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We Must Stop the Brazilian Lie that Access to School Equals Success

São Paulo University's Law School
For years it has been said that Brazil took a great educational step forward
when it placed 95% of its children in school. But no one mentions the very small
increase we made in the percentage of high school graduates; no one claims that
we are improving the quality of the education of these few students who do
finish secondary school. The discussion is concentrated upon access; what is
forgotten is success.

We commemorate the increase of access and do not take responsibility for the lack of success. Thanks to the Bolsa-Escola, the student snack, and the transportation, school access did increase but without a decrease in the student dropout rate or an increase in learning.


Access is not success. Three letters completely change the meaning of the two words. For access, all that is needed is a school, the assignment of some teachers to watch the children there, the payment of a bolsa, and the guarantee of a snack.


But the children with access will not have success if the school lacks quality, if the student does not learn. Besides access, it is necessary to guarantee attendance, few absences, completion of K-12, and learning. Only then will we one day have the possibility of celebrating success.


This concentration upon mere access necessitates adopting an automatic promotion system without regard for learning. Some students leave school after snack time; others remain for the entire school day, but this involves no more than three hours of class time; they then leave without homework, without a reading assignment, without anything to prepare for the next school day.


Attendance is irregular throughout the month and in a few years dropouts occur. The failure is absolute, but, at the same time, the access is assured.


Access is an available space for the student in some school; success is the student attending school with few absences, studying, passing to the next grade, finishing high school, and, above all, learning.


To achieve success, several criteria must be met. The school building must be pleasant and well equipped with the necessary quantity of teachers. The teachers must receive quality preparation and show dedication – and this demands very good remuneration. The schedule must be rigid and completed in a classroom throughout the year, with homework and a reading assignment.


In view of the poverty level, it is also necessary to complement the Bolsa-Escola with the Poupança-Escola to the end of high school. The Poupança-Escola is a deposit made in a savings account if the child is promoted to the next grade at the end of the school year.


The money can be withdrawn only when the student completes high school. This program was implemented in the Federal District of Brasília between 1996 and 1998 and is now close to approval in the Federal Congress through a Senate initiative.


By preventing student dropouts and encouraging high school graduation, the Poupança-Escola complements the Bolsa-Escola. It stimulates the student to study in order to be promoted and to stay in school until graduating high school.


Linking this to the Program of Serial Evaluation (PAS), which selects the student by means of tests during high school itself, gives the K-12 student the expectation of going on to a university education. This has been implemented in the University of Brasília in the Federal District since 1996.


As a preliminary condition for all this, we must stop the deceit, the lies, and the shameful fallacy of the publicity claiming that access is success. We must put an end to the political illiteracy and the social insensibility that hides the difference made by three distinct letters.


The greatest cause of failure, in spite of access, is that even those who are literate ignore the difference between access and success. Or they perceive the difference, but then prefer to read by manipulating the letters, ignoring that access is different from success.


By doing this they are leaving millions of young Brazilians to pass through their studies without learning to read as they should.


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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