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Brazzil - Nation - February 2004

Education Should Be Job One in Brazil

Almost 40 million Brazilian children and teenagers are returning
to their classrooms after their summer vacation, and more than
5 million of them will begin school for the first time. The government
commemorates monetary stability, harvests, and the discovery of
oil wells but does not celebrate the new school year.

Cristovam Buarque

Beginning this week and for the entire month of February, Brazil will be inaugurating yet another school year. We should give even more emphasis to commemorating the start of the school year than we do to the New Year. The first day of January is a matter of simple convention, but the first day of school is a concrete fact marking the beginning of a new time, the beginning of each child's future and that of the country. Only the students and their families generally make note of this beginning of the school year, however.

The government inaugurates new factories, highways and hydroelectric plants with festivities. It commemorates monetary stability, harvests, and the discovery of oil wells but allows the annual inauguration of the future, represented by each new school year, to pass uncelebrated. For this reason, a year ago, as the Minister of Education, I suggested that President Lula make a speech on national television and radio in the days before the students return to class.

At that time it was thought that such a speech could trivialize his appearance on television. A year later, as a senator for the Federal District, I would like to make my suggestion again.

Starting next week and for the entire month of February, almost 40 million children and teenagers will return to their classrooms after their summer vacation, and more than 5 million of them will begin school for the first time. It is a red-letter day for each of them and for the country.

The President's appearance on television would help change the culture of Brazil, which gives little importance to education. By giving the return to school the importance it deserves and Brazil needs, the President could awaken Brazilians' consciousness of the direct relationship between schooling and the future of each child and that of their country.

His speech could serve as an incentive to increase the demand for schooling among the families of the 1.5 million children who are not yet enrolled and of those whose enrolled children do not regularly attend school and even drop out over the course of the year. It would serve to draw the families' attention to the importance of studying and reading at home after the school day. It would also be the occasion to motivate the more than 3 million illiterate adults who entered school during the first year of Lula's government to continue their studies. It would give the entire country a sense of communion with education and with the children.

A presidential speech on that date would immediately touch the 15 million families, especially the mothers with children in school, reminding them that education does not merely depend upon the school; it also depends upon homework with each child. It would communicate to the 2 million teachers our government's pledge to valorize, support, and motivate the work they do. It will remind the media that it too has a part in the educational process and that television and radio are also instruments in promoting children's education in their hours spent outside of school.

A presidential speech on the first day of school would change the traditional governmental priority: presidents always speak about economics and almost never talk about our children's education. The speech would, moreover, raise the theme that education is everyone's concern: it interests everyone and demands everyone's efforts. And, in today's world, this cooperation is possible only if education becomes the responsibility of the school, the home, and the media.

Brazil has become increasingly concerned with education in the last few years, especially in the first year of Lula's government. With his charisma and leadership, the President could deliver a speech carried by the networks that would stir the attention of the adults and the enthusiasm of the children. This would also be the moment for the President to reaffirm his pledge and that of his government to education in Brazil.

Cristovam Buarque - cristovam@senador.gov.br - is a professor at the University of Brasília and a Workers Party (PT) senator for the Federal District. He was also Brazil's Education Minister during the first year of the Lula administration.
Translated by Linda Jerome - LinJerome@cs.com

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