10 Steps to End Brazil’s Inequality and Backwardness

Brazilian schoolBrazil needs a revolution. It is not enough that we maintain the old tradition of small adjustments, as we did in the 19th century by reducing the suffering of the slaves without abolishing slavery. We created economic development based upon protectionism and financial and technological dependency. We advanced without changing. It was as if we were horrified by course changes, by revolutions.

We reached the 21st century surrounded by two walls: one of inequality; the other of backwardness. No matter how much the economy grows, even with more ports and freeways, we will not succeed in scaling these walls. We will continue unequal, violent, backward in relation to the developed countries.

History has shown that, by itself, the economy does not construct an egalitarian, developed society. Therefore, now is not the time for a social revolution that would subvert the economic structure. We will need time to formulate a radical alternative of change.

But with a revolution in education we can tear down the two walls that encircle Brazil. This will not involve small adjustments – like Fund for the Maintenance and Development of Fundamental Education and Valorization of the Teaching Profession (Fundef) and Fund for the Maintenance and Development of Basic Education (Fundeb) – but, rather, a revolution demanding that the federal government take the following ten actions:

1. Concentrate the work of the Ministry of Education upon basic education – preschool, elementary and high school – transferring higher education to the Ministry of Science and Technology; and create a Federal Child Protection Agency, committing the federal government to K-12 education from early childhood.

2. Guarantee a space in the school closest to the home of each child on his or her fourth birthday and make high school education obligatory, extending it to four years and guaranteeing professional preparation.

3. Define three national floors for education: a salary floor, linked to the preparation and dedication of the teacher, with the approval of a plan of postings and salaries for teachers, including municipal and state ones; set a minimum standard for equipment and buildings, with a “federal certificate of occupancy” to authorize operation of the schools; set minimum learning content for each child in each subject in each grade.

4. Approve a law of educational guidelines along the lines of the Budget Guidelines Law (LDO) with goals to be fulfilled in each city and state, in addition to universalizing education through high school graduation, the establishment of full-day sessions in all schools, and the eradication of illiteracy.

5. Approve a law of educational responsibility, along the lines of the Fiscal Responsibility Law (LRF), to punish with future ineligibility the executive director who does not meet the established goals.

6. Reestablish the Ministry of Education’s Secretariat for the Eradication of Illiteracy and its programs, defining the goal of four years for the eradication of adult illiteracy.

7. Reform the Bolsa Família, returning to it the concept of the bolsa-escola, the school stipend, with educational and administrative links to the Ministry of Education.

8. Improve the system of higher education, science and technology, defining short- and medium-term goals, combining the creation of knowledge with the needs of the country.

9. Create, under the leadership of the president, an environment that awakens a priority for education, just as President Juscelino Kubitschek did for industrialization.

10. Guarantee resources to supplement the municipal and state investments for teachers’ salaries and preparation and the remodeling and equipping of schools, beginning with a reserve of an additional 7 billion reais (US$ 3.3 billion) per year, until reaching 20 billion reais (US$ 9.4 billion) in four or five years. That small percentage of the budget would bring an immediate reduction of expenses by lowering the rate of grade repetition and elevating economic productivity, thus increasing tax revenue.

With these ten actions, Brazil will initiate a revolution. Basic education is the only road to tearing down the wall of inequality, giving equal opportunities to all beginning in childhood; it is the only road to tearing down the wall of backwardness, permitting the construction of the capital of knowledge.

If Brazil makes this effort, in a few years we will have made the leap that has been denied to us. We will have made a gentle revolution. With pencils and not guns; schools instead of trenches; distributing knowledge instead of concentrating capital. Making the children the bearers of the future.

The revolution of the pencil is possible. It is urgent. Because we are beginning to hit another wall: that of the political culture that accommodates, that sees the future as small advances. It is this accommodation that unites the large parties into the same project, with small differences, that is making it so difficult to choose for whom to vote.

Cristovam Buarque has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PDT senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04). He was a presidential candidate this year. You can visit his homepage – www.vote12.com.br – and write to him at cristovam@senador.gov.br.

Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.

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