Palestra - Quality education, the possible dream - Arnaldo Niskier

We shall search for an assessment policy and not only a result one.”
Eduardo Portella

Real Academy of Science/Jornal do Brasil - March, 16th 2010.

- We have reached First World citizenship!
Under strong emotion, in Copenhagen (Denmark), in the beginning of 2009 [two thousand and nine], President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva was euphoric with the announcement that the 2016 [two thousand and sixteen] Olympic Games would be held in Rio de Janeiro. According to him, this is a proof that the developed world has accepted, with great expectations and recognition, the Brazilians’ claim, nowadays totaling 190 (a hundred and ninety) million inhabitants.

What will our education be like by then? Scientifically speaking, we know that futurologist assumptions are not easy, in particular when developing countries are at stake. We will host, within a short period of time, two extraordinary events: the 2014 [two thousand and fourteen] Football World Cup and the 2016 [two thousand and sixteen] Olympic Games. Will we be prepared, including as far as human resources are concerned, to face such challenges? The answer leads us to a quite optimistic position. Based on the year 2009 (two thousand and nine) reality, we assume that there are good perspectives in Brazil, though we should not underestimate the amount of obstacles to be overcome. We have to improve particularly early education assistance rates (there are over 20 [twenty] million Brazilians aged 0-6 [zero-to-five] and only 6,3 [six point three] million are somehow assisted); enhance primary education quality after reaching its universalisation rate (there are 53 [fifty-three] million enrollments in public education); avoid dropout and failure in secondary education with 7,2 [seven point two] million students and assess professionalization, a public power duty, with due collaboration of private initiative; increase opportunities, particularly for higher education new professions, - such as Environmental Education, Information Technology and Clean Energies – doubling the current 5,8 [five point eight] million students (in both 58 [fifty-eight] federal university and 86 [eight-six] private universities); maintain post-graduation excellence, internationally recognized as high-standard. This will have a crucial influence on the increase of Brazilian scientists.

For all this to happen, the country should firmly turn to teacher and expert education and development, including the criterial adoption of distance learning, nowadays with over 1,3 [one point three] million students. This figure, for an estimated population of 202 [two hundred and two] million inhabitants, will be quadrupled in 2016 [two thousand and sixteen] as the system can afford this growth. We need more resources to education, which nowadays invests around 4.5% [four point five percent] of the gross domestic product (GDP). Education, with around 22 [twenty-two] billion dollars, has the third country’s budget, only behind health and defense ones. We will reach 6% [six percent] of the gross domestic product so as all the plans and projects are feasible at the fixed time. Therefore, it will be possible to overcome one of the major obstacles in Brazilian education: teachers’ payment. We have around 3 [three] million teachers employed (almost five hundred thousand] working in higher education) with the average salary of 500 [five hundred] dollars, which is very low.

We should assess teacher and expert performance, not only enhancing development courses (an urgent need) but paying adequately for this key service for the sake of the country’s growth. It will always be hard to encourage our middle-class youths to choose teaching with salaries which are recognizably amongst the lowest in the world. The estimate is that in the next 5 [five] or 6 [six] years we triple the current figures. And, even so, we will still be behind the so-called ‘Asian tigers’.


We live under the stigma of low school qualification nowadays. Such is not a particular Brazilian phenomenon as President Barak Obama, who claims have chosen hope instead of fear, invests 500 [five hundred] billion dollars annually in education. He is amazed by the low performance of 5 [five] thousand American schools and the low grades in international maths exams, such as the Program for International Student Assessment (Pisa), for example: the United States were 35rd in the ranking [the thirty-fifth] while Brazil was 54th [the fifty-fourth] out of 57 [fifty-seven] performing countries on the PISA 2006 [two thousand and six] maths scale.

In Brazil, there is a clear pedagogic childhood mortality rate; School dropout is a reality though the government has encouraged school assessment through ambitious social projects, such as ‘Bolsa Família’ [a type of grant], which assists a population of 12 [twelve] million people nowadays, mainly in the interior of the country. Assuming that ‘knowledge is power’, we fight to reform school curricula, leaving behind the secular curriculum rigidity which can no longer cope with the needs of those who will go straight into labor market. We can record a clear retreat in the last 15 [fifteen] years but the reaction is seen in the political will to enhance assessment, more than never present in the teaching-learning process. We search for an assessment policy and not only a result one; the Brazilian high middle-class reasons in much more inferior levels, for example, than Europeans.

