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In Brazil, Basic Education Gets Only the Crumbs of Public Money

Objective measures of the cognitive ability of students in the Brazilian education system have indicated low overall development.

"PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) has a reference matrix which states the content associated with competencies and skills, put in scales and levels which represent the necessary cognitive processes for the development of reading, mathematical and scientific literacy.

"Those cognitive processes develop during schooling, within the individual and social background. In 2000, the principle domain assessed by PISA was reading. Brazilian students did not achieve good results in PISA 2000. In fact, Brazil scored lowest among all the participating countries"(1)

The root of this problem can be traced to government policy. "Tertiary education accounts for about one-fifth of government spending on education, close to the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) average. But the average cost to the budget of higher education per student is about 150 percent of GDP per capita, almost four times as high as the OECD average."(2)

The large amount of money spent is due to the full government funding of students who attend public universities. Entry to the universities is determined by tests called ‘vestibular’ which are comprehensive exams.

The secondary education system’s function is to prepare students for the vestibular.

"The culture of mandatory reading for college admission exams goes on. Public schools were prohibited from failing their students for any reason other than absenteeism, so teachers cannot even resort to threatening with failing grades to pressure students to do their lessons. The problem is worse at the secondary level, where the encyclopedic curriculum kills the interest of both pupils and teachers"(3)

The focus is on memorization of content. "Pupils in most classes are being asked to memorize, not to think or evaluate for themselves."(4)
"They learn to copy from the blackboard, and they are told that this is enough."(5)

"For most, the only goal is to get the education credential necessary for the job market or for some kind of higher education opportunity. Only the private sector has retained some quality, but, even there, learning by rote to get into the most prestigious university careers is widespread."(6)

This has lead to a situation where the national basic skills exam, the SAEB (Sistema Nacional de Avaliação da Educação Básica – National System for Evaluation of Basic Education), has shown that, with respect to the level of cognitive skills, there is a: "large overlap between the results of the eighth grade (basic education) and those from the secondary education senior year. This indicates that the secondary education is adding little, in cognitive terms to the students."(7)

Contributing Issues

1. Public Policy

The focus on tertiary education has greatly contributed to the lack of adequate funds for primary and secondary public education.

"While Brazil’s public spending on education is about 5% of GDP, equal to that of most advanced countries, outlays heavily favor universities, while primary and secondary schools are starved for money. Brazil spends only 14% of its per capita GDP for each pupil in primary school and 16% in secondary schools, far below education investment in many advanced and developing countries. However, Brazil spends nearly double its GDP per capita on each public university student, or roughly four times as much as in rich countries."(8)

"…the Secretary of Education said in April 2002 that system-wide annual spending per pupil was 1,250 reais, or US$ 500, compared with US$ 10,000 per pupil in New York City. States of the Northeast spend less than US$ 150 per pupil."(9)

There is a lack of political will to reform this funding formula. Thus, changes made in curricular policies to improve cognitive ability are expected to be implemented without adequate financial assistance.

"While the responsibility for implementation of the educational directives rests primarily with the school teachers, often found is a lack of professional preparation and support to do so"(11)

In 1971, Brazil extended compulsory universal education from 4 to 8 years. (12) "The mean education of the Brazilian population is 4.5 years of schooling, and 60 percent of the population have completed four years or less of schooling."(13)

There is a dropout rate of 33.8% by Grade Five and a high repetition rate of 11.4%.

Survival rate to grade 5

Bangladesh 45.9% 70.3% 1991-1998
Brazil 66.2% 1997
China 71.4% 90.5% 1990-1998
Egypt 91.7%
India 56 1997
Indonesia 84.4% 90.0% 1990-1997
Mexico 80.0% 85.0% 1990/1991 – 1999/00
Pakistan 49.7% 1997/98 (14)

Repetition rates in primary education

Bangladesh 6.5% 1998
Brazil 14.2% 11.4% 1990 – 1996/97
China 6.1% 0.9% 1990 -1998
Egypt 5.6% 1992 -1998
India 6.2 6.5% 1990 -1997
Indonesia 9.7% 6.7% 1990 -1998
Mexico 11.5% 8.3% 1990/91-1997/98
Pakistan 6.3% 1997/98 (15)

The 2000 PISA test revealed some indication of the extent of affect of the repetition policy on the general level of program progress.

