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President Dilma Can Get a Place in History by Having Rich and Poor Kids in the Best Schools

Brazilian kids with booksIn her first post-election speech, President-elect Dilma Rousseff made a commitment to eradicating misery. She thus surpassed the commitment President Lula made in his first pronouncement when he vowed to eradicate hunger.

The 2010 presidential debate avoided the theme of the eradication of poverty.

Instead, the debate centered upon whether to maintain or abolish the Bolsa Família Program, if its value should be increased and if its beneficiaries should receive it an additional month per year. No journalists asked and no candidate promised to render this cash grant to poor families unnecessary, thanks to the eradication of poverty.

Once elected, Dilma took on this commitment, but she has not said how she will do this. If it were by merely raising the amount of the income transfer, she will not succeed in fulfilling her promise. Besides the lack of income, poverty is the lack of security, of quality schools, of housing, of healthcare.

With income one can buy food; housing, however, requires public support; the other items will be directly supplied only through the State. No income transfer will be sufficient to guarantee the poor the ability to pay for private schooling, private hospitalization, running water and sewerage connections in their homes or police protection.

President-elect Dilma needs to clarify the details of her poverty eradication program and not remain trapped by its link to income so as not to lose herself, as Lula did in the first months of the complicated Fome Zero [Zero Hunger]. To put an end to hunger, Lula needed to discover the income of the Bolsa Escola, transformed into the Bolsa Família.

Social inclusion is, above all, the result of the “distribution” of knowledge.

Quality education for all is the road to the eradication of poverty. President-elect Dilma has shown the will to advance Lula’s “struggle against hunger,” making it the “promotion of the eradication of misery,” but she must understand that education is the road to this.

Dilma needs to discover education and then define her program of revolution in elementary and secondary education, making it equal for every child in Brazil, setting a deadline that will not be short-term.

Her first step must be replacing two, three or several of the already-existing Ministries with one dedicated exclusively to elementary/secondary education. As long as the Ministry of Education concentrates upon higher education, its role as an instrument in the revolution in elementary/secondary education will remain impossible.

The second step will be to envision and define the timeline for the federalization of elementary/secondary education with a national teaching career and a federal program of quality education with full-day sessions in attractive, comfortable, and well-equipped schools.

This program must be implanted by cities where the mayors desire to support its contributions and where all the local political parties commit themselves to maintaining the program’s continuity, even after the end of the current political terms.

Several persons, including the 2006 Democratic Labor Party (PDT) presidential candidate, have already proposed the ideal of the national pact for education. Presidential candidate José Serra proposed it again in 2010. This program can be initiated by the cities with federal-government support.

This was done in 2003, in 29 small cities, at the beginning of the Lula administration, with the Escola Ideal program. At the beginning of 2004 it was interrupted, when Lula’s government underwent reorientation, concentrating federal support upon higher education.

Lula fulfilled his commitment to end hunger because he used the correct instrument, a simple income transfer. The program already existed and he, sensibly and firmly, made the necessary expansion.

If she remains imprisoned by the idea of a larger Bolsa, Dilma will fail.

She will have exceeded Lula in the ambition of her goal but will fall short of him in accomplishing it.

Dilma’s mission to eradicate poverty can establish her place in history as the person who brings literacy to Brazil, the leader who initiated the educational revolution capable of making the children of the bosses and the politicians study in the same schools as the children of the most humble workers.

If she does not do this, her deeds may even somewhat surpass Lula’s, but she will not achieve what Brazil needs.

We will then have to wait longer for another president who will bring about the Brazilian revolution through education.

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website at www.cristovam.org.br/portal2/, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SEN_CRISTOVAM and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br.

New translations of his works of fiction The Subterranean Gods and Astricia are now available on Amazon.com.

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

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