Indigenous school education in Brazil expanded 40% in the last three years. There were around 117,000 students attending indigenous schools in 2002. The total was up to 164,000 in 2005.
These figures are from the 2005 Indigenous School Census, issued Tuesday, February 21, by the Brazilian Ministry of Education (MEC). The is no Census of Indians and estimates about the indigenous population in Brazil vary from 350,000 to 550,000 or more.
According to Kleber Matos, general coordinator of indigenous school education in the MEC, this increase reflects a greater interest in education on the part of Indians, as well as investments made by the government.
"This result is due, in the first place, to the tenacity of the Indians, who demand quality school services and are engaged in this struggle because they see the school as an essential tool in the construction of the future, an improved quality of life, and an improved condition for dialogue with the national society," Matos said.
"But it is clear that it also reflects governmental efforts, what the federal government has done through the MEC, which has invested in indigenous school with great regularity."
There are 2,324 indigenous fundamental and secondary schools functioning all over Brazil, with approximately 9,100 teachers, 88% of whom are of indigenous origin. 63.8% of the 164,000 Indian students attend the first four grades of fundamental school, while only 2.9% are enrolled in high school.
According to Matos, the number of indigenous high schools is still small, but, in comparison with 2002, there has already been some progress.
"For a long time it was just the operation of schools in the first four grades that was given priority in policies of indigenous school education. Now the offer of fundamental instruction has been expanded, and secondary schools have been established," he affirmed.
"In recent years we managed to surmount the situation of just a few high schools. The number is still quite small, but we achieved a 300% increase in relation to 2002," Matos remarked. The number of high schools grew from 18 to 72.
In the general coordinator’s view, indigenous school instruction is of high quality and "a model for education, nationally." Nevertheless, he indicates problems in school infrastructure.
"We have records of positive experiences but also of worrisome situations in the training of indigenous teachers and in the lack of equipment and material to improve the way classes are developed," he said.
"The indigenous population is growing faster than the national average, three times faster in some cases. Therefore, it is necessary to build new classrooms and improve the existing infrastructure."
Matos also said that the MEC plans to spend US$ 10.33 million (22 million reais) this year on indigenous teacher training, production of teaching materials, and infrastructure.
More than US$ 5.63 million (12 million reais) will be allocated to the school lunch program, and around US$ 986,050 (2.1 million reais), for the purchase of textbooks.
He also informed that the Fund for the Maintenance and Development of Fundamental Education and Valorization of Teaching Professionals (FUNDEF) will allocate US$ 65.74 million (140 million reais) to fundamental education.
"These resources could be increased if the Fund for the Development of Basic Education and Valorization of Teaching Professionals (FUNDEB) is approved," he commented.