"Only one half of the reference population for the Brazilian PISA sample were in upper secondary education, whereas nearly all of the 15 year-olds of the OECD countries were already in this level of education."(16)

2. Laws and Infrastructure

Other issues are the result of local laws and lack of infrastructure. "There is now no more lack of schools generally. But still prevailing are chronic absenteeism by both pupils and teachers, failure to learn and repeating of grades, low pay and poor training for teachers, intense turnover of teaching and administrative staff and bureaucratic disorder. The Ministry of Education reported in 1996 that, at the end of primary schooling, 70% of the pupils did not know basic arithmetic. Only half were able to form an opinion of texts they read."(17)

"Poor pay of school principals and the lack of a middle management structure also contribute to absenteeism and lack of ambition in teaching practice. Teachers’ salaries show a relatively large increase for length of service, and provide extra allowances for more qualification. However, there are few financial incentives for advancement."(18)

"Teachers are allowed up to 42 days of condoned absence, not including sickness absence, in addition to 30 days of paid holiday."(19)

"The lack of focus on individual pupils may be due to the excessive hours that many teachers work. In São Paulo, where living costs are high, teachers often toil a third shift at night, for another employer, to add to meager salaries. That means a working day of 7 am to 10 pm.

"Teachers in the São Paulo state system get four hours statutory paid non-contact time per week to take part in curriculum planning meetings. All other time is contact time. A teacher working three shifts may teach more than 600 pupils in a week. Assigning and marking individual homework in these conditions is not a realistic expectation, although more could be done during lessons."(20)

Thus students are unmotivated to do homework as they can only fail due to absenteeism. (21)

"Pupil assessment in Brazil is largely through informal classroom observation and year-end tests made by teachers. It still lacks comparative analysis of data."(22)

"(T)eachers are not, in most schools, accustomed to being accountable for pupils’ results."(23)

"The tradition of quality control from above does not exist in Latin America. This type of quality control is exemplified by the French inspecteur who would visit schools to review practices and teacher performance, arriving ex abrupto, sitting through classes and taking notes. A bad report card from an inspector could be a deadly blow to one’s career.

"That tradition never really took hold in Latin America where the school inspector was mainly concerned with bureaucratic matters. The idea that a school principal would formally and objectively evaluate the school staff has also never taken hold. Of course, school directors often informally identity nonperforming teachers and try to get them transferred."(24)

"Training and management of school supervisors are not sufficient to get the most out of this potentially useful staff. Training in evaluation, diagnosis, capacity-building, the use of data and techniques for challenging and motivating schools is absent. As well as training, better management of supervisors’ workload is needed so they can spend more time in schools and classrooms to challenge and support those that need it most."(25)

"Non-teaching staff are few. Schools normally employ a caretaker/handyman and some non-teaching staff to supervise breaks, mealtimes and lesson changes. Libraries are usually not staffed. Science technicians are not employed, even in the technical school we visited." (26)

There is a: "(s)hortage of books and educational resources, particularly in upper secondary schools, where the new federal schemes have not yet reached."(27)

"Not surprisingly, the results of SAEB show that the performance of Brazilian students is closely associated to the type of infrastructure available to the school. There is little chance for schools that are poorly installed, badly equipped and lacking in funds to achieve significant success."(28)

3. Social Inequality

Accelerating social inequality has lead to the deterioration of social values present in the schools, as well as an associated increase in violent and criminal behavior.(29)

"Occurrences of Violence in 308 Schools of the Greater São Paulo Region"

TYPE OF VIOLENCE – % OF ALL REPORTED INCIDENTS
Sexual assaults    46
Physical attacks    46
Threats or other aggression   27
Theft, mugging or robbery   26
Graffiti      26
Unemployment- or alcohol-related   19
Property damage    14
Damage to vehicles    11
Stoning      09
Fires       09
Drug use     07
Gang activity      07 "(30)

In summary, many issues have contributed to stagnating SAEB (national basic-skills exam) results which have shown no improvement since 1991. (31)

Reform

Although low wages are a contributing factor in poor teacher performance, it has been shown that increasing teacher pay without increasing qualifications does not necessarily help raise the level of education.

"The World Bank study (2001) overturns the myth of the low-pay, low-professional status of basic education teachers. Based on the 1999 National Household Survey (PNAD), the study reveals that teachers work for considerably fewer hours in comparison to other governmental and private sector employees.

