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UNESCO in Brazil has been in permanent dialogue with public higher education institutions, with universities and other higher education and research institutions.
By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – This past weekend 6.3 million people took the Exame Nacional do Ensino Medio (National High School Exam). By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – On October 5th more than 140 million Brazilians will go to the polls to choose the country’s next president. By Kate Rintoul, Contributing Reporter RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL — Two of the most challenging aspects of moving to a different country can be making new friends, and missing some favorite foods from home. By Michela DellaMonica, Contributing Reporter RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL — With its three impressive campuses in Macae, Gavea and Barra da Tijuca, a new qualified and motivated headmaster, the American School, or Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro (EARJ), is at the top of the ranks of South America’s finest schools. By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – After almost four years of debates in Congress, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff finally signed into law the country’s new ten-year National Educational Plan (PNE).
By Sarah Brown, Contributing Reporter RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Over the days of July 16th to 18th in Luanda, Angola, participants of the Mathematics Olympics from the CPLP (Community of Countries of the Portuguese Language) were challenged with various math problems, concluding with Brazil taking home one gold medal and three silver medals.
By Kate Rintoul, Contributing Reporter RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL — While a lot of the fun in Rio is to be had in the great outdoors, some of the most interesting educational activities for children can be found in the city’s many cultural centers and museums.
By Sarah Brown, Contributing Reporter RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Reports on building issues during the World Cup and speculation of delayed preparation for the 2016 Olympics has made infrastructure a focal topic in current Brazilian news.
By Lauren Hogan, Contributing Reporter RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Breaking through the language barrier while traveling in a foreign country can be one of the biggest challenges to overcome, even for the most accomplished road warrior. After Brazil realized decades of steady improvements in its literacy, performance this year is declining once again. On the government’s part, President Dilma Rousseff launched in 2011 the initiative Ciencias Sem Fronteiras (CSF), or Science without Borders, with the goal of sending large numbers of Brazilian university students abroad to attend more advanced educational programs.
The government initiative CSF has been praised by both Brazilians and the global community alike.
The program, while a sound idea, still does not fully address the country’s education problem.
An interesting part of Brazil’s educational woes revolves around the regionalized nature of illiteracy patterns in the country.
Brazil invests more than most countries in education, but still has lamentably suffered an increase in its illiterate population, a contradictory and puzzling outcome. Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. The annual two-day exam, known as the ENEM, tested the candidates’ knowledge of the sciences, math, social sciences, Portuguese and a foreign language. Voters will be looking at the candidates’ positions on important issues, such as health and education to make their choices.
Among the PNE’s goals are investments of ten percent of the country’s GDP in education by 2024. This is a troubling development in a country of nearly 200 million, approximately 13.2 million of whom can neither read nor write Portuguese, the country’s official language. Since its inception, more than 100,000 Brazilian students have attended institutions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and a host of other countries.
The Brazilian government sees the idea as a form of “modern diplomacy,” as these students will be spread throughout the developed world, making connections and representing their country, while at the same time learning priceless technological skills.
Most of its best universities are heavily concentrated in the country’s South and Southeast.