It is true that “learning [is] throughout life” (quoting Unesco) and that school management is an essential strategic element. And here comes the director, who may change this picture. He fights to overcome unreasonable prejudice, as the one against professional education in Brazil. The 1937 [nineteen thirty-seven] Constitution stated that it would be destined “to the underprivileged classes”. It would not be an exaggeration to find there, under constitutional law, one of the main reasons for 7 [seven] million young Brazilians being unemployed nowadays due to total lack of qualification. Together with our economic advances, including the pre-salt perspectives, which can be potentially exploited in the next 10 [ten] years, thousands of jobs will be created, mainly on the intermediary level, in the areas of gas and oil, changing completely the human resources’ options.


Nowadays Brazil has the ‘internet generation student’ with all its huge electronic paraphernalia: MSN, Orkut, Facebook, MP3, Google Wave, Twitter etc. Everything at the same time. Will this be an efficient knowledge acquisition process?

No wonder the tendency is to consider traditional lessons monotonous and, as a result, even to disrespect the teacher. Good schools resist to this process even knowing that the internet is here to stay. In the 21st [twenty-first] century, how can we ignore this reality? Some defend the idea of full time schooling (from eight to five), but with an intelligent project for building citizenship making use of humanistic assessments and the electronic gains which amazes us every day.

Brazil is one of the main world educational book producers, consuming millions of tons of paper, the industry’s raw material. The Ministry of Education distributes one hundred million books a year. What can be changed in such important pedagogic media? Will the books, in their traditional format, disappear? No one can be sure. We only know that something new is changing this reality: Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader devices, for example, which have popularized e-book reading in the United States holding forty-six newspapers and thirty-five magazines, not to mention thousands of books.

The phenomenon has arrived in Brazil. It is common the use of a new language, which we should be prepared for. Children and youths absorb this reality very fast, much more than adults, whose brain resists more so many innovations. With the launching of Kindle, two thousand and five hundred pages of e-book weigh only three hundred and eighty grams. The first devices will be sold in Brazil next year, retailed for 700 [seven hundred] to 1,000 [one thousand] reais. No doubt, this means a great economy and comfort.

However, there is a drawback which has not been solved by international technology yet. The intelligent software platform, which touches us all, serves wonderfully e-books with black-and-white pages. We have seen it working at Borders’ bookstore in New York City and it was like magic. How can we do without the color photos that enhance our educational books? We sure know that there will be a peaceful coexistence for many years between traditional books and e-books, the latter in exponential growth, with no excluding support.

While the so-called rich countries invest annually U$ 8,857.00 [eight thousand, eight hundred and fifty-seven dollars] per student in various educational levels, Brazil spends only U$ 2,000 [two thousand dollars], that is, less than 25% [twenty-five percent]. These are the figures displayed at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Organization (OECD) report “A Look on Education in 2009 [two thousand and nine]”, which represents the 30 [thirty] richest countries in the world apart from a group of associates which include Brazil, Germany, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Spain, the United States and France.

Let us look at some comparisons of the study:

Primary Education: (Brazil: US$1,556.00 [one thousand, five hundred and fifty-six dollars] – OECD countries: US$6,437.00- [six thousand, four hundred and thirty-seven dollars].

Secondary Education (Brazil: US$1,538.00 [one thousand, five hundred and thirty-eight dollars] – OECD countries: US$8,006.00 [eight thousand and six dollars].

Higher Education (Brazil: US$10,294.00 [ten thousand, two hundred and ninety-four dollars] – OECD countries: US$12,336.00 [twelve thousand, three hundred and thirty-three dollars]. The comparison between the invested amounts evidences that the gap between Brazil’s expenditure on education and the other countries is representative.

Another OECD survey conducted to measure in which countries there are more complaints sent to directors due to teachers’ frequent absences and delays, Brazil was 8th [eighth] in the ranking, 32.3% (thirty-two point three percent) behind the leader Mexico, followed by Poland, Ireland, Norway, Spain, Slovenia and Turkey. One of the alleged reasons for the excessive amount of complaints is some states’ lenient legislation which tolerates monthly absences without the respective discount in the salaries. Sickness is also pointed out as a reason for absenteeism. On the other hand, the research shows that Brazilian teachers use part of their time more with other duties than teaching. We have reached less than 6 [six] million graduate students with varied distortions, ranking us behind Argentina, Chile and Mexico. We have around 17 [seventeen] thousand courses, 67% [sixty-seven percent] of which are assigned to graduate accredited professions.

