Has Brazil Taken the Right Approach to Education Reforms?

July 24, 2014

Emily Gustafsson-Wright – The Brookings Institution, 7/23/2014

In an interview with Inter-American Dialogue, Emily Gustafsson-Wright discusses Brazil’s new National Education Plan, which sets forth 20 goals that the country aims to achieve over the next decade. Read the full interview here

Brazil’s National Education Plan is indeed ambitious. With 20 targets ranging from universalizing access to early childhood education by 2016 to expanding enrollments at the post-graduate level, the federal government has set its sights high in an effort to address the issues of low PISA scores and large inequalities in educational access and quality in terms of geography, race and income. This is not the first time that the Brazilian government has proposed audacious education goals, however.

In 1998, it adopted a radical reform of education financing (FUNDEF and later FUNDEB) to equalize spending per student, and the record shows impressive progress resulted. In 2005, it set the target of raising learning outcomes to OECD levels by 2021 and put in place a highquality national assessment system to monitor and publicize the progress of every state, municipality and school in the country. But this time, a disconcerting factor is the outsized emphasis on spending more rather than spending better. A target to increase public education spending to 10 percent of GDP within a decade is beyond what any developed or developing country has found sustainable: the OECD average of 5.8 percent and Brazil’s current average of 5.7 percent are little more than half that. Where that money will come from, at least in part, was confirmed by President Dilma Rousseff when she signed a law that earmarks 75 percent of oil royalties for education. How it will be distributed and spent effectively is less clear.

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The Political Hangover from Brazil’s World Cup Defeat

July 14, 2014

Antônio Sampaio – Foreign Policy, 7/12/2014

The World Cup isn’t over yet, but Brazil’s politicians are already facing fallout from the devastating defeat of the national team at the hands of Germany on July 8. That some Brazilian fans decided to react with violence comes, perhaps, as little surprise. The day after Brazil’s historic 7-1 loss to the Germans, rioters burned more than 20 buses in São Paulo, the country’s economic hub. In Belo Horizonte, the city that hosted the match, a gathering of thousands of people turned nasty when protesters set a Brazilian flag on fire and others threw rocks at the police.

The government has now decided to send reinforcements to security forces in both of those cities as well as to Rio de Janeiro, the site of the final match. All this comes in addition to thousands of soldiers already sent to the main host cities as a contingency measure at the start of the Cup. Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo has expressed particular concern about renewed activity by the anarchist Black Bloc movement, masked youths who have provoked numerous clashes with the police in recent months.

But the political repercussions from the defeat are likely to go farther than the actions of a few dozen football hooligans. After all, it was precisely Brazil’s plans to host the Cup (at a cost of some 11 billion dollars) that triggered an unprecedented wave of demonstrations, protests, and political activism a year ago — all of it underlining that futebol no longer occupies the same place in Brazilian hearts that it once did. Now the beautiful game is at the center of an agonized national rethink, a mass, middle-class movement against outdated infrastructure and failing services. And the crushing July 8 defeat is giving new momentum to the demands for reform.

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In World Cup Of Education, Brazil Is Bad, But Argentina Is Worse

July 14, 2014

James Marshall Crotty – Forbes, 7/12/2014

One of the underplayed sub-plots of this year’s World Cup is that many of those who vociferously protested on the streets of Brazil were doing so on behalf of better teacher pay and benefits. In other words, education was a huge subtext in this futbol-crazed country’s first World Cup since 1950. And beautiful, hilarious, resource-rich Brazil – which does not often register in American consciousness outside of Carnival, Amazon deforestation, and Gisele Bundchen – actually does want to be known around the world for more than soccer greatness. Especially now that their presumed stranglehold on this year’s Cup was surgically eviscerated, 7-1, by a superior German squad in last Tuesday’s semifinal in Belo Horizonte.

But, as Brazilians now know, expectations for greatness do not always correlate with success. This is especially true when it comes to education. In no surprise to close Brazil watchers, on the eve of the 2014 World Cup, Brazilian protestors fulsomely, and often violently, argued that the record-breaking $14.1 billion that Brazil spent on staging the Copa Do Mundo — including a suspicious $1.2 billion cost overrun in building 12 new, albeit gorgeous, soccer stadiums – would have been better allocated towards building hospitals, public housing and, most urgently, schools and other education infrastructure.

The leftist government of the otherwise popular President Dilma Rousseff has been flat-footed in its response. To such an extent that now, with the distracting bread and circus of a Brazil World Cup triumph off the table, “Dilma” is in danger of being removed from office altogether.

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Never mind football, perhaps the scientists from Brazil can revive national pride

July 11, 2014

Robert Young – The Conversation, 7/11/2014

One of the reasons Brazil took its loss to Germany in the World Cup semi-finals so hard was because many Brazilians wrongly believe the rest of the world only looks up to them for their footballing skills. Brazil has many world leading projects, but they can be overshadowed by the beautiful game.

