SÃO PAULO, Brazil — With extreme rates of income inequality and poverty, Brazil’s education system is viewed by many as the solution to the country’s woes. In 2020, 4.1 million people in Brazil lived under the international poverty line of US$2.15 per day and Brazil scored 49.9 in terms of income equality, where a higher score indicates greater inequality. For Jair Ribeiro, president of the Brazilian nonprofit Partners for Education (Parceiros da Educação), public schools are key to lifting millions out of poverty and reducing income inequality. Collaborating with public school administrations within the largest state in Brazil, São Paulo, Ribeiro’s organization works with more than 900,000 students and 75,000 teachers. It focuses on teacher training, management and methodological changes to help students in São Paulo’s lowest-performing school districts reach their full potential.
Reduced Education Expenditure
Speaking with The Borgen Project, Ribeiro stated from the outset that Parceiros does not intend to substitute public schooling, but rather, it aims to improve the quality of schooling. He noted that “[Parceiros] can actualize public investment… the government spends three or four million [reais]on one school [and]we raise 100,000 or 200,000.”
Human Rights Watch reports that Brazil’s Ministry of Education “has failed to spend money already available in the budget for projects that could have helped minimize the consequences of the pandemic.” Given that the Ministry of Education cut spending for primary schools and online learning, this extra money from Parceiros is critically important.
In 2020, Brazil’s Ministry of Education spent just R$ 32.5 billion on primary-level education out of a budget of R$ 48.2 billion, the lowest expenditure in this sector in 10 years, says Todos pela Educação. The Ministry also cut down expenditure for Brazil’s Connected Education program, which looks to achieve “universal access to high-speed internet in basic education,” Human Rights Watch says. The Ministry allocated R$ 100.3 million to the initiative, which amounts to less than 50% of 2019’s allocation. Brazil’s Parliamentary Monitoring Committee concluded that spending on public education is dangerously low at a time when more resources are needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects.
Barriers to Education
Brazil’s education system also suffers from poor pedagogy and low attendance rates. According to the OECD, individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 in Brazil only completed an average of 11.6 years of schooling in 2019, lower than the minimum target of 12 years. The attendance of children aged 0-3 in early childhood education stood at about 35% in 2018, about 15% lower than the target. The pandemic further exacerbated education issues with schools closing for 40 weeks. Also, many schools did not have the adequate support and resources to transition to remote learning and learners from disadvantaged households did not have internet access/technological resources to engage in online learning.
Brazil’s National Education Plan intends for all teachers to participate in continuous development programs throughout their careers. In 2019, only about 39% of teachers participated in such programs. In addition, most schools only run for about five hours per day, meaning teachers earn a fraction of the salary they would earn if schools ran from morning to mid-afternoon. Teachers earn about R$3,000 reais when the cost of living in Brazil is on average R$5,000, leading to staff shortages and poor morale.
Ribeiro plans to tackle the issues within Brazil’s education system, beginning with teachers. In his interview with The Borgen Project, Ribeiro noted that his biggest priority is “transforming all the schools into full-day schools. This model of full-day schools is basic because the teacher has a full-day dedication and makes 75% more [in income].” Another benefit is that students have more time to develop in school, form friendships and participate in extracurriculars.
Working With Schools
From a grander perspective, Parceiros analyzes the schools it works with and suggests changes in the curriculum. Parceiros works with school principals, teachers and São Paulo’s education department to resolve issues potentially holding students back. Ribeiro says that many students do not even notice that his organization works at the school because “most of the work is with the teachers, training them” and working with managers to improve the school’s infrastructure.
Parceiros notes undeniably positive results. Ribeiro said that “within the first three years, we increase[d]the proficiency test scores of our students by 35%. That is equivalent to one year of extra schooling.” Beginning with 150 schools in 2004, the organization now helps more than 450 schools and looks to aid 600 by the end of the year.
Adapting Amid the Pandemic
Ribeiro went on to note that Parceiros played an essential role in the recovery of São Paulo’s education system after the pandemic. At the height of Brazil’s COVID-19 shutdown in November 2020, nearly 4 million students found themselves with no way of obtaining schooling.
Recognizing the learning losses among children due to school closures, Parceiros came up with an adapted curriculum. This adapted curriculum/learning material prepared by Parceiros is based on the most essential knowledge students should attain in each grade. The organization shared this adaptation with the Department of education, and now, this adapted remedial education structure is aiding in the education of more than 7 million students in Brazil. The Department of Education used the same analysis-driven methods of Parceiros to improve results in schools where Parceiros was not active.
Ribeiro hopes that the organization’s “strategic pillars,” when adopted on a larger scale, will transform the education system in Brazil. The ultimate goal is for Brazil’s education system to become the best education system in Latin America, a ranking held by Chile and Uruguay, according to a 2019 World Bank article.
Ribeiro acknowledges that this goal is ambitious, but believes it is within Brazil’s reach. He states that “it is a challenge, but in practice, it is possible.” Essential to this success is the transition from part-time to full-day schools over the next four years. The organization aims for 90% of schools to complete this transition.
Praising the cooperation of the state of São Paulo and other nonprofits, Ribeiro excitedly mentions that the organization is working to develop a “20-year plan for the government, where all the NGOs are involved,” with the aim of improving different aspects of education.
– Samuel Bowles