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Only Education Can Bring Brazil Out of Its Backwardness

Brazilian flag with Order and Progress inscription

At the recent Pan American Games, the world saw the flag of Brazil raised at
the podium 161 times. To the surprise of many, our flag is different from the
traditional model and bears a written text. In many countries, the television
viewer did not have the slightest idea of what those two words meant. Many
others, because they had different alphabets or were illiterate, did not even
know that those symbols were letters.

In 1889, after overturning Emperor Pedro II, the republicans designed the new flag of Brazil, writing on it “Ordem e Progresso” (Order and Progress). They argued for a long time over the correct position in which to place each star, without perceiving the insensitivity of inscribing a text on the flag of a country in which 65% of the population was illiterate.


Although they were republicans, they chose a flag that could be recognized by a mere 35% of the adults: The 6.3 million illiterate Brazilians were not considered as citizens and were left flagless.


Almost 120 years later, the illiteracy rate has fallen to 13.6% but – even though it is now the 21st century – the absolute number has almost tripled: 16 million Brazilians are incapable of recognizing the Brazilian flag. For them it would be all the same if the letters were mixed at random or if they carried some other message.


If, for these 120 years, the letters had spelled out “Educação é Progresso” (Education is Progress), today’s Brazilians would certainly be capable of reading and writing and could therefore recognize their national flag.


Everyone would have finished high school with a quality education, millions would be in good universities, and Brazil would be in the vanguard scientifically and technologically. By now we would have overturned the wall of inequality, which divides us socially; and the wall of backwardness, which separates us from the modern countries.


The slogan “Education is Progress” would have created a national consciousness for education, overturning the indifference with which education is treated in our republic. The poor think that a quality school is the exclusive right of the children of the rich; the rich think that it is not necessary to give a good school to the children of the poor.


Without quality schooling, the children of the poor are falling behind; without quality education for all, the country is falling behind in an eternal civilizational backwardness.


But the Brazilian republicans were part of an elite that did not respect the poor people, who had recently been freed from slavery. For them, the “progress” was for few and the “order” was to leave the masses excluded from the benefits.


By excluding the poor from access to education, they found a way to guarantee progress with social exclusion without the use of violence. And this has been done for 120 years now, with no indication that the only road for the emancipation of the people and of the country is equal schooling for all the children.


For those who desire to maintain their privileges, this is of no interest. The elite who wrote “Order and Progress” are not going to write, “Education is Progress.” Only the mobilization of the population will direct the national resources towards the construction of a nation with quality education for all.


To write “Education is Progress” in place of the old slogan on the flag is a wake-up call for the national consciousness, especially for that of the masses excluded by the lack of access to quality education.


This is not a case of changing the flag but, rather, one of invigorating its spirit to mobilize the nation around progress for everyone.


If you want to help this struggle for equality in education, disseminate the flag with its new spirit. Try to convince the poor that this is possible and the rich that this is necessary. Because education is progress and only education is progress.


Convince others that the consciousness and the mobilization of the people are the weapons to make a new revolution assuring education of the same quality for the children of the rich as for the children of the poor.


That revolution for equal education for all will lead to justice and to efficiency, assuring each Brazilian child at birth the same chance of constructing his or her future and that of Brazil.


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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