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The Story of Higher Education in Brazil: Too Many Openings, Too Few Good Schools

College students in Brazil Instead of the consumption of classes, education is a process of knowledge accumulation. But our university classrooms seem like restaurants where classes are consumed. Due to the students’ poor preparation, the increase in higher-education admission slots will not bring about the desired results. The classes will fail as builders of high-level knowledge.

The solution does not lie in a return to the elitist past when only a very few young people entered the universities. It lies instead in an advance through which everyone who desires a higher education will have had a quality secondary education and will enter the university with the basic education demanded by the present time.

In the last 20 years, the number of Brazilian higher-education admission slots has grown 503%, but the number of young people concluding secondary school grew only 170%, certainly without a corresponding improvement in educational quality.

There are 2.6 million higher-education slots for the 1.8 million students who complete their secondary education. Instead of 10 to 15 applicants per opening, there are 2.3 openings per applicant.

Even considering the admission needs of those who have already finished their secondary education, this difference is an absurd distortion. It will bring dire consequences for the university training of Brazil, rendering impossible the existence of good universities and faculties since a good higher education depends upon good elementary/secondary education.

The elitism of the university-slot shortage was eliminated, but what remain are the economic elitism and the good, free universities for the student able to pay for a good elementary/secondary education.

The last few administrations have correctly created university slots but did little to ensure that every child would have access to a quality school. The Lula administration created PROUNI, which pays a monthly stipend to the needy, who, due to the lack of good secondary education, do not enter the public universities.

We abandoned our efforts to construct an intellectual elite but left intact the social elitism. Thus we are not accumulating knowledge; we are, rather, consuming classes.

Besides creating more university admission slots, we must promote a quality elementary/secondary education for all. This demands a revolution and not merely a II National Education Plan (II PNE), which is possibly as irrelevant as the I PNE. This revolution will only be possible if we make elementary/secondary education a national priority just as we did decades ago for higher education.

This revolution will be made by means of a National Teachers Profession and a Federal Program of Scholarly Quality in Full-Day School Sessions. Through this new profession, the teachers and education public servants would be hired through federal public exams; they would receive a monthly salary of R$ 9 thousand [US $ 5.2 thousand] after completing an additional one-year, post-exam course.

Years of service would not protect those who do not dedicate themselves to their students with exclusivity and competence. These teachers would be allotted in the same cities; all the schools in these cities would be federalized, as today has been done with the 300 federal schools.

All the schools would have attractive, comfortable buildings and would be equipped with the most modern pedagogical tools with which all the teachers would be familiarized. This proposal is developed in detail in the book A Revolução Republicana na Educação [The republican revolution in education], which can be obtained for free in Portuguese with the link http://bit.ly/ukvvGJ.

A program like this could be initiated immediately, but implementation has been delayed throughout the country, above all for lack of the necessary human resources. The solution is implemented city by city. The new corps of teachers could incorporate 100 thousand teachers each year, who would be allotted in 10 thousand schools in 250 cities and, on the average, serve about 3 million students.

The revolution will be made immediately in these cities, and in all Brazil it will take 20 years. During this period, the new system of federal schools would replace the traditional municipal or state system. After 20 years, the cost will be around 6.4% of the GDP.

This revolution was initiated at the end of 2003 in 28 small cities but interrupted before it was even implanted. The recent inauguration of a new Brazilian Minister of Education can be the moment to initiate the implementation of this proposal that in 2003 received the name of Escola Ideal [Ideal School].

With it, we will all count upon a high-quality elementary/secondary education system with the possibility of a quality system of higher education, in which the competition for admission slots will take place without – instead of with – social discrimination.

We would have the good sort of intellectual elitism with the same chance for all, as in soccer. And with no lies.

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 in Portuguese and http://twitter.com/cbbrazilianview in English and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br

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

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