Brazilian school in a Rio de Janeiro favela
Brazil’s failed educational system creates illiterate students

Brazilian school in a Rio de Janeiro favela

Over a fifteen-year period, Brazil “transformed its education system”, according to a 2010 OECD report praising the country’s rapid expansion of public education. The growth of access to education and school attendance grew rapidly over those fifteen years: by the time the OECD published its 2010 report, state efforts had succeeded in extending access to basic education to 95 percent of the population using public administration frameworks.

But despite progress in getting children into schools and its status as a middle-income country, Brazil’s schools are still leaving many behind. While overall literacy rates are high – 92.6 percent, according to UNESCO’s 2015 report – functional illiteracy, where students don’t have enough understanding to perform basic, daily tasks involving numeracy, reading, and writing, remains a persistent shadow. Brazil’s 2016 National Literacy Assessment (ANA), released this week, showed that just 55 percent of 8-year-old students demonstrated ‘sufficient’ proficiency in reading and writing.

The same report showed similar findings when it came to numerical literacy.

Only 45 percent had ‘sufficient’ mathematical skills, while just 27 percent demonstrated ‘desirable’ levels, able to perform tasks like subtraction with three-digit numbers. Additionally, recent findings demonstrate a continued trend of high distortion rates, where students show a literacy or mathematical level lower than appropriate for their age. According to the ANA, just 45 percent of 8-year-old students were able to read and write at the level appropriate for their age.

And while students and teachers alike focus on reading, writing and mathematical sums, UNESCO’s most recent research showed that primary schools in Brazil are “paying little attention to other parts of the curriculum nurturing creativity, culture, and the arts”. This results in poor scores in other subject areas later on: Brazil’s 15-year-old students were among some of the poorest performers in some OECD science tests. Meanwhile, families typically place full responsibility for children’s education on the schools themselves, neglecting extra-curricular help that is fundamental to early childhood development.

Within cities, educational inequality correlates with neighborhood incomes – which in turn correlates with race. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, poorer neighborhoods contained the highest levels of black and mixed-race residents, in addition to higher functional illiteracy and distortion rates.

But UNESCO’s report highlighted the huge resource discrepancies existing between schools in Brazil’s cities and its rural areas: 90 percent of computers in schools in cities are connected to the internet, compared to 60 percent in rural areas. This directly translated to adult life, according to the founder of NGO Education For All, Priscila Cruz, who writes: “In the rural economy, in domestic services and in construction, we find the highest rates of functional illiteracy: respectively, 70, 42, and 41 percent.”

Governance plays a larger role than some may assume, according to UNESCO’s research. Specifically in Brazil, local mayors facing imminent re-election “misappropriated 27 percent fewer resources” than those whose elections were a little further away on the horizon. But other elements explored in the report showed that a lack of accountability within the system could be contributing to its inefficiency.

While all levels of government made financial contributions to public education systems, “with no systematic monitoring mechanism, leakage became pervasive, including cases of misreporting of the number of pupils enrolled, funds unaccounted for, destruction of archives and diversion of teacher salaries and bonuses”.

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SocietyOct 27, 2017

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BY The Brazilian Report

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