2018 election series, Blog, Education, National Politics, Uncategorized

Part 4 – 2018 Election Series: Political Participation and the Future of Education in Latin America’s Largest Economy

This article is part of Brazil Talk’s 2018 Elections Series  and is intended to give our readers a deeper understanding of the Brazilian political system, its complex electoral process and gather diverse perspectives and opinions on what the world should expect from Brazil in the upcoming months and the future of the country at the beginning of 2019. 

by Pedro Sarvat

[6 min read]

This year, when I finished teaching my last class of the semester in Campo Grande, a city in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, midwest region of Brazil, I left the school noticing a certain anxiety from students and fellow teachers, not knowing whom to vote for in the next presidential and regional elections this coming October. Despite all the recent corruption scandals involving politicians (e.g., Operation Car Wash) and general discouragement, exercising our right and duty to vote is still one of the tools that allow us to affect change. In this article, I wish to present some of the challenges faced in the public school system and possible solutions on how to overcome them, all of which will demand political action.

Education has a long way from becoming a national priority, despite its capacity of reducing inequalities since there is a direct relationship between years of study and an increase in productivity and income. Assuming its importance is urgent for the country has enormous issues to solve such as an unemployment rate of 12.4% (13 million workers); over 57.000 murders a year (28.5 per 100.000 inhabitants) and a social inequality (51,3 on the GINI Index) that persists since 1960, even with the implementation of public policies aimed at distributing income and fighting hunger (e.g., Bolsa Família Program). In addition, looking at the political landscape also makes Brazilians realize the complexity of the current scenario.

In a country as plural as Brazil, our Congress has a worrisome composition of mainly white men, averaging 58 years old, and a low representation of women and minorities among the political leaders. Women make up only 10% of the House of Representatives and 16% of the Senate. In Brazil, voting is compulsory for citizens 18 years and above, and optional for those between 16 and 18 years old or older than 70. Therefore, promoting opportunities for political participation in school is especially relevant in a country marked by extremes in income levels and opportunities.

Nowadays, as a teacher, I have the privilege of participating in the guidance of young people from public schools who have the potential of achieving the same level of proficiency as the most brilliant minds in the world. However, a significant portion of those who complete primary education in Brazil can’t understand basic information in a world that is ever more complex, interconnected and digital. Around 27% of Brazilians between 15 and 60 years are functionally illiterate, being able to deal only with short and elementary texts. Our students currently rank 66th in Mathematics in the PISA ranking (2015), the primary evaluation of educational systems, behind countries such as Trinidad and Tobago and Moldavia, nations much poorer than ours.  

Standardized tests are of great importance, but as a teacher myself, I often wonder if the current educational system in Brazil can develop our students’ non-cognitive competencies. The debate has become more present since the approval of an unprecedented National Common Curriculum Base (BNCC) in 2018. The guide stresses the rights of apprenticeship and the competencies and abilities that students throughout the country should develop during each school year- reinforcing the idea that learning mathematics and Portuguese are just as important as forming resilient, creative, communicative human beings that are capable of working together. In a world where the ability to solve problems and challenges will be more required than ever, remaining with a fragmented and decontextualized teaching in schools may end up privileging wealthier kids who have the conditions to pay for extra-curricular activities that boost such skills, which could considerably contribute to increasing inequality of opportunities for these kids in the future.

Brazil invests in public universities like European countries; however, the investment that goes into primary school is only half the average amount of OECD countries, once again increasing socioeconomic inequalities through an inefficient college admissions system. Those students who were born among the 25% most impoverished Brazilians have less than 7% chance of attending college, while the 25% richest have a 41% chance, a rate closer to those of developed countries such as Finland and Australia. My desire to be closer to the Brazilians who face this inequality daily was the reason why I decided to become a teacher in the first place.


Foto 1
Pedro and his 9th-grade students in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil

Coming from a business background, I began my trajectory in the public education system two years ago through Ensina Brasil, an organization whose mission is to guarantee that “every child has a quality education.” Their program forms a network of people who want to lead changes in the country’s education and is linked to the American “Teach for All”. Having completed all my education in private institutions, I had until recently ignored that the vision of guaranteeing a quality education for all, however inspiring, is not enough to attract young professionals to an increasingly challenging and less attractive career.

Recent research shows that less than 3% of young Brazilians wish to become teachers, which evidence the lack of prestige of the teaching career. Furthermore, of the existing teaching body, a very small number come from the best universities in the country. In addition, 49% of the teachers don’t recommend their profession: they are overworked and underpaid (a secondary education teacher earns on average US$ 928 per month), and they lack opportunities to continue educating themselves. How can we expect improvement in the learning process if one of the main actors is not recognized by society (and the market) anymore?

In the coming elections, all of us should be thinking about how can local and state governments advance the supply of a quality education where the demand for professors is high, but their geographic distribution is unequal. How can those who obtained a quality education find enough incentives (moral, intellectual or financial) to become teachers and support the rest of the population in their journey as citizens? Given the low appreciation teachers in the country receive, as of now, individuals, families, entrepreneurs, and governments do not recognize education as one of the most important tools in reducing poverty. In 2018, Brazil risks going back to the Hunger Map since there are currently more than 14 million Brazilians (7% of the population) living with less than $ 1.5 per capita a day.

In order to change this scenario, the 13 presidential candidates will need to face this enormous challenge head-on. Currently, the responsibilities in Education are shared between the Federal government (Higher Education), State government (High School) and municipalities (Middle and Elementary school), making the allocation of resources and the cost per student in the different stages in the educational system a complicated matter. The three crucial points for the coming years are the implementation of the National Common Curriculum Base (BNCC), the reform of secondary education and the urgent reformulation of the teachers training policy.

