This article will explain you how educational matters are affecting the Brazilian economy and what is the current administration doing to solve this problem.
Recently, the Brazilian president Dilma Roussef announced the plan Brasil Maior, a protectionist program that aims to avoid the deindustrialization of the country. Among other measures, the program aims to decrease the import of foreign workforce.
Brazil economic growth has been starting to get in conflict with the lack of qualified workforce in the country. Hiring an IT professional, for example, can take a long time and nothing gives you any guarantee that this professional will stay with you as Brazilians change jobs very easily, with not hesitation of leaving the current job for another one that provides a better salary or benefits.
Lack of qualified workforce is not a new problem in Brazil. Back in 1942, the industry realized this need for qualified professionals and decided that they would train the students themselves. This is how SENAI - Portuguese for “National Service of Industrial Learning” – was created and has been training millions of professionals over the years.
Private universities have been popping up everywhere and nowadays it is relatively easy to get a higher education degree and a lot cheaper than it was 10 years ago. The problem is that more than ever education has become a product and the quality of many of these universities is questionable. Another problem is that the curriculum is set by the federal government and every university has to meet its demands. As the curriculum focuses a lot on research, private universities have theirs hands tied as they are not able to develop courses that are focused on more practicable careers.
Many states such as São Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro also run technical schools and public universities that are known for its excellence and have had an import role in the consolidation of these states as those where you find qualified workforce. However, as social inequality among states is a characteristic of Brazil, some of the Northern and Northeastern states can hardily afford the cost of a state technical school or university and for that, rely on federal initiatives.
The fact that states in the Southeast and South concentrate most of the public education institutions has also contributed for migration and for the significant increase of the population in these cities, besides intensifying competition.
Having that in mind, the federal government has launched programs focused on education. Several technical schools have been created and access to university has been granted the poorest ones and this has also impulsed the rise of 20 million Brazilians from class D to C.
As part of this effort to include people and keep up with the economic growth, three new federal programs were created: Pronatec, Science Without Borders and the National Engineering Plan.
Pronatec – National Program of Access to Technical Learning and Employment - is a project launched earlier this year with the purpose of expanding technical education and job generation, specially in areas where these options were not so available, such as the North and Northeast.
As a technical degree, it is mainly taken by students who are still pursuing a high school degree and it works as a benefit for both students and companies: students graduated from these technical schools will be better prepared for the market and, therefore, will be able of making enough money to afford a college tuition fee.
The estimate is that by 2014, the program will create 200 new schools and generate 8 million opportunities for professional training.
Science Without Borders
Science Without Borders is a federal program that aims to promote the expansion and the internationalization of science and technology, as well as the Brazilian innovation and competitiveness through exchange and international mobility.
The program is going to offer 75 thousand scholarships in four years to promote exchange, so that undergraduate and graduate students can make their internship abroad and get in touch with more competitive teaching methods. Besides investing in Brazilian students, it also aims to attract researchers who want to establish in Brazil or who want to work with Brazilians researchers.
The program gives priority for certain fields, being among them:
- Engineering and other technological areas;
- Computer science and IT;
- Petroleum, gas and mineral coal;
- Aerospace technology;
Among the universities participating on the program are giants such as Harvard, Yale, Oxford, University of Tokyo and Ultrecht University. Besides the learning of an specific subject, the program also enforces the learning of a foreign language (mostly English).
National Engineering Plan
Engineering is a high status career in Brazil. Salaries are high and it is always associated with prestige and success. However, the demand for these professionals has been a problem in Brazil as there is a significant shortage of engineers.
The main reasons are the prices of the tuition fee for this course and its level of difficulty. Students who come from public schools tend to suffer from an extreme deficiency in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry and this comes to the surface when these students take classes that require a basic knowledge in Mathematics, for example. The result is that out of 130 thousand students who start an Engineering course every year, only 35 thousand will graduate.
Aware of the situation, the National Confederation of Industry created the National Engineering Plan. Still in its initial stage, the plan still does not have a guideline set. We do not know yet how the program is going to deal with this lack of engineers, but at least it demonstrates that the federal government is aware of the negative impact this shortage will have over the country's economic growth.
The democratization of higher education in Brazil took a negative direction as it was mainly impulsed by economic matters. Both private and public universities struggle with a curriculum that no longer supplies the needs of the market. Such practice results in many professionals who, when compared to foreign professionals, for example, are not qualified despite having a bachelor's degree that takes 5 years to get.
Another problem is that public higher education in Brazil tends to be better than the private one, specially regarding scientific research. As they are the universities with the better status, there is a fierce competition for places at these universities, a level of competition that sometimes reaches 110 applicants per place. The result is that those who come from private schools are more likely to be accepted at these universities and the poorest ones are left with no options as they can not afford a private university and, many times, can not achieve the very high grades that the government requires from those students who are granted with scholarships.
From the socioeconomic point of view, the question is if these initiatives will really change anything in the lives of people from classes C, D and E or if they will just move on with the myth of public education in Brazil.