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A 20-Year Program to Offer Every Brazilian the Education They Need

Model school in Sertãozinho, São Paulo, Brazil Discussion of Brazil’s National Salary Floor for Teachers has centered upon its amount, 950 Brazilian reais (US$ 588) per month. More important, however, is the scope of its concept, i.e., national. The per-capita income of our country’s richest city is as much as 100 times greater than that of our poorest city.

With such income inequality, it is obviously difficult to meet a National Salary Floor with municipal resources. In addition, it is even more difficult to take the next steps needed, beyond the salary floor, to change education.

São Paulo already pays all its teachers more than the salary floor. Its authorities, nevertheless, recognize that São Paulo State would need 1.4 billion reais (US$ 867 thousand) more per year to meet the Salary Floor Law article limiting the number of classes to, at the maximum, two-thirds of the teacher’s workday.

This declaration acknowledges the fact that education is a national matter and must be federalized. Teachers with eight hours of classes per day are unable to educate and their students are witnessing the running of a marathon.

If even the richest state is unable to reduce its teachers’ workload to six hours of classes per day, this needs to be a federal problem. Brazil requires rules applying to all the states and municipalities, and it needs additional resources from the federal government.

By setting the Salary Floor, Brazil took the first step towards giving its children a national education of quality instead of a municipal one without quality. It was, nonetheless, merely a first step. Quality education for all children must be established in all the schools in all the cities.

The road to this goal is the creation of a National Teachers Career, setting out high standards for teacher salaries and requirements, and a National Program of Educational Quality with well-constructed, well-equipped schools operating on all-day sessions.

The National Teachers Career must define not only the Salary Floor, but also the range of salaries for the Brazilian teacher. This will benefit education only if the teachers all share the same qualifications and the same requirement for dedication and results. A Teachers Career must thus be established through federal public competitive exams and high salaries to attract the society’s most brilliant young people.

But those teachers, no matter how large their salary or great their dedication, will only succeed in fully carrying out their responsibilities if they work in schools with attractive, comfortable buildings, supplied with the most modern pedagogical equipment.

This demands national rules and resources. It also demands a national implementation timetable because it is impossible to implement the National Teachers Career and the National Program of Educational Quality all at once.

Not only for lack of financial resources, but also because a sufficient number of qualified teachers does not yet exist for the new career; because schools are not made in a short time; and because not all children and young people will possess the academic qualifications to attend the new school. Even the Salary Floor, of only 6 reais (US$ 3.71) per hour, has a timetable of three years to take effect.

While gradually improving the existing 180 thousand schools in the 5,564 Brazilian cities and the standard salary of the present 2.6 million teachers of the 48 million students, Brazil needs to begin its revolution in some cities.

Under federal coordination, in these cities – chosen according to the will of their leaders, teachers, parents and the entire local society – the revolution will be made in all the schools for all the students with the establishment of the National Teachers Career and the National Program of Educational Quality.

That is possible if federalization revolutionizes education in all the schools of the cities chosen. At the pace of 300 to 500 cities per year, in the maximum of 20 years all Brazil would have the education needed by the country needs to traverse the 21st century.

As the author of the law, I must recognize that, without this, the Salary Floor will be only a first step. Like every first step, it is an important one but one that is still incomplete.

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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