Brazil is so immense that, for administrative purposes, it is divided into five regions by the government: The North, the Northeast, the Southeast, the South, and the Mid-West. To try and remedy the imbalance, the Governor of the Northeastern state of Pernambuco, Eduardo Campos, pledged to transfer all revenues from the recent pre-salt oil findings discovered off Brazil’s coast to fund education for the people of his state. Robert Maguire, the director of the Brazil Initiative at the Elliott School at George Washington University, “In recent years… [Brazil] has made progress.” And Dr. The nation has staffed many mega-corporations, yet it still needs to send its students abroad in order to efficiently compete on a global scale.
Adding to the widespread dismay with the public education system expressed by many of the country’s citizens, earlier this year teachers went out on strike in response to the municipality of Rio de Janeiro’s consideration of the proposed Lei do Plano de Cargos, Carreiras e Remuneracoes, or the Law of the Plan of Space, Careers, and Salaries, which once in operation would reduce teacher pay by a quarter. Obviously, both the government and the populace want to see change in the quality of education in Brazil and, with this embarrassing increase in illiteracy within the country, the need is ever more pressing.
By 2013, just two years after the program was launched, there are already more than 43,000 Brazilian students who have studied or are studying in American universities, highlighting the program’s importance in strengthening the South American nation’s international relations. As such, most of the students accepted into the CSF program will tend to be from these areas, and so the cycle will continue wherein other regions could be left behind, unable to effectively compete.
Any family that wants their child to have a chance at going to a respectable university must pay for a private school, in preparation for a test (called the Exame Nacional de Ensino Medio, or ENEM) that all students must take in order to establish at which universities they are eligible to study.
This means that only those who study at the expensive private primary and secondary schools as youths have a feasible chance to study for free at a well-respected institution. Likewise, Brazil, in a recent UNESCO study, was placed at 88th amongst 127 countries in educational quality.
Vast differences exist between these, with the South and Southeast together holding the majority of the nation’s wealth and population, while the other regions are less developed, less populated, and less affluent. It is with this in mind, perhaps, that one of its own economists christened the country as “Belindia,” and the intricacies of what this meant in the 1980s still seem at play in 2013, a year before the second-largest democracy in the Western Hemisphere will host the World Cup. UNESCO Brasilia Office, in partnership with IESALC, participates in the implementation of two projects in intercultural integration universities that are based in essential values such as the respect for the human rights, for the intercultural dialogue, for cultural diversity, and for peace between civilizations.
In Brazil’s two largest cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, protesting educators marched downtown with signs proclaiming “Respect the teacher!” and “We are going to fight!” [1] These are the largest nationwide protests since the mass mobilizations of last summer. Furthermore, CSF only aids students pursuing education at the university level, and does nothing to address lower levels of education.
The cost of these private schools is out of the economic reach of many, if not most, Brazilian citizens, and as such they have little hope of being eligible to study at any of the coveted federal university schools, which have the lion’s share of able professors, job opportunities, and resources. This inequality of opportunity continues the cycle of illiteracy and classism, as only the nation’s wealthy have the means to pay the yearly substantial costs of private education. Of the 20 most prestigious universities in Brazil, just three are outside of these two most advantaged regions. Certainly, there have been positive developments in recent years, such as cash-transfer programs like the Bolsa Familia Program, which stipulates that children must have schooling in order for families to qualify for aid.
Education, according to Brazil’s Constitution is “a right for all,” but this guarantee has not yet applied to quality. CSF will allow more Brazilians to avail themselves of the opportunity for education abroad, while increasing the country’s image worldwide. While Brazil has recently introduced its own form of Affirmative Action in the hopes of combatting this cycle, the amount of spaces set aside for cotistas, or those that are seen as benefiting from the Affirmative Action quota system, hardly dents the cycle of poverty and lack of education that grips the nation. Perhaps it is not prudent to allocate additional funds, but instead to find better use of the existing resources that are necessary to usher in concrete changes.

Due to this initiative, school attendance has skyrocketed, but whether quality has improved is less certain. For Pernambuco, it is especially important that education standards improve in the near future: Despite being one of the most populous cities in Brazil, Recife is one of the most dangerous in the federation. This is a term coined in the 1980s by Brazilian economist Edmar Bacha, referring to how Brazilians have to pay Belgian-level taxes, yet have access to only Indian-level services. The few schools that do have “on-campus” housing are trade schools located deep within Brazil’s territories, further from Brazil’s urban centers. James Ferrer, a Professor of Business and International Affairs at George Washington University who was once a deputy U.S. Brazilian students usually commute to school from their parents’ or relatives’ homes, therein making students outside of the two wealthy regions disproportionately in want of access to reputable higher learning.
That is starting to change…These things do not happen overnight.” Complex issues such as these take time to remedy. Due to the system’s malfunctions, it takes more than 105 days for the average entrepreneur to open a business in Brazil, one of the lengthiest time spans in the world. The Northeastern state of Bahia, for example, has about 15,000,000 inhabitants, or about 7.5 percent of Brazil’s population. Nevertheless, only one university, the Federal University of Bahia, is among the top ranking national institutions.
Historically, Brazil has been a country of vast differences, but it must be asked how a country can house successful global companies like Embraer and Petrobras while at the same time suffering from a continuing increase in illiteracy and failing education standards. On the other hand, the Southern state of Rio Grande do Sul has three of the top 20 universities in the country, even though it holds less of Brazil’s population than Bahia.
Until change happens, however, there are likely to be many more protests, and fewer Northeasterners are likely to be studying abroad.
Common answers to these questions are corruption and a bloated government bureaucracy, but the Brazilian government still fails to address them. While the location of universities has little to do with illiteracy in the country, it nonetheless underlines how regionalized adequate education can be within Brazil. One of these universities in Rio Grande do Sul is even in the top five of the nation’s rankings. It is no surprise, then, that the region with the lowest illiteracy rate is the South, with only 4.4 percent of the population over 15 years old unable to read or write.
The region with the highest illiteracy rate in the country is also the second most populous: the Northeast. With 16.7 percent of the adult populace unable to read or write, the number far dwarfs the second highest—the North region—at 10 percent. The Northeast state of Alagoas has the worst ranking: only 8 percent of the populace is exposed to adequate teaching.
More than 50 percent of the population is competent in a number of specialized fields, such as mathematics. The Northeast is poor because it is illiterate, but due to the lack of adequate management of education, it is therefore illiterate because it is poor.

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