"Computing the hourly pay, teachers are paid higher than the private sector workers. Nonetheless, the study points out that the teachers’ relatively handsome compensation package does not match their performance. In sum, teacher quality is not quite comparable to teacher pay and questionable."(32)

"There is a clear relation between the educational level of the teacher and the achievement of the student, but whether the teacher has gone or not through a teacher training course does not seem to make any difference."(33) "(The) SAEB uncovered that students whose teachers had a graduate degree perform better in the test."(34)

In order to improve the level of student achievement, programs have been put in place to raise the training requirements for teachers by incentivising international agency subsidizes.

"The fact that 60 per cent of the resources disbursed through FUNDEF are earmarked for teachers’ compensation can be seen as a step in the right direction. On average, teachers’ remuneration increased by 38 percent between December 1997 and June 2001, outstripping inflation (Ministry of Education, 2002).

"Moreover, since 2002, compensation for non-certified teachers can no longer be financed through the 60 per cent share of revenue earmarked for teacher compensation, leading to a shift in demand for teachers with better qualification."(35)

Another benefit of increasing the educational attainment by teachers is that it increases average student schooling years.

"…the evidence reported by Birdsall (1985) suggests that the educational attainment of teachers had a significant impact on average schooling years in 1970s. This is also consistent with international experience, discussed by Hanushek (1995)."(36)

In fact, there has been a reduced dropout rate from 43.8% in 1997(37) to 27.7 per cent during 1999-2002(38), although the direct link to increased teacher attainment has not yet been established.

With reference to the Brazilian PISA 2000, it has been demonstrated that high retention rates harm group performance.

"Since the age/grade gap is an extremely negative variable for student performance, we recalculated student means for those students which did not have great age/grade gaps. Their results show a higher proficiency level than that of the original OECD ranking."(39)

"Students that are too old for their grades perform worse than those of the proper age do, confirming that there is no pedagogic benefit in compelling non-performers to repeat their grades."(40) Repetition rates have reduced from 14.2% in 1990 to 11.4% in 1996/97. (41)

Decentralization of authority is facilitating a transition to a local accountability that is leading to improvement.

"Since 1992 Minas Gerais has thinned central bureaucracy and shifted hiring and spending powers to school principals through Parent-Teacher Associations, who choose principals from among the top three performers in state-wide examinations. This management structure is now being applied in other states."(42)

Private Education

Less than 14% of Brazil’s 4.1 million students attend privately funded primary and secondary schools. (43)

"Most students with a high socio economic status attend private schools."(44)

"It is clear from these plots that, over and above the differences in proficiency that can be associated with gender, color, region and system, improvement in performance is associated with higher inequality. This is shown by the steeper gradients for students who are males, whites, from the Southeast and from private schools." (45)

"The children’s socio economic status, mainly when it is considered at school level, is by far the factor with the biggest impact on their school results" (46)

"Family spending patterns above the subsistence level reflect family values, including the cultural ones. Families that value highly their children (‘s) education, spend proportionally more on cultural goods and other schooling resources."(47)

"There are big effects of economic resources on cultural resources (0.4), a result explained by the fact that the acquisition of cultural resources requires the existence of disposable economic resources in the family. It also should be noted the size of the effect of cultural resources on parent’s participation (0.29) and parent’s participation on students’ attitude towards school (0.18), plausible associations since more knowledge parents will spend more time with their children’s education. Finally as one would expect the student attitude towards school impacts the proficiency (0.17)

These results confirm our initial hypothesis that family characteristics can affect students’ achievement through the following process: on one hand, families with higher economic levels can choose to invest in cultural resources (according to parent’s cultural capital, a measure that is not collinear to that of their economic resources), and consequently, use these resources to improve their level of participation in their children’s schooling. An environment surrounded by academic values motivates the student to have a better attitude towards school, increasing their achievement."(48)

"It was anticipated but still surprising to discover that one’s economic status (expressed in income and the possession of computers) was strongly associated, more so than school characteristics, with student achievement."(49)

Although success could be attributed solely to an aggregation of wealthy individuals, peer motivation is felt to have some impact. A student who attends private school’s: "…highest privilege is that their schoolmates have similar academic motivation."(50)

Group scoring is consistently higher in the private schools. The chart below shows a comparison of municipal, private and state math results for grade eight.
 
