BrazilBy 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

Photo: Flickr

Why is Brazil Poor
Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country by both population (roughly 210 million) and geographical area (3,287,597 square miles). It is also the world’s eighth largest economy and previously hosted the 2016 Olympics. Despite these feats, Brazil struggles to recover from the worst recession in its country’s history. While Brazil is not poor, the level of people in poverty there is well above the norm for a middle-income country. Here are three answers to the question, “Why is Brazil poor?”

1. Inequality of Land Distribution

According to USAID, inequality of land distribution is a major factor contributing to poverty levels in Brazil. Brazil’s poor have inadequate access to desirable land, and NPR reported in 2015 that one percent of the population controls 50 percent of all the land in Brazil.

This means that 2 million people (out of a total population of 210 million) control half of the country’s entire square footage. The other 99 percent have little access to land ownership, making it difficult to improve their economic status. Brazil is one of the most unequal places in the world when it comes to land distribution.

2. Education

Claudia Gostin, the education secretary for the city of Rio de Janeiro, told the Global Post that Brazil has educational apartheid taking place in its country. Apartheid is a system that separates people on the basis of color, ethnicity or class. Brazilian schools are separated by class and one could also argue race.

According to the Global Post, class divisions in Brazil are ingrained around the age of five. Depending on their economic class, Brazilian children are either sent to rundown public schools that prepare them for mediocrity or they are sent to high quality private institutions that prepare them for upper echelon roles in society. Lower class Brazilians are taught by second rate teachers in under resourced buildings with shorter school days than their peers. These factors lead to several drop outs and graduates who are unprepared to compete for high tech jobs in the white-collar work force.

In addition, Brazilians who identify as black or brown and compose more than 50 percent of the population have income levels that are half of whites. This keeps Brazil’s black and brown population in poverty and at the end of Brazil’s social totem pole.

3. Corruption

According to the World Factbook, Brazil’s economy has been affected by several corruption scandals involving private companies and government officials. Penalties against the companies involved — some of the largest in Brazil — limited their business opportunities, producing a ripple effect on associated businesses and contractors.

In addition, investment in these companies also declined due to scandals. This is in turn has had a negative effect on the country’s poor population because companies involved in the scandals cut jobs. For example, Corporate Compliance Insights states that oil company Pertrobras was the country’s largest company and investor making up 10 percent of Brazil’s economy, but after a corruption scandal within the company, Brazil lost 27 billion (at least 1 percent) in GDP in 2015. The company also reduced its workforce by 34 percent, and fewer jobs equals less opportunities for Brazil’s poor to improve their circumstances.

So, why is Brazil poor? A history of inequality that runs deep in the country propels the cycle of poverty for Brazil’s poor. Race, class, education, land and government are all sources of power that dictate where wealth remains in Brazil.

Hope remains for Brazil’s poor despite its past. Poverty has been nearly wiped out for the elderly due to well-funded pensions. What is more, state funded programs such as Bolsa Familia have lifted tens of millions out of poverty and now, more than half of Brazil’s population is considered middle class.

Expanding opportunities for education, access to land and less corruption in government will pave the way for a more equitable Brazilian society.

Jeanine Thomas

Photo: Flickr