Very little consideration is devoted to educational material design while it is common to see youths getting the redemptive diploma without acquiring basic knowledge of History, Literature, Maths and Sciences, in particular, not to mention, as evidenced in results, the neglect Portuguese language has been dealt with.


There are 60 [sixty] million children attending Brazilian schools at all levels. Around 33% [thirty-three percent] of the population, what is very significant. Teaching has grown a lot in the past years, particularly primary education. But what is the outlook for the future?

In our country, only in the mid-nineties, with the reform by the enactment of the Education Policy and Basis Law (Law no 9.39496 [ninety three, ninety four, nineteen, ninety six]), distance learning became officially accredited. Article 32 [thirty-two], paragraph 4 [four] reads: “Primary education shall be on-site while distance learning shall be used either to complement learning or else in emergency situations”. In Latin America, Brazil is one of the 5 [five] major software producers in the area and the 2nd [second] in the rank of number of students attending school, only behind Mexico.


It is worth pointing out the Brazilian Education Goals, stated by the Ministry of Education (MEC):

1. All teachers should hold adequate qualification.
2. Implement the Assessment and Development Teaching Program.
3. Double the teachers’ average salary.
4. Define a new project for Brazilian secondary education.
5. Brazil shall hold outstanding positions in the International Program for Students’ Assessment (nowadays, its position is weak).
The list of priorities established by the Federal Government Strategic Matters Nucleus can be seen as the kickoff for more accurate studies: 1) investments in education; 2) learning improvement; 3) violence/criminality; 4) social inequality; 5) employment; 6) health; 7) investment; 8) investment rate; 9) judiciary system; 10) taxation structure; 11) inflation control; 12) exports; 13) tax load; 14) current expenses; 15) public accounts.
In our case, we agree with the emphasis on education and reiterate the proposals presented in the following national research work: 1) Implement an emergency teacher training program; 2) Implement school counsels in all Brazilian schools; 3) Consolidate a National Movement for Quality Education; 4) Adopt a national salary level for teachers.


Can improving Brazilian education in general be regarded a utopia? It depends on the existence of serious policy for the sector conducted by competent people lacking any kind of personal or political benefits. The good school will no longer be a utopia when this scenario changes.

For some, this means convenience; for other, comfort. When we address teaching, crucial to Brazilian education, no options should be disregarded. We know we face great difficulties in the area, from precarious teacher qualification to little professional assessment, what inevitably results in a great discouragement. The result of this state of affairs is the deterioration of the social status of the profession which needs to be re-conquered at all costs. We should react against convenience and the comfort of being in the so-called ‘comfort zone’, an enemy of constructive creativity. Routines should be challenged particularly during economic crisis.

Modern-orientation psychologists advise that we leave the shell, fight against the sterile comfort appearance which contributes neither to personal development nor to larger progress. Thus, quoting John Maxwell (in “The golden book of leadership” Thomas Nelson do Brasil, Rio, 2008 [two thousand and eight]:”the leader should challenge his/her followers to leave the comfort zone but never the area wherein they are stronger. We regard the teacher as a leader who needs to spread his/her horizons without missing the focus on the education task, which is the core of his/her activity”.


The year 2009 [two thousand and nine] has been plenty of emotions. It is no use undervaluing the economic crisis. The daily news is excellent remedy to activate headaches. The Labor Ministry has announced thousands of unemployed. Powerful enterprises have granted collective vacation. Former investments are postponed for better days.

Among these concerns, there are the same structural problems, such as education. Public primary education schools lost half a million enrollments in 2008 [two thousand and eight], as if we could afford that. The private sector gained 715 [seven hundred and fifteen] thousand enrollments (11% [eleven] percent rise) but this can be of no consolation as, on the whole, the tendency is to reduce enrollments, particularly in municipal and state schools. This fact reveals that the country, still with huge empty territorial domains, has lost demographic substance among the 7-14[seven to fourteen] year-old population. There is a clear reduction in birth rates. It is estimated that our population aged up to 17 [seventeen] years old will reduce in 7 [seven] million inhabitants in the next ten years, from 58 [fifty-eight] million to 51 [fifty-one million]. It is a strategic factor of great relevance for the ones who plan the future of Brazilian education. Do we need more schools and/or more and better teachers?

