Education halting a thriving Brazil


(“Education” written backwards…enough said.)

Education gaps all around 

Brazil has the sixth largest economy in the world and is widely discussed as becoming the next economic superpower. But there is one thing holding the country back: a highly unequal and unbalanced education (educação) system, which favors the rich and leaves the poor with little opportunity. A private-school education (ensino privado) is available for all those who can afford it; everyone else must succumb to the catastrophic public-school system (or ensino público)


(“particular”=private school and “pública”= public school)

So just how big are these education gaps (hiatos educacionais)? On average, students that attend public schools are academically three years behind private school students. And with just 14% of the population attending private schools, there is a severely lopsided, unequal distribution of good education, which generally only the upper and upper-middle class can afford. But even within the public school system, education is divided based upon region.  State-funded education is significantly better in the South and Southeast of Brazil (in places like Rio, Sao Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul), while the Northeast of Brazil suffers.


(The blackboard reads “the neglect of public education is frequent!” and the teacher asks “what changed in this phrase?” and the student says “nothing!”)

Abysmal public schools

In certain areas of Brazil, like Bahia (in the Northeast), some public schools do not even have roofs.  Needless to say, many of the facilities are lacking. But it’s not just the buildings themselves that are in dire need of revamping.

From the start, many kids do not feel motivated to go to school, because little opportunity lies ahead.  These days, however (partially thanks to monetary incentives given to all families, in exchange for  school attendance), more and more public-school students are attending school.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t make much difference since their teachers (if they even show up in the first place) tend to be highly untrained and unmotivated. Many teachers actually do not know how to read or write.  Further, they often know very little about the subject matter that they are teaching. Because the teacher salaries for public schools are so low (starting at a meager $350 per month), many teachers do not show up for class.

Devastating ramifications 

Such poor quality of teaching has resulted in a highly illiterate population.  The Functional Literacy Organization found that just 25% of Brazilians were considered to be “fully literate;” furthermore, only 65% of college grads are “fully literate.”

While you can certainly get more for your money by paying for an education, as the LA Times finds, “even most of the shockingly expensive private schools are below international standards.” Such low standards for education in the public school system inevitably affects the standards for private schools, as well.

Consequently, the New York Times found that Brazilian students have consistently been at the bottom of the rankings when taking international exams for basic skills such as reading, math and science.  In a recent study of education quality comparing 40 different countries, Brazil ranked second to last. While in other countries, such as the United States, there are very few available jobs and an overwhelming number of qualified candidates, Brazil has many job openings because there are so few qualified candidates to fill those positions.


A difficult problem to solve

One thing is for certain: this issue does not stem from a lack of spending.  As The Economist describes, “Brazilians will often tell you they pay taxes like Europeans, and get African public services in return.” A perfect example of this: in 2010, schools in Maceio, Brazil (in the Northeast) were found to be stocked with new computers, most of which remained unopened and unused, endlessly waiting to be installed.  Other computers were not used simply because of a lack of teacher training or unconnected internet. Thus, insufficient funding is clearly not the problem here.  Instead, the issue tends to arise “…from teacher shortages and absenteeism, school violence, antiquated methodology and incompetent or corrupt administration.”

As BBC states, “if Brazil wants to develop from an emerging economy to an emerged economy it will have to do a better job educating its population.” Unfortunately, this is a lot easier said than done.  The main issue is that the two million teachers throughout Brazil are also voters, making it nearly impossible to enforce any changes.  Such as changing the current law that gives teachers tenure after just three years.  How is it possible to get rid of the already instated bad teachers if it’s not even possible to fire them?

Sadly, the weak education system is also inherently tied in with the corrupt political system of Brazil; in short, politicians want to keep things the way that they are so that they can retain their power. All of the money put towards education is strategically designed to make the government look good, but not to actually enforce any real change.  One Brazilian claimed that,

na verdade a educação pública é ruim pq isso faz parte do interesse dos políticos… eles precisam que a educação seja ruim, pq assim as pessoas continuam sem informação e não vão compreender o que ta acontecendo no país….então, os políticos criam programas tipo o Bolsa Família que o Lula criou (isso dava 200 reais por mês pras famílias pobres). Assim, as pessoas vão reeleger os caras tipo o Lula, porque ele “salvou” a vida delas…elas não se importam com o que ele vai fazer no resto do governo dele!! (actually, public education is bad because it’s in the interest of politicians to keep it that way…they want to keep education bad because people will continue to be uninformed and not understand what is going on in their country. So, politicians create programs like “Bolsa Familia” that Lula [the ex president] created (this gave 200 reais a month to poor families). That way, people reelect guys like Lula, because he “saved” their lives. They don’t care about what else he does in government!!”)

The politicians may act as if they are bettering the education system, but in reality, they are only serving to widen the gap even more.  The corrupt political system of Brazil is a whole other issue in and of itself and one that merits much attention. How can an education system change for the better when the government is not even determined to change it?

There is no easy fix to this, but a good start would be putting that funding towards teacher salaries; significantly raising salaries would thereby inevitably increase teachers’ motivation.  In addition, new standards for hiring those teachers (such as only hiring teachers that know a decent amount about the subject material and ones who actually know how to read and write) must be implemented.  First and foremost, state funding should go towards the teachers; everything else pales in significance. Now all we need is for the government to get on board with this too.


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