Cynthia Fujikawa Nes

Cynthia Fujikawa Nes

The Brazil Business


The Brazilian Educational System

Cynthia Fujikawa Nes

Cynthia Fujikawa Nes

The Brazil Business


This article will give you an overview of the Brazilian education system and how it directly affects the country's economic growth and development.


Professional shortage in Brazil has highlighted a constant problem, that has always been ignored by the government throughout the years: education.

Brazil has made huge improvements towards reducing the levels of illiteracy in the country, decreasing the number of illiterates from 16.3 million in 2000 to 13.2 million in 2012. During 2013 the government saw this reduction stagnate. Even financial incentives like the Bolsa Familia, which was one of the best bets by the government to improve Brazilian education levels, has proven to be ineffective and the country is still far from reaching literacy levels found in other BRIC counterparts like Russia and China.

One of the biggest issues that Brazil faces, mainly due to a poor public education system, is the fact that nearly 18% of the Brazilian population is functionally illiterate, meaning that they know words and numbers but are unable to comprehend a sentence or perform a simple mathematical operation. Perhaps what is most alarming is that according to research by the Instituto Paulo Montenegro (IPM), related to research company Ibope, 38% of Brazilian undergraduates are also functionally illiterate.

These figures show how fragile the educational system in Brazil is and the difficulties that the government still needs to address in order to sustain the growth of the country.

Government Propositions to Improve Education

In 2014 the Brazilian Government announced a set of aggressive measurements that will be implemented up until 2024 in order to boost the educational system performance.

This program, denominated PNE, short for Plano Nacional de Educação, is composed of 21 measures and aims, amongst others, to increase the number of mandatory education years, the percentage of Brazilians going to schools and universities and provide means for teachers to improve their qualifications and skills.

To reach the targets established by PNE, the government will nearly double the investments in education. In 2012, the government directed 5,3% of the GDP to education and by 2014 the goal is to raise the investments to 10%.

Public versus Private Education

The Brazilian education system is composed of public and private schools. Even though public education still holds more than 80% of the students, the number of students enrolled at private schools increased 14% from 2010 to 2013 according to the research Censo da Educação Básica, by INEP.

There are several reasons that justify the movement towards private institutions. One of them is that the rise of the lower classes has provided many families with the possibility to ensure their children a better education at private schools. The other is due to the fact that public schools still suffer from a lack of teachers, overcrowded classrooms, lack of security and general issues with infrastructure.

Last but not least, the controversial law which allows students in public institutions to be promoted to the next grade even if they fail, generates further skepticism to the effectiveness of the public school learning.

Understanding the Brazilian Education System

The educational system in Brazil is divided into mandatory and non-mandatory levels. We will outline the main aspects of each level here:

  • Educação Infantil, or Pre-school: This level is aimed at children between 2 to 5 years old which is comprised of both day care and pre-school. For children aged between 2 and 4, day care, known as creche in Portuguese, may be offered by the government but as it is not mandatory, there is no guarantee that there are available places for all children. The pré-escola, which is the pre-school will be mandatory from 2016 and therefore guaranteed by the government for children between 4 and 6
  • Ensino Fundamental I e II or Fundamental Education I and II: This stage is mandatory for children and adolescents between 6 to 14 years old. Both correspond to two stages: the first one goes from 1st to 5th grade and the second, from 6th to 9th grade
  • Ensino Médio or Secondary School: Aimed at adolescents between 15 to 17, being considered mandatory by the government from 2016
  • Ensino Técnico or Technical school: A technician degree that can be obtained together with ensino médio. It requires that the student has completed ensino fundamental and is usually provided by public institutions
  • Ensino Superior or higher education: This stage is no longer mandatory and is aimed at adults aged 18 and above

Path to higher education

The Brazilian educational system has several deficiencies throughout, but the difference between students from private and public schools becomes even more aggravated when they are competing for places at public universities. Different from education at Fundamental and Secondary levels, public higher education still holds a paramount status, and the competition for places at renowned universities, especially the Federal ones, is extremely fierce.

In an attempt to address this issue and provide a more balanced chance for the students coming from public schools, the government created in 2012 a law guaranteeing them 50% of the places in Federal universities and educational institutions. In addition to this quota, several universities also reserve a percentage of the places for black, mixed race and indigenous students.

The government also created a program called Prouni, which grants students from lower income families partial or total scholarships at private universities. There is also a financing programme by the Ministry of Education called Fundo de Financiamento Estudantil or FIES, which allows students to finance the education at low interest rates, which can be used in addition to Prouni.

However with the increasing number of private universities that offer courses with a rather questionable quality, it seems that the issue related to education in Brazil is still far from being resolved, and the country will still continue to struggle with functional illiteracy at higher education for several years to come.