On the whole, there is a positive element to be considered from the 2008 [two thousand and eight] School Census data: there has been a 14.7% [fourteen point seven percent] increase in professional education, that is, over 101 [one hundred and one] students, totaling 795,459 [seven hundred and ninety-five thousand, four hundred and fifty-nine] enrollments. It can be estimated an increase in geometric progression with the new federal schools opened under President Lula’s office, which indicates a positive – and unprecedented- path of our pedagogy. It is the segment with more possibilities to cope with the demand, contrary to the historic tendency of disdaining professional education. The contribution of the states and municipalities is important with significant results for the offering of positions, particularly in Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Acre and Amazonas. The data are uncontestable and creates a new dynamics of enrollments, or else, an extremely important reversion: the largest growths have been in the implemented kindergartens (10.9% [ten point nine percent] from 2007 [two thousand and seven] to 2008 [two thousand and eight], primary education 3.2% [three point two percent] and professional education ranking first with a 14.7% [fourteen point seven percent] expansion. On the whole, secondary education has grown 2% [two per cent].

We have to consider the existence of a philanthropic body with remarkable services rendered to new generations for 45 [forty-five] years: The Enterprise-School Integration Center (in Portuguese, Centro de Integração Empresa-Escola - CIEE), which has trained over 7 [seven] million trainees and apprentices getting ready for the labor market. Its performance is growing throughout the country.


Under current circumstances, 70% [seventy percent] of the population attending public schools are comprised of children from low-income families. One in ten Brazilians over 15 [fifteen] years old still can’t read or write. We have 1.8 [one point eight million] youths between 15-17 [fifteen to seventeen] years old out of school.

From the one side, there are 25 [twenty-five] million people using the internet at home but schooling among blacks and whites will only be equalized in 17 [seventeen] years. The average education time among those over 10 [ten] is 6.9 [six point nine] years (we need to reach 11 [eleven] years). According to criterial data collection, the priority areas for employment are: energy, information technology, urban infrastructure and construction; engineering (in Brazil, 20 [twenty thousand] engineers graduate every year; in India, 200 [two hundred thousand] and in China, 300 [three hundred thousand] and geology; public health; geriatrics and oncology; genetics; nutrition; communication and public relations; administration; international relations; physical education; maths; physics; chemistry; biology and philosophy teachers (we need to graduate 350 [three hundred and fifty thousand] qualified teachers in a short period of time.

Higher education needs a new position. The aim is to evaluate if what the university produces serves its purpose and, if it does, who to. We want to know, for example, if the Brazilian university is ahead in creating thinking, if it is playing its role in spreading knowledge and if this is an instrument to help the student get a job and be a qualified professional. Nothing works well if is not assessed, it is unreasonable to work without assessment: “the university is an instrument for building a new world”. After considering a brief overview of the Brazilian education, we can establish the following short and midterm politics and strategies:

1. Increase public participation in education investments;
2. Elaborate a great teacher assistance plan, with professional progression and compatible salaries, comprising 1,5 [one million and five hundred thousand] teachers;
3. Apply intensively distance learning to teacher and expert training and development;
4. Make public universities promote free higher education teacher development, as stated in the National Education Plan;
5. Create a Teacher Pension Fund as in other countries to improve the teacher salaries when they retire;
6. Expand assistance to our 25 [twenty five] million disabled and 5 [five] million over-gifted people.
7. Expand significantly the number of vacancies in public higher education (evening courses).
8. Support educational initiatives of the ‘S’ System (Senac, Sesc, Senai, Sesi e Senar) for the success and importance of their national entrepreneurships.
9. Promote criterial congressional reform of the National Education Plan, with key focus on Quality Education at all levels.
10. Create an assessment project for the Portuguese language and our literature. The main goal is to work compulsorily with the language in all teaching levels. Books donated by the public sector, after criterial evaluation, should be followed by an adequate teacher training to make sure that the volumes really reach the students, which sometimes does not happen nowadays.
11. Modernize all the system with the wide use of educational technologies which mark the Knowledge Society;
12. Make quality the great national project of improving Brazilian education comprising public and private schools. To conclude, we believe that this is the path to be followed by the system’s agents so as we can have an education acting as an agent of the Brazilian society transformation and support.


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