If Only Brazil Could Produce Knowledge the Way It Makes Cars!

Fox, a Volkswagen model produced in Brazil In 2007, Brazil surpassed Spain and France in automobile production. Brazil produced 2.972 million new cars; those two countries, less than 2.9 million vehicles each. This places Brazil among the world’s six largest automobile producers.

Only five countries produce more cars than Brazil does: South Korea; Germany; the United States; China; and Japan. This news obviously deserved headlines in Brazilian newspapers.

Out of 50 countries, however, Brazil placed 46th in educating its children. In the field of reading, we are behind, for example, countries that are poor and at war like Indonesia, Jordan, Serbia, Mexico and Romania.

In the study of sciences, we remain behind Croatia, Argentina and Chile. In mathematics, we were surpassed by Thailand and Uruguay and tied with Colombia.

This news also merited Brazilian newspaper headlines. Still unseen is an analysis of where Brazil will go with these results, when viewed together. Which production is the motor of a country’s future: that of automobiles or that of brains?

A few decades ago, one could have possibly imagined that the automobile industries would be more important than the education of children since the automobile dynamized the economy that would permit society to finance the school.

However, this reality has changed. First, the limitations upon the automobile industry are beginning to show. A few weeks ago, a newspaper estimated that, in a short time, the streets of São Paulo will be completely occupied by automobiles and, therefore, by stalled transit.

Sales will fall since driving will be prohibited, as now is partly happening with the so-called “rodízio,” in which peak-hours traffic is limited to automobiles with license plates ending in certain numbers on certain days of the week.

This will also happen in other cities around the world, impeding car exports as an alternative. An alternative that, in the case of Brazil, will become more difficult because our educational backwardness diminishes our capacity to develop our own technology. Without this, we will lack the competence to win the competition.

The automobile industry, in addition, is not now a dynamic job-generating sector because robots are replacing the moderately trained workforce. It is the robot factory – and not the automobile factory – that is generating jobs.

The research centers create more value than the assembly industry, even if the research centers pertain to the factories. When we purchase any product whatsoever, a substantial part of its value goes towards the quantity of science and technology involved.

The economic dynamic is increasing the production of knowledge. It is no longer the accumulation of financial capital that permits growth; it is, rather, the capacity to make knowledge circulate that will create future economic value.

Every industry is important, but the knowledge industry will construct the future. Knowledge comes from the research centers but these come from the universities and upper-level schools. Without a good K-12 education, however, none of this is possible.

As long as we do not ensure that all our young people graduate from a high-quality secondary school, our centers of higher education go wanting. We are leaving behind the 2/3 of our cadres who do not finish high school. Among these, certainly there were some brains aborted by lack of schooling.

The future of a country has the face of its current public schools and not that of its automobile industry. It is a shame that “in the present” we can be the country that ranks sixth (in the production of automobiles) and, “in the future,” we are in 46th place among 50 countries.

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website – www.cristovam.org.br – and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br.

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

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