Reflections on Brazil’s Education Challenge

Along with our podcasts, we intend to post some reflections on Brazil-related articles and/or news in order to express our point-of-view. We want to enrich current discussions and present counter-arguments. And we want your feedback too! Today, share a little bit about a BBC article written by political scientist Eduardo Gomez, who’s a specialist on International Development and Emerging Economies. We know this article is a little old (oops!), but it’s an interesting topic! Hope you enjoy it! Feel free to common on the blog or send us questions to

Here’s the link to tonight’s article and this reflection is by Douglas, one of the members of the TBL Team:

Approximately 3 years have passed since Eduardo Gomez published this BBC article on challenges Brazil is facing when education is the issue. Some information needs to be reconsidered, though. Even though the political scientist discussed Brazilian education in general, I was most interested when he mentioned federal government sponsored program Science Without Borders. According to Gomez:

Given the comparatively greater number of hi-tech industries and research institutions in the US and Europe, students may decide to stay or ultimately base themselves  abroad. This potential loss could be encouraged by the fact that there is no penalty for those students opting not to return.”

As a matter of fact, that’s just partially correct.  When we access several Science Without Borders public notices, we realize one of the requirements is that students must declare that they will stay in Brazil twice as many as the number of months spent abroad. The exception is when students apply for a graduate program and are accepted while in a foreign country. In general, however, applicants who break the contract may have several troubles receiving their diplomas. Other data Gomez may not consider is that the unemployment rate in the US was 7.9% and in Europe was 10.8% both in the same year according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics and Eurostat, respectively, while Brazil presented an unemployment rate of 5.6 % in the same period (IBGE). Even the skilled workforce is negatively affected in post-industrial economies in a year of economic crisis like in 2012.

Nevertheless, in this article Gomez urges the country to invest in primary and secondary education and although he didn’t display further quantitative data, his assertions could still be confirmed two years later (2014) when Pearson and Economist Intelligence Unit published a report assessing education in 40 countries (in Europe, Americas and Asia) based on results in international tests like Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and ranked Brazil 38º, ahead of Indonesia and Mexico only.

A proposal like Science Without Borders (CsF) can be seen, for sure, as a great long-run educational and economical strategy in which Brazil can benefit from a larger portion of highly skilled professionals who have had the opportunity to bring helpful scientific ‘know-how’ from abroad. However, the general national socio-economic scenario may not contribute to the effectiveness of CsF. After the fall of Brazilian military dictatorship in 1985, Brazil experienced  a great national economic crisis, leading to an mass getaway of better-off Brazilians to Miami and cities in the Northeast of the U.S. In order not to have the same experience again, we can say that huge investments in primary and secondary education could result in an ample literacy and functional literacy, leading to a less severe social imbalance when emigration happened.

Unfortunately, huge investments on education are not currently being proposed. Since last year, the Brazilian federal government has implemented unpleasant economic adjustments by cutting 22.7 billions of reais from various  ministries. The Ministry of Education, since it’s our topic here, has gotten a cut of 7 billion (the largest of all ministries although with only the third largest budget of all them). Science Without Borders was not able to escape from that. Some newspapers have since exposed undergraduate and graduate students who are not getting their scholarship money regularly and having to take loans in order to live adequately. The federal government, on the other hand, says that this information is not true and the late repayments were due to “technical problems”.

In spite of that, we have good reasons to believe that higher education is getting more investments now. As a kind of alternative to Science Without Borders, we can see some banks investing in areas that the federal program does not contemplate. One of them, for instance, publish annually notices where even students from humanities majors (the ones who strongly disagree with the limited areas of SWB) who are proficient in English or in Spanish (depending on the project involved) get a grant of some thousands euros to live on during a semester and have to develop real projects to deserve grants (what it is not clearly applied to SWB).

If that kind of initiative start spreading we can expect clear and effective results not just for students abroad but for Brazil’s population. The latter can benefit from that because they do not have to spend so much money on undergraduate students who, is most contexts, have a high living standard and, in most cases, have a negative perspective toward welfare but do not see any problem in heavily taxing poor people in order to maintain a program available to a scarce minority.

Allowing fiscal incentives for the private sector to invest in higher education would result in a larger budget to enhance primary and secondary public education. This would not mean, in any way, a shortage of highly skilled professionals. A healthier socioeconomic scenario would lead us to a country where Brazilian students would not use tertiary education to get a better prospect in Europe or Anglo-Saxon America but to improve national economy.


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