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 called attention to a problem that has always been a constant in the country, but ignored by the government throughout the years: education.
In a moment in which Internet has changed the face of education as it facilitates the access to information, almost 10% of the Brazilian population is completely illiterate, which means that they are incapable of recognizing words or making meaning out of simple sentences and 68% of the population is functionally illiterate. If we add these percentages, we will get to stunning 78%, which corresponds to 150.053.666 Brazilians who are unable of reading a text like this one (in Portuguese, of course) and making any meaning out of it.
This scenario has led Brazil to an economic growth that was built upon a very fragile structure and that is now falling apart. Every year, millions of students graduate from secondary school without being able of writing an essay, solving basic Math problems or understanding basic concepts of sciences. And the most preoccupying aspect of all this is that it is socially acceptable. People know that there is a great probability that school will not teach them anything.
Expanding Social Inequality
Public schools in Brazil can be extremely bad. The problems involving it are many, such as the number of students per classroom (from 40 to 50), the lack of teachers for some disciplines (specially Mathematics and Sciences), violence and poor infrastructure. Many public schools have no library or even proper desks to teachers.
Also, schools located in poorer areas are the ones that have the lowest learning rates. This happens for many reasons, such as:
- Lack of teachers who want to work in that area
- Constant cases of robbery and violence
- Many students drop out of school because they have to start working earlier to increase the family income
- The level of pregnant teenagers is very high
It is common to hear of students that go to school only to eat a meal or because the government gives the family some kind of support such as an amount of money for each kid the family has at school. Another negative point is that in some states (São Paulo included) the students can not be failed, so what happens is that the student moves on to a higher grade without knowing the content of the previous one.
Understanding the System
Education in Brazil is divided in stages that are accessible and somewhat mandatory to everyone (elementary and secondary school) and those that are not mandatory or require a previous selection (pre-school, technical school and higher education).
- Educação Infantil: Very similar to pre-school or kindergarten. It is optional, but most parents see it as a daycare alternative. It is focused on the development of motor, cognitive and social skills
- Ensino Fundamental I e II: These two correspond to what is called Elementary school in many countries. Both correspond to two stages: the first one goes from 1st to 5th grade and the second, from 6th to 9th grade
- Ensino Médio: Similar to secondary school, corresponds to the final three years before graduating
- Ensino Técnico: A technical degree that can be taken along with ensino médio. It requires that the student has completed ensino fundamental and is usually provided by public institutions. The main purpose is to professionalize the student to the market
Higher education is a serious problem in Brazil and deserves a deeper explanation.
Higher Education and Technical Schools
Only 10% of the Brazilian population has a higher education degree. What is even more astonishing is the fact that 32% of the undergraduate students are functionally illiterate. This is an evidence that as higher education has become more accessible, the educational level of the students has been going down.
If private schools are a privilege of the richer ones, public universities are practically inaccessible for the poorest. As a way of fighting this scenario and under the promise of democratizing access to college, many universities and institutes are popping up and many of them have neither the prepare or the infrastructure to provide proper education.
Allying this fact with the tradition of public universities, there is a commonsense in Brazil that public universities are good and private universities are bad, what does not necessarily corresponds to the truth. What is behind the prestige of public universities is the idea of merit: as the competition level is very high, there is this general belief that if you were admitted to one of these universities, you must be a very good student and even more intelligent than most people. Most of the times, it only means that you come from a good private school.
The problem with public universities, from a business perspective, is that it focuses on research and does not prepare the student to the market. Professors may be the best ones, students may be dedicated and have a privileged background, but when it comes down to really working, students from private universities may achieve better results, specially in areas related to Business, IT and other administrative careers. Also, public universities face a serious problem related to infrastructure. Many buildings are very old, many units lack laboratory and even the material to apply the theory the students are learning.
The current scenario is that many private universities have become nothing but a way of selling diplomas and that the public ones are sometimes too theoretical. Education in Brazil has come to a crossroad and the ideal would be the combination of great professionals and good students with the practicability of renowned private universities.
Attempts to Solve the Problem
Instead of reforming the entire educational system, the government has invested on inclusion through the creation of programs such as Prouni, that offers partial and full scholarship to students coming from public schools, and the implementation of racial quotas for blacks and indigenous in public universities. The racial quota system is a very controversial subject in Brazil and it has been severely criticized as it does not categorize the population based on socioeconomic matters, but on racial matters, as if poor white people would find their ways to university only because they are white.
Plano Brasil Maior also has some topics related to education, but the problem is that all these governmental measures only try to cover a problem that is structural and that can not be solved simply by promoting access to university.