This time of the year is critical for millions of students all over Brazil. The entrance examinations season for higher education starts with the National High School Examination (ENEM), organized by the Ministry of Education.
The ENEM was originally introduced to assess the quality of secondary-level education in the country, but it has evolved to a content test now used for other purposes. These include being used as an admissions test to the main federal universities and other public institutions, as a strong influence on the distribution of financial support to students, and as a requirement for fellowships and programs such as the Science Without Borders program.
There are almost 8 million students enrolled for this year’s exam, who are competing for approximately 250 thousand places in the federal higher education system, the so-called Unified Selection System (SISU). This examination is given simultaneously throughout the whole country, in the old style of printed examination copies requiring hand-written responses; this presents many logistical challenges and represents an enormous cost. Furthermore, the concept of the exam itself has proven detrimental to secondary education, as brilliantly discussed by Simon Schwartzman in a recent blog post.