Only a Revolution Will Take Brazil Out of the 19th Century

Brazilian kids at play The Brazilian people are oscillating between disappointment and gratitude: disappointment over how long it is taking to solve old problems and a strange sense of gratitude for the handouts that are left over from the public budget and are distributed to the poor.

We are divided between a rich minority – with schooling, health insurance and all the advantages of the modern world – and a multitude of the poor – without schooling, without health services and without access to the advantages of modernity.

We are living in a situation of social apartheid, separated by a wall of backwardness, as if we had one foot in the 19th century and the other in the 21st. And with this march in opposite directions we have stopped advancing.

Our present is marked by the shame of poor education. As we are moving little by little, we are remaining behind in the race for an outstanding place in history. In a time of knowledge-based economy, Brazil is in the rearguard of the scientific advance, which is based upon K-12 education.

We will overcome that distance separating us from the developed countries only if we succeed in accumulating knowledge and reducing inequalities. And the only road for this is a revolution in education.

President Lula announced a set of measures for the educational sector called "Plan for Development of Education" (PDE). We have seen the announcement, made with great fanfare, of a package that will increase to an additional 8 billion reais (US$ 3.9 billion) for education. We have even heard the President himself declare that, in terms of education, "we are among the worst in the world."

The Plan contains highly laudable proposals, such as the incentive to the thousand municipalities demonstrating the worst educational indicators and the demand that in turn the municipality do its part. There is also one great advance, which is the establishment of salary floor for teachers. But a central point deserves our reflection.

In terms of education, the necessary modifications cannot be achieved through simple evolution. Brazil does not need improvements made by some well-intentioned mayors. What it does need is a revolutionary leap on a national level.

That leap in education requires drastic, audacious, revolutionary decisions. This means more than the allocation of an additional 8 billion reais in a country that already applies 60 billion reais (US$ 29 billion) to education annually and still does not succeed in changing. It does not change because it spends unwisely, squandering resources, wasting good will.

This picture will change only if the federal government itself assumes the responsibility for K-12 education, just as it has already done with higher education.

If what I am calling "federalization" of K-12 education were to be implemented, using measures truly capable of transforming the sad picture of Brazilian education, Brazil might even successfully break down the walls that separate us from the developed countries and divide us domestically.

Making elementary education the responsibility of the municipalities and high-school education the responsibility of the states will impede quality and maintain the inequities in education since it will depend upon the wealth of the city and of the state and upon the determination of mayors and governors.

With the federalization of K-12 education, the federal government is transformed into the executor of the educational system and the President of the Republic, the leader of the mobilization for education.

To achieve this, a ministry must be dedicated exclusively to K-12 education, while higher education should be passed into the hands of the Ministry of Science and Technology. It is necessary to implant full-day sessions in all the public schools, along with educational, athletic, artistic and cultural activities.

Also needed is a definition of national standards for all the Brazilian schools in terms of buildings, equipment, student achievement, and teacher preparation.

Most important is legislation that guarantees the implementation of this federalization: a Law of Goals for Education defining the national long-term proposals for Brazilian education; and a Law of Educational Responsibility obliging the politicians to meet the educational goals defined by law.

These are only a few of the proposals that I am defending, proposing not a simple plan but rather a revolution in education.

These measures will help to create millions of jobs, allowing Brazil to change and make the only revolution possible and logical in today’s world: instead of nationalizing financial or physical capital, disseminate the capital of knowledge; use pencils instead of rifles and teachers instead of guerrillas; and instead of trenches and barricades, use schools.

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 is the current president of the Senate Education Commission. Last year he was a presidential candidate. You can visit his homepage – www.cristovam.com.br – and write to him at mensagem-cristovam@senado.gov.br

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

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