Regarding BNCC, the challenge lies in reworking the State and Municipal curricula in the face of the new national guidelines. The Middle School reform has received little public support so far. It needs to gain legitimacy and make the school a more attractive place for the young Brazilian, who is now dealing with the choice between staying in school or entering the job market early.

Teacher training policies in Brazil, which have privileged theoretical over practical knowledge, are in dire need of change. The new curricula require skills and competencies for which many teachers have not been prepared. Because of that, it is essential to advance in strategies to attract, develop and retain the most talented students in the teaching career; and lastly that the teaching systems, both public and private, rethink their strategy of continuous training and that other agents complement the offer of teacher training courses.

Against all odds, I still hope that my students, fellow teachers, and families realize their importance in becoming political/social agents in their communities and that they feel empowered to engage in the struggle for a more participative, equal and just society. We have the opportunity, this October, to begin a process of political renovation – a necessary path to initiate a new cycle based on representation, diversity, and dialogue between political parties and society. Only then will we have a chance of developing long-term public policies based on the idea that quality education can generate, amplify and distribute opportunities for all.


Brazil Talk

Pedro Sarvat is a member of Ensina Brasil and teacher at E.E Élia França Cardoso and E.E Teotônio Vilela, both schools are in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil.

2018 election series, Events, National Politics

Part 2 – 2018 Election Series: What Nobody Wants to Say about the Current Political Crisis in Brazil

This article is part of Brazil Talk’s 2018 Elections Series  and is intended to give our readers a deeper understanding of the Brazilian political system, its complex electoral process and gather diverse perspectives and opinions on what the world should expect from Brazil in the upcoming months and the future of the country at the beginning of 2019. 

By Rodrigo R. Soares

[5 min read]

A lot has been said about the political fragmentation in the current pre-electoral scenario in Brazil. This fragmentation has been mostly interpreted as reflecting increased radicalization, and seen as a manifestation of the underlying political preferences of a significant fraction of society. It is undeniable that there has been an increased degree of political radicalization in Brazilian society and that this radicalization also manifests itself in the pre-electoral scenario. However,  I believe most of this fragmentation comes from the increasing lack of representativeness of the political system and its detachment from the demands and preferences of a major part of the Brazilian population.

The current fragmentation can find its closest historical precedent in the first direct presidential elections, in 1989, after the end of the military dictatorship, when over 20 candidates were registered in the first round –  5 of which got more than 8% of the votes, and, 7 got close to 5% or more. The worrisome difference with this precedent is that, then, despite the disappointing outcome of the election and the ensuing impeachment process, the country was coming out of a military dictatorship and there was a lot of faith in the democratic institutions and the recently born political system. In addition, an extensive and diversified gallery of leading figures in the fight against dictatorship offered political alternatives that seemed electorally feasible and morally legitimate. We no longer have the luxury of relying on figures anointed by history to exercise political leadership. This generation has passed, and the country must move on, willingly or not.


Blog, Economy, National Politics

The Brazilian Fiscal Crisis: The Lost Credibility

By Tatiana Acar

[7 min read]


Assessing how credibility affects both the economy and individuals in a tangible way is a complex issue in the economic debate. We can conceive the delicate concept of confidence through the image of a horse being trained to jump obstacles. In order to gain his trust, the athlete needs to show commitment and respect. With sufficient warning, the horse tends to follow his commands, and both will have a durable relationship. However, unexpectedly forcing it to jump will make the horse suspicious. If surprised, he can harm the athlete and destroy all the environment around him. Worse, once the trust is betrayed, it is hard to recover it. Brazil’s current crisis scenario could be linked to this metaphor since the fiscal misconduct seen in the last years has undermined the population’s confidence and generated great disarray among consumers, businesses, and investors. Output growth has fallen more than 7% in two years[1], causing unemployment more than doubling[2]. Recovering the lost development will consume a large part of Brazil’s next presidential term, which has been predicted by some analysts already[3]. But why has the country reached this stage? What is the relationship between credibility and the level of employment and income?

Credibility is built when people notice, over time, that the government has not only committed to the policy it communicated, but it has also managed to achieve its goals[4]. When a government spends continuously and increasingly, uncertainty about the country’s fiscal solvency tends to be higher. Thus, the effect of fiscal stimulus on the economy and individuals might become counterproductive by pushing up long-term interest rates, inflationary expectations and undermining longer-term growth prospects. This puts the government into a dangerous vicious circle, as the fall in the output causes a drop on tax revenues, further increasing the fiscal imbalance.


Blog, National Politics, Society, Uncategorized

The killing of Marielle Franco on the UN radar

by Gustavo Macedo

[8 minute read]

On March 14th, less than a month into a federal military intervention that is supposed to fix the security crisis in the state of Rio de Janeiro, the brutal assassination of a Rio de Janeiro’s Councilwoman, Marielle Franco, has dragged new actors into an already intricate political situation – and this time they are international. The United Nations (UN), which had already been expressing concerns about the unfolding political situation, may now dive into the story head first.

The case of Marielle meets all the criteria for setting the UN machinery in motion. Politically, the great commotion that the story of Marielle’s murder generated nationally in Brazil earned it international political attention, including that of the UN, an organization that strategically chooses to focus its work on emblematic cases that can serve as examples of the fight for human rights around the world. Technically, the history of other recent similar cases killings in Brazil, the profile of the victim, the circumstances of the crime, its modus operandi and the allegations of people close to the victim should, in theory, be sufficient in order for the case to be picked up by the UN.