Letter IEDI n. 1049–Pathways to Quality Education in Brazil
Although it is widely known that advances in the educational level of the population are fundamental for improving the productivity of countries and their ability to innovate, in Brazil the quality of education still leaves much to be desired, despite progress in recent decades.
Recognizing the transformative role of education, both from a social and an economic/productive standpoint, the IEDI promoted, in early October 2020, a forum on the current situation and future strategies for increasing the quality of education in Brazil.
The Webinar was attended by Priscila Cruz, executive president of Todos pela Educação [All for education], and Walter Schalka, a board member of Parceiros da Educação [Partners of Education] and President of the company Suzano, which is part of the IEDI. Their experiences and analyzes are reported in this Letter IEDI.
Priscila Cruz analyzed the situation of basic education in Brazil in the last decade until the COVID-19 outbreak hit the country in 2020, causing a serious disorganization in educational management and suspending face-to-face classes even in locations little affected by the new coronavirus.
Between 2007 and 2017, the existence of some advances is undeniable, such as the increasing proportion of students with adequate minimum learning in elementary subjects, such as Portuguese and Mathematics.
As Priscila Cruz shows, in these ten years the number of students in the fifth year of elementary school with adequate Portuguese learning increased from 28% to 60% and from 24% to 49% in the case of mathematics. Data still under analysis for 2019 show the continuity of this evolution: the average of IDEB (Index of Basic Education Development) of the public school network in the municipalities increased 0.12 point in relation to 2017.
However, much of this progress in the initial stages of training is lost along the school path. A sign of this is that, even today, out of 100 students entering elementary school only 64 finish high school. And of those with a certificate of completion, only 29.1% have adequate minimum learning in Portuguese and a mere 9% in Mathematics, which means that they cannot even calculate simple interest on an installment purchase or on a bank loan.
In addition, IDEB was stagnant or declined in 2,350 municipalities in 2019, which represent almost half of the total municipalities (43%), indicating that the recent improvement is strongly concentrated in a few cases.
In view of this, Priscila Cruz emphasizes that two of the challenges to be faced by the country are: to extend the improvement in Basic Education up to the end of High School and to disseminate to a greater number of municipalities the positive results of educational indicators.
And, according to her, we already have experiences that show us some possible paths: we know the power of full-time schooling, of collaboration between states and municipalities to advance literacy, of the correct implementation of the National Common Curricular Base, and of classroom-focused teacher training. The effort of Todos pela Educação is to expand good experiences as part of public policy, including the Ministry of Education itself, as it has important induction mechanisms.
Another challenge is to increase the attractiveness of the teaching career and better select future teachers. Approximately 70% of students entering Pedagogy in Brazil score well below the Enem (national exam) average, that is, they barely master what is necessary to be able to obtain their High School certificate. In addition, about 80% of these future teachers take poor quality private higher education courses.
Our deficiencies, according to Priscila Cruz, are not restricted to the public network and the most disadvantaged part of the population. PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) shows that high income students in Brazil underperform the average low income student in Vietnam and are in line with the results of these students in South Korea. In other words, not even the Brazilian elite escapes the precarious situation of education in the country.
Changing this reality will result in more economic growth and more socioeconomic development. In Brazil, an additional 100 PISA points would lead to a 2 percentage points rise in GDP per capita and an increase of 26% in the average salary, according to Priscila Cruz.
For this reason, Todos pela Educação articulates different civil society initiatives in favor of education, seeking to identify synergies and establish permanent dialogue with different spheres of government. Working as a coalition, it contributed, for example, to the approval of Fundeb's PEC (bill to fund basic public education) in Aug/20, which increased the minimum investment per student in Brazil from R$ 3,700 to R$ 5,700 per year.
Although the area of education is not without resources, they need to be better distributed and more effective public policies—based on successful experiences—must be adopted, for which improvements in management are fundamental. Todos pela Educação contributes to these goals and has also been mapping the role that new technologies and digitalization can play.
Walter Schalka emphasized in his presentation precisely the help that digital technologies can bring to improving education, taking as an example his experience in the scope of Parceiros da Educação.
The digitalization of education—with students' access to computers, tablets or smartphones and the development of educational software—tends to have two effects of profound transformation of the current situation: it can make the teaching process more playful and attractive to students, making it more effective, and can circumvent part of the problem of poor quality faculty by making virtual classes widely available with the best teachers in the country.
The investments for this strategy would be, according to Schalka, smaller than many imagine, given the progressive cost reduction of electronic equipment and the possibility of establishing partnerships with the private sector. He estimates that, for the State of São Paulo, it would cost something like R$ 1.5 billion in investments, representing a small slice of the total budget of the Department of Education.
True, there is the question of access to the internet network. However, some studies have indicated that a significant part of the population already has it. It would then be necessary to assess how much is missing and what this marginal cost would be for the unconnected population.
Walter Schalka mentions yet another aspect that proves to be very effective in improving the quality indicators of education: implementation of full-time schooling, whose correlation with higher grades in the IDEB or Saresp exams is significant. Pioneer experiences in this direction took place in Ceará, followed by Espírito Santo, Pernambuco, Goiás and now São Paulo. In all of them there has been considerable progress in students’ grades.