During the opening ceremony of the World Cup there was a moment when the Walk Again Project of Brazilian neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis was supposed to be showcased – it received less than three seconds of coverage. It is a world-leading project in which paraplegics are able use their thoughts to control an exoskeleton. But Nicolelis went to develop the project in the USbecause the right environment was lacking in Brazil for his research.

When it comes to higher education, Brazil is ranked 13th for global scientific productivity of papers published, but in terms of scientific innovation it is a very low performer.

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At World Cup in Brazil, street art reveals conflicted feelings

July 8, 2014

Rick Maese and Dom Phillips – The Washington Post, 7/7/2014

 On a recent sunny afternoon, Steve Johnson, a tourist from Salt Lake City strolling through Rio’s colorful Santa Teresa neighborhood, stopped in his tracks and whipped out his camera. Across the street was a fanciful mural featuring the Brazilian soccer team. Players fill a street car, as Neymar hoists the World Cup trophy and Argentinian rival Lionel Messi covers a face filled with tears.

“I think it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in all my time here,” said Johnson, 48.

There’s plenty to compare it to. On the walls and buildings and in the hearts of many, the World Cup exists in bright bold colors — a celebration of a game, a team and a nation. For others, though, it’s more crude, angry, dark and even vulgar.

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African Students Thrive in Brazil

June 27, 2014

Nicolas Pinault – Voice of America, 6/26/2014

Brazil is not only a dream destination for soccer fans from all over the world. The emerging power is also receiving more and more students from Africa. The country is more accessible than the U.S. or Europe, and African students can find better infrastructure here than they can at home.

With almost 40,000 students, the University of Brasilia is an institution in Brazil’s capital city.  Among them are a hundred or so Africans who came to try the Brazilian adventure.  Most of them are from Angola or Cape Verde, but you also find some Francophones from Ivory Coast and Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Here you have more facilities for the students, like the library,” said Congolese student Morgan Tshipampa Nganga Mayoyi.  “Many other things you do not have at UNIKIN [University of Kinshasa]. The Brazilian government also helps the students with grants.  So we have better conditions here than in Congo.”

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From Bootblack To Master Of Moneymaking: Meet Brazil’s Newest Billionaire

June 27, 2014

Anderson Antunes – Forbes, 6/27/2014

Public servants are notoriously underpaid and sometimes even unpaid for long periods in many countries across the world. Not in Brazil, though, where those who work for the government have stability in the service established by the Federal Constitution and are frequently paid more than their private sector counterparts. As a result, many Brazilian graduates fresh out of college don’t think twice before applying for an entrance examination known as “Concurso Publico,” or “Public Contest,” through which candidates for public office are selected to be hired.

It is such a competitive process — just last year some 12 million Brazilians applied for 120,000 public service vacancies — that an entire industry offering everything from books to preparatory courses has formed to attend them.

But few people have profited as much from that as Jose Janguie Bezerra Diniz, the founder and principal shareholder of Ser Educacional, a Brazilian education company. Founded in 1994 in Recife, northeastern Brazil, Ser Educacional started its activities by providing courses that prepared students who were seeking public-servant opportunities. In 2003, the company began to offer undergraduate, graduate and technical education to mid-and lower-income students, and it now operates several campuses under the brand names of Faculdade Mauricio de Nassau and Faculdade Joaquim Nabuco.

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Student Loans Give Rise to Hidden Billionaire in Brazil

June 24, 2014

Blake Schmidt – Bloomberg, 6/24/2014

A month after Dilma Rousseff took office in January 2011, the Brazilian president vowed to step up subsidized loans for students attending the nation’s for-profit universities. The initiative was a bid to expand access to training for an emerging middle class that grew by 40 million people in a decade.

Since then, about 8 million people have received state-sponsored scholarships and another 1 million were approved for student loans. The demand has been a boon for Brazilian school operator Ser Educacional SA (SEER3) and its founder, Janguie Diniz. Since the company’s October initial public offering, Brazil’s largest for an education company, the stock has surged 44 percent, making the 50-year-old a billionaire.

“Those programs are extremely important, because most of the students are young and can’t afford to pay,” Diniz said in a phone interview from his office in Recife. “I was never really interested in becoming a billionaire but in doing the work that needs to be done on education.”

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Andres Oppenheimer: World Cup has been a failure for Brazil

June 23, 2014

Andres Oppenheimer – Miami Herald, 6/21/2014

The World Cup is far from over, but it’s not too early to declare it a failure for Brazil: The country has missed a golden opportunity to rebrand itself as an emerging technological power, and to upgrade its stereotype of being the nation of carnival, beaches and soccer.

Here are some of the stories you are not hearing from the more than 5,000 journalists from 70 countries who have traveled to Brazil to cover the world’s biggest sporting event, and who in recent weeks — before the opening of the games — have written extensively about the country:

• Brazil is one of the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers. It’s Embraer aircraft maker is the world leader in production of mid-size passenger planes, which it sells to American Airlines, United Airlines, Air France, Lufthansa and nearly 80 other commercial airlines.

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