Tumultuous Times Spark Education Reforms in Brazil
By hosting both the Football World Cup and the Summer Olympic Games in recent years, Brazil put the focus of the world’s attention firmly upon itself. In the resulting spotlight, many Brazilian citizens took the unique opportunity to voice concerns to the Brazilian government, with the wider world audience looking on. Protests and reform movements abounded in the past decade as a rapidly widening middle class made unprecedented demands in Brazil’s increasingly mobile and globally integrated society.
Among these movements, students and teachers in Brazil banded together to protest deficiencies in an education system that has long underserved Brazil’s citizens. In 2016, protestors occupied hundreds of schools nationwide to bring attention to the country’s needs.
In response to the protests and upheavals of the past few years, governments at every level in Brazil are beginning initiatives to address educational shortfalls. In many areas, education reforms in Brazil look familiar to readers from the United States. Ideas like performance pay for teachers and turning school management over to private charter organizations are spreading throughout the country at a rapid rate.
Application of the new American-inspired techniques is inconsistent however, and most education reforms in Brazil are still too new to evaluate effectively. In particular, schools in large urban centers are innovating at a faster rate than systems in less developed areas of the country. Regardless, enthusiasm is high. Many of the movements are being fueled by the personal initiative of teachers, who are in some ways pulling their more conservative institutions forward with them.
Technology in Brazilian schools shows a similarly inconsistent yet hopeful picture. Schools in Rio de Janeiro, for example, are leaders in educational technology use in South America. In Sao Paulo, South America’s largest city, one nonprofit foundation leads an initiative to translate and implement the Khan Academy materials for use in Brazilian schools. This popular online curriculum and method now features in hundreds of Brazilian schools reaching over 70,000 students.
In addition to the visible presence of the popular video-based curriculum, officials at the Lemann Foundation are even more excited about the potential for the support material and quality measurement features of the Khan Academy method. They see these “back end” features as creating real lasting value for future advances in Brazil’s schools.
Still, regions outside of the country’s largest cities have not progressed as quickly. Internet speeds to schools in Brazil are one unexpected challenge. While Brazil is a world leader in mobile internet infrastructure, most connections to schools do not reach the 2Mbps threshold considered ideal for the delivery of online materials. Fortunately, one potential solution to this challenge is on the way. KALite, a compressed, offline version of the Khan Academy materials, is now being implemented in areas with less robust infrastructure.
Some of these tech-heavy initiatives are showing early signs of success. Brazilian students using these self-paced, interactive tools are more likely to show up to class, and anecdotal reports indicate a higher level of morale and enthusiasm as well.
Brazil instituted compulsory primary education in the 1980s, after the end of military rule. In many ways, that change was impressively successful. Literacy rates, for example, are far higher today than in the latter half of the 20th century, and enrollment has strongly improved. Still, educational attainment lags behind nations at a similar stage of development. Brazil’s education system is ranked 105th in quality out of 122 nations by the World Economic Forum.
As time passes, results from more structural changes will be seen as well, and time will tell whether the legacy of these education reforms in Brazil will garner the same attention as the sporting events that precipitated their beginning.
– Paul Robertson