Not Oil But Knowledge Is the Resource that Can Save Brazil

Brazilian pre-school Only two letters separate “pre-salt” from “pre-school,” but between these two options is an immense separation for the future of Brazil. Diverse economic resources of Brazil have been presented, each in its own epoch, as the road for national progress and personal emancipation of the Brazilians: sugar; gold, coffee, rubber, industry.

In each of these moments, we were promised that a central economic activity was the future of the country. Now the pre-salt oil reserve is emerging.

Imprisoned once again by an economy based upon natural resources, Brazil does not perceive that the way out lies in transforming itself into a producer of knowledge: science; technology; culture. Knowledge is the only resource capable of surmounting difficulties, replacing obsolescence and dynamizing the economy. It is capable of utilizing the pre-salt and, moreover, of inventing replacements for petroleum.

To have science and technology, it is necessary to invest in pre-school for all children. In the long run, therefore, the pre-school is more important than the pre-salt.

A classic of Left literature says that the underdevelopment of Latin America stemmed from the “open veins” that caused the bleeding of the natural resources from our continent. In truth, the backwardness stems from the abandonment of our populations’ education and the resulting impossibility of constructing a strong science and technology infrastructure.

More than the “open veins” it was the “abandoned brains” that caused the backwardness on the continent. If, throughout the centuries, Brazil had lost its natural patrimony but, at the same time, invested in the education of its people, today, in the epoch of the knowledge economy, we would be at the forefront of economic development.

Diverse projects have emerged to link the petroleum royalties with investments in education. The President of the Republic has also appropriated the idea that part of the pre-salt resources should be channeled into financing education. Nevertheless, the risk is that, once again, the investments in education will be deferred to the distant future.

And when the pre-salt begins to produce results, Brazil will have lost yet another generation and that petroleum reserve will become yet another illusion, deferring the revolution that Brazil so greatly needs. Besides this, it will do little good to invest in education some years from now if, until then, we will not have taken care of the children who are of pre-school age today.

Brazil need not even wait for the pre-salt in order to invest in its children. It cannot wait because the future lies in the knowledge economy, not in the accessing of petroleum. Brazil does not have to wait because it already has the necessary resources.

Linking the educational revolution to the hypothetical and future utilization of the reserve is to lose yet another chance, as we lost the sugar, the gold, the coffee, and the industry.

“Adopting” all the pre-school age children – with all that will be necessary to initiate the intellectual development of future generations – will cost, at the maximum, 15.5 billion reais (US$ 7.97 billion) per year. This is the equivalent of 1% of what will be spent on the government Program for the Acceleration of Growth (PAC), the pre-salt, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, should Rio de Janeiro be chosen as the site.

No one is proposing that we wait for the pre-salt before undertaking the PAC, the World Cup and the Olympics. Whenever someone talks about pre-school, however, the question always arises, Where will the necessary money come from?

The pre-school is more important, constructive, viable, ethical, inexpensive and sustainable than the pre-salt. Between pre-school and pre-salt, two additional letters make a radical difference in the country’s future.

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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