"The standard deviation value of this distribution is 50 points. This gives us a reference against which to measure the impact of these factors. A 25 point effect is equivalent to a proficiency distribution shift of half a standard deviation, something comparable to one school grade."(51)
Therefore, this chart shows the equivalent of a 3 year achievement difference between publicly funded and private schools.

End Notes

1. Castro de, Maria Helena Guimarães "Evaluation: an educational reform strategy in Brazil" (Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisas Educacionais – INEP Brazil) p12

2. Mello de, Luiz and Hoppe, Mombert "Educational Attainment in Brazil: The Experience of FUNDEF" (OECD Economics Department Working Papers Number 424 JT00181600) http://www.oecd.org/eco p10

3. Marques, Luiz "Why Can’t They Read?" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping30b.htm

4. Wreford, Jane "Managing Public Education in São Paulo" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping32a.htm

5. Castro, Cláudio de Moura "Why So Little Learning in São Paulo’s Periphery?" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping32b.htm

6. Schwartzman, Simon "The Challenges of Education in Brazil"
Text prepared for presentation in the Seminar on Education in Brazil, organized by the Department of Educational Studies and the center for Brazilian Studies, University of Oxford, Hilary Term 2003 p39

7. Soares, Francisco: "Quality and Equity in Brazilian Basic Education: Facts and Possibilities" in "The Challenges of Education in Brazil" Oxford: Symposium Books, 2004 p72

8. Wreford, Jane "Managing Public Education in São Paulo" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping32a.htm

9.Wreford, Jane "Managing Public Education in São Paulo" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping32a.htm

10. Silva, Dilma de Melo "Overview of the Brazilian Educational System" http://www.sgi.org/english/SGI/makipaper3b.htm

11 Santos dos, Maria Madalena Rodrigues "The Challenge of Educational Reforms in Brazil" http://www.iacd.oas.org/LaEduca%20114/santos.htm

12 Santos dos, Maria Madalena Rodrigues "The Challenge of Educational Reforms in Brazil" http://www.iacd.oas.org/LaEduca%20114/santos.htm

13. Santos dos, Maria Madalena Rodrigues "The Challenge of Educational Reforms in Brazil" http://www.iacd.oas.org/LaEduca%20114/santos.htm

14 Schwartzman, Simon "Education for All – The Nine Largest Countries" American Institutes for Research /Brazil, at the request of UNESCO, as a subsidy to the EFA9 meeting of Education Ministries in Recife, Brazil, January 3 – February 2. p60

15 Schwartzman, Simon "Education for All – The Nine Largest Countries" American Institutes for Research /Brazil, at the request of UNESCO, as a subsidy to the EFA9 meeting of Education Ministries in Recife, Brazil, January 3 – February 2. p59

16. Castro de, Maria Helena Guimarães "Evaluation: an educational reform strategy in Brazil" (Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisas Educacionais – INEP Brazil)

17 Marcí­lio, Maria Luiza "Why are Brazil’s public schools so weak? Backwardness in Education" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping29a.htm

18 Wreford, Jane "Managing Public Education in São Paulo" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping32a.htm

19 Wreford, Jane "Managing Public Education in São Paulo" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping32a.htm

20 Wreford, Jane "Managing Public Education in São Paulo" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping32a.htm

21 Wreford, Jane "Managing Public Education in São Paulo" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping32a.htm

21 Marques, Luiz "Why Can’t They Read?" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping30b.htm

22 Wreford, Jane "Managing Public Education in São Paulo" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping32a.htm

23 Wreford, Jane "Managing Public Education in São Paulo" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping32a.htm

24 Wolff, Laurence and Castro, Claudio de Moura "Public or Private Education for Latin America? That is the (False) Question" Washington, D.C.: Inter-American Development Bank, Sustainable Development Department Technical Papers Series p9

25 Wreford, Jane "Managing Public Education in São Paulo" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping32a.htm

26 Wreford, Jane "Managing Public Education in São Paulo" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping32a.htm

27 Wreford, Jane "Managing Public Education in São Paulo" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping32a.htm

28 Schwartzman, Simon "Education for All – The Nine Largest Countries" American Institutes for Research /Brazil, at the request of UNESCO, as a subsidy to the EFA9 meeting of Education Ministries in Recife, Brazil, January 3 – February 2. p36

