Go Back

Brazzil - Development - August 2004

Brazil Competing with the World's Worst

Brazilian indignant ex-ministers say that Brazil does not have
109,113 illiterates. There are only 106,057. The difference
can signify that Brazil's Human Development Index would not
trail the island of St. Lucia's and Romania's; it would instead
follow those of Suriname, Bosnia, Albania and Tonga.

Cristovam Buarque

Lula and sister Maria

Picture In no other country in the world is more importance given to the UN Human Development Index (HDI) than in Brazil. This is not out of concern for the people of Brazil but rather for the image of the various administrations.

Ex-ministers and current ministers compete to determine if Brazil is in 72nd or 68th position among the nations that most mistreat their people when it comes to literacy programs, basic K-12 education, health care, income concentration.

The ex-ministers accuse the Lula government of committing the unjustifiable mistake of presenting data from the 2000 Census, instead of data from the 2001 PNAD (National Research for Sample of Domiciles).

The current ministers justify the matter by saying that they submitted the data that best reflect the scope of illiteracy. No one focuses upon the reality: Brazil, one of the richest economies in the world, displays one of the greatest illiteracy indexes.

The indignant ex-ministers say that Brazil does not have 109,113 illiterates. There are only 106,057. In the same way, the pilot who dropped the atomic bomb could say that there were not 109,113 deaths. There were only 106,057.

The difference can signify that Brazil's Human Development Index would not trail the island of St. Lucia's and Romania's; it would instead follow those of Suriname, Bosnia, Albania and Tonga.

Presidents Lula and Fernando Henrique should have to join hands and together apologize for how little has been done to improve the Brazilian quality of life in these nine and one-half years of governments led by two left-wing politicians and by parties founded upon dreams of the Left.

No one can doubt that there were advances in the field of education during the eight years of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso's administration. Despite this, there will be nothing to commemorate as long as a single child remains out of school and a single school does not achieve the minimum level of quality demanded by the modern world.

Lula took office in a Brazil on the march in education and quality of life, but it was a slow march. The Bolsa-Escola (School Grant) was seven reais (US$ 2.3) a month per child and had no rigor in controlling school attendance.

The resources for Fundef (Fundo de Manutenção e Desenvolvimento do Ensino Fundamental e de Valorização do Magistério—The Fund for the Maintenance and Development of Elementary Teaching and for the Valorization of the Teaching Profession) do not even fulfill the very law that created it and they grant a small raise in salary for teachers.

The number of children enrolled has increased, but 1.5 million children remain out of school; enrollment has not been transformed into regular attendance; the quality of education hardly improved at all and in some cases worsened. The concentration of income continues to be the same, and the advance in health care, insignificant.

When it comes to quality of life, President Fernando Henrique's administration does have something to show for itself but does not have something to commemorate. He must show what he did by apologizing for what he did not do. Even though arguments do exist showing the limits that impeded him from doing more.

In improving the quality of life, the Fernando Henrique government was slow and right wing. It did little during the ten percent of the century that the FHC period lasted.

In the 18 months of the Lula government, neither an acceleration of the previous pace nor a turn to the left can be perceived. The government is not demonstrating its priority for improving the quality of life.

In his speeches the President talks about hunger, economics and international politics. There is no clear message about education. The resources for Fundef still do not fulfill the law and the little funding budgeted is contingent.

The programs initiated in 2003, with the aim of universalizing school enrollment, were halted; the Bolsa-Família merely unified what had already been done and, in practice and in name, lost its commitment to keeping children in school.

The quest to improve quality by means of the teacher and the on-line school was suspended. The Brasil Alfabetizado (Brazil Literate) Program is paralyzed; the office specifically in charge of the matter disappeared; the ambition of eradicating the illiteracy problem was abandoned.

Not a single cent of the 185 million reais reserved for 2004 had been spent by the end of June. The Ministry of Education has been reoriented towards university instruction.

Under these conditions, in 2012 the government at that time will be sending the United Nations the results of the 2010 census, and President Lula's ex-ministers are going to complain that the data falsify reality. That Brazil is not behind St. Lucia; it is behind Bosnia. This will happen if those countries do not make a leap in the quality of life and greatly surpass Brazil.

There is still time for Fernando Henrique and Lula to unite, apologize and form an alliance for improving the quality of life: the Human Development Index alliance of those indignant with human underdevelopment and in favor of the United Nations millennium goals.

The Lula government would not send any more outdated statistics, the Fernando Henrique government would stop commemorating so little, and the two would unite to do what still has not been done at the speed necessary.

In a few years we could together commemorate the positive results of the Human Development Index instead of arguing over the negative results clearly visible in the reality surrounding us, with data from 2000 or from 2002. And reality will continue demonstrating this when we use the statistics from 2004.

Cristovam Buarque - cristovam@senador.gov.br - has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PT senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04).
Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome - LinJerome@cs.com.

Discuss it in our Forum

Send your comments to Brazzil

Anything to say about Brazil or Brazilians? Brazzil
wishes to publish your material. See what to do.