta Grossa are currently participating in the program as of 2023, with schools producing an Entrepreneurial Pedagogical Fair at the end of each year to showcase what the students have learned.

To further empower students in both of the above programs and improve online course access, Ponta Grossa instituted the English for Kids project in 2014. While the majority of students in more expensive private schools throughout Ponta Grossa begin learning English early, public schools only offer such courses after the age of 11, leaving students in lower-income areas unable to access much of the valuable learning materials available online. The program has been installed in all public schools in Ponta Grossa, focusing on developing short English dialogues between students as young as 4. Learning English also provides these children with a greater appreciation for the diversity of cultures outside Brazil.

Empowering Innovation Through Financial and Training Opportunities

While fostering education the promote future entrepreneurialism, Ponta Grossa is also focusing on those attempting to start new businesses today. The Impulso Program is a bimonthly initiative that offers platforms for entrepreneurs to access credit opportunities. Through the program, the Fundo de Aval and Fomento Paraná provided over R$3m in credit for microentrepreneurs and microbusiness owners between 2022 and 2023 with over 60 local entrepreneurs receiving financial assistance. The Impulso Program also provides guidance and assistance to entrepreneurs seeking to participate through the Entrepreneurship Office, where staff members answer questions and offer basic training when needed.

To allow working professionals to support one another as a community, the city also established the Construction Materials Technology project in 2017 and Conversation Wheel – IT in 2022. The Construction Materials Technology project offers technological tests on construction materials for civil engineering students tailored to the demands of local civil engineering companies. The program therefore combines learning opportunities for students in the field with providing a valuable service to local companies and also introduces those students to the companies as potential future employers. Conversation Wheel – IT provides similar connections between students, academics and future employers through an online hub for knowledge exchange in the field of Systems Analysis. The program aims to foster cooperation between local educational institutions and professionals from IT companies in the region through discussions about technology.

Providing Digital Skills Training for Those Often Left Behind

To promote adoption of broadband access and the wealth of knowledge and skills training it provides, Ponta Grossa has focused on training for students and young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Center for Studies, Research, Extension and Advice on Childhood and Adolescence (NEPIA) at UEPG provides an interdisciplinary learning space for vulnerable children and adolescents. NEPIA provides a variety of services in this learning space, including training, counseling and multiple events in which students can participate. The program focuses on connecting students with teachers who have deep knowledge of their particular community and can provide assistance tailored to the students’ experiences.

Complementing NEPIA’s activities are the Informational Inclusion Project and the SENAC Free Program. The Informational Inclusion Project provides young people and adolescents from low-income households with basic training in computer literacy through a partnership with DAINF and UTFPR. The program includes courses in programs such as Microsoft Office, basic knowledge of operating systems and internet safety practices that the students can use to learn online further by themselves. The program, though small, has served over 150 students since its inception in 2011. The SENAC Free Program, like the Informational Inclusion Project, provides free training courses to people from underprivileged households. The program focuses more on vocational training, rather than specifically computer literacy, providing courses in all sorts of jobs from Pharmacy Assistant to Systems Programmer.

Ponta Grossa has also been recognized by the Brazilian Computer Society for a remarkable program that uses Artificial Intelligence to develop educational games for students and adults with learning disabilities. Using machine learning algorithms, the program is able to provide games tailored to individual learning needs. Games cover a wide range of topics from COVID-19 prevention to recycling and have dramatically improved educational performance and confidence for over 100 students since the program was launched in 2019.

Population: 355,336

Website: www.pontagrossa.pr.gov.br

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