Bettering Brazil’s Education to Solidify Economic Growth

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Long criticised as being comparatively inferior (particularly for the lower demographic of society) to other developing countries, Brazil has a long way to go before its compulsory education system is where it needs to be in terms of both improving the competitive intelligence of future generations and reducing poverty. The Instituto de Pesquisa Econ 244;mica Aplicada indicated that the average 25-year-old in modern day Brazil has only nine years of education; 10 percent of the population is illiterate and one-in-five students are in the wrong grade for their age because they have had to repeat a year of studies.

Nevertheless, Brazil does has positive educational results for the last thirty years and quantitative studies at the elementary level have demonstrated that standards are improving (albeit slowly). Research by the Instituto Brasileiro de Geographia e Estat 237;stica (IBGE) indicated that the issue of poor educational levels is mainly symptomatic in rural areas: statistics published in late 2007 stated that the rural population over 15 years has a mean 4.3 years of schooling while the urban mean is 7.7 years. The illiteracy rate in the rural sector is 30 percent for those over the age of 15 and only 27 percent of the 15-17 rural age group are choosing to remain in secondary education.

Conversely, World Bank data in late 2008 demonstrated that the most progress in elementary schooling between 1992 and 2001 was within the poorer part of the population (enrollment in primary education increased from 97 to 99 for the richest 20 per cent of Brazil and from 75 to 94 percent for the poorest 20 percent). The same research pointed to the fact that; because illiteracy ranges from 2.7 percent for the population aged 15-19 to 30 percent for those between 65-69; the educational dynamics of the population look set to change over time.

The number young Brazilians going to university has also increased (enrollments were 1.7 million in 1994 rising to 4.9 million 2008) – however, this statistic remains lower than other countries in South American such as Argentina and Chile.


Whilst Goldman Sachs was the one of the first international investment banks to tout Brazil as a future economic superpower, it has also pointed to the fact that improvements in education are fundamental for the country to be able to maximise its future potential. It is widely thought that the average standards do not match the increasing relevance the country has on a global scale. In the medium to long term, it is imperative that Brazil’s welfare state decreases and the knowledge and skills base of the country improves.

One positive step has been to encourage more teachers to enter the profession which, in the past, has been under supplied. The setting of the salary floor at $BRL 950 per month received criticism for being too broad based and not tailored to individual municipalities (although was generally seen as a step in the right direction). Other progressive measures include funds such as FUNDEF (a sub-national grant scheme aimed at assisting primary and lower secondary education) and FUNDEB (which, by 2007, had granted more than BRL$ 30 billion for basic public education benefiting nearly 50 million students). Furthermore, in order to be eligible for the Bolsa Família grant, children aged between seven and fifteen must be enrolled in school and not miss more than 15 per cent of classes (due to the early stages of the programmes development, statistics on its effectiveness are too hard to predict, but it is claimed to have had a positive impact on school attendance levels).

At the two year anniversary of the vast oil findings off the south coast of Brazil, President Lula was seen issuing congressional bills with the intention of diverting a significant portion of the country’s oil wealth towards improving education systems (amongst other welfare provisions). The ever popular national lottery in Brazil continues to donate over 5 percent of its profits to the Ministry of Education. There have also been a number of the country’s leading companies (including Embraer, Petrobras, Randon and Vale) developing their own educational establishments to improve skills shortage gaps.