29 Silva, Dilma de Melo "Overview of the Brazilian Educational System" http://www.sgi.org/english/SGI/makipaper3b.htm

30 Silva, Dilma de Melo "Overview of the Brazilian Educational System" http://www.sgi.org/english/SGI/makipaper3b.htm

31 Castro, Cláudio de Moura "Why So Little Learning in São Paulo’s Periphery?" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping32b.htm

32 Kotani, Keiko "Growing Together: Regional Disparities in Primary Education Achievement in Brazil" Monograph, International Comparative Education, School of Education: Stanford University: August 2004 p14

33 Schwartzman, Simon "Education for All – The Nine Largest Countries" American Institutes for Research /Brazil, at the request of UNESCO, as a subsidy to the EFA9 meeting of Education Ministries in Recife, Brazil, January 3 – February 2. p36

34 Castro de, Maria Helena Guimarães "Evaluation: an educational reform strategy in Brazil"  (Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisas Educacionais – INEP Brazil) p6

35 Mello de, Luiz and Hoppe, Mombert "Educational Attainment in Brazil: The Experience of FUNDEF" (OECD Economics Department Working Papers Number 424 JT00181600) http://www.oecd.org/eco p18

36 Mello de, Luiz and Hoppe, Mombert "Educational Attainment in Brazil: The Experience of FUNDEF" (OECD Economics Department Working Papers Number 424 JT00181600) http://www.oecd.org/eco p18

37 Schwartzman, Simon "Education for All – The Nine Largest Countries" American Institutes for Research /Brazil, at the request of UNESCO, as a subsidy to the EFA9 meeting of Education Ministries in Recife, Brazil, January 3 – February 2. p60

38 Mello de, Luiz and Hoppe, Mombert "Educational Attainment in Brazil: The Experience of FUNDEF" (OECD Economics Department Working Papers Number 424 JT00181600) http://www.oecd.org/eco p18

39 Castro de, Maria Helena Guimarães "Evaluation: an educational reform strategy in Brazil"  (Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisas Educacionais – INEP Brazil) p13

40 Schwartzman, Simon "Education for All – The Nine Largest Countries" American Institutes for Research /Brazil, at the request of UNESCO, as a subsidy to the EFA9 meeting of Education Ministries in Recife, Brazil, January 3 – February 2. p36

41 Schwartzman, Simon "Education for All – The Nine Largest Countries" American Institutes for Research /Brazil, at the request of UNESCO, as a subsidy to the EFA9 meeting of Education Ministries in Recife, Brazil, January 3 – February 2. p59

42 Marcí­lio, Maria Luiza "Why are Brazil’s public schools so weak? Backwardness in Education" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping29a.htm

43 Wreford, Jane "Managing Public Education in São Paulo" http://www.braudel.org.br/paping32a.htm

44 Soares, Francisco: "Quality and Equity in Brazilian Basic Education: Facts and Possibilities" in "The Challenges of Education in Brazil" Oxford: Symposium Books, 2004 p80

45 Soares, Francisco: "Quality and Equity in Brazilian Basic Education: Facts and Possibilities" in "The Challenges of Education in Brazil" Oxford: Symposium Books, 2004 p76

46 Soares, Francisco: "Quality and Equity in Brazilian Basic Education: Facts and Possibilities" in "The Challenges of Education in Brazil" Oxford: Symposium Books, 2004 p79

47 Soares, José Francisco and Collares, Ana Cristina M "Influences of Family Background on academic achievement: Evidence from Brazilian Schools". http://www.iuperj.br/rc28/papers/paper_versao_chico4.pdf p5

48 Soares, José Francisco and Collares, Ana Cristina M "Influences of Family Background on academic achievement: Evidence from Brazilian Schools". http://www.iuperj.br/rc28/papers/paper_versao_chico4.pdf p13

49 Kotani, Keiko "Growing Together: Regional Disparities in Primary Education Achievement in Brazil" Monograph, International Comparative Education, School of Education: Stanford University: August 2004 p64

50 Soares, Francisco: "Quality and Equity in Brazilian Basic Education: Facts and Possibilities" in "The Challenges of Education in Brazil" Oxford: Symposium Books, 2004 p80

51 Soares, Francisco: "Quality and Equity in Brazilian Basic Education: Facts and Possibilities" in "The Challenges of Education in Brazil" Oxford: Symposium Books, 2004 p74

Gordon Ferfolja is an educator and consultant who first came to Brazil in 1999. He can be contacted at gferfolja@gmail.com.

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