The ENEM: a giant bottleneck for Brazil

Marcelo Knobel – Inside Higher Ed, 10/31/2015

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.

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Brazil’s science sector undergoes worst crisis in 20 years

Herton Escobar – O Estado de S. Paulo, 8/30/2015

With no federal funds, agencies cancel notices and delay payment of projects

The economic crisis that is troubling Brazil has not only caused fiscal adjustments, but has also caused cuts to the budgets of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) and to the Ministry of Education (MEC), of 25% and 9%, respectively.

The sector also suffers with the losses of oil royalties and with the plunder of resources reserved for research, which were used as payment for scholarships of the Brazilian program “Science Without Borders” [Ciencia Sem Fronteiras]. In 2014 alone, the program drained R$2.5 billion out of the National Development Fund for Science and Technology (FNDCT).

The atmosphere is the worst it’s been in the past 20 years, according to the president of the Brazilian Society for Science Progress, Helena Nader. Without cash in stock, funding agencies are cancelling notices and delaying payment of thousands of projects.

The cause of the problem lies within the FNDCT, a huge sectorial funds portfolio, which is the main funding resource in the country designed for research. With the 2014 changes in oil royalties’ distribution, the pre-salt resources that nourished the Sectorial Fund for Petroleum (CT-Petro) began to flow to the Social Fund, which is not a part of FNDCT and is not dedicated to science. With this, the amount collected by CT-Petro fell from R$1.4 billion in 2013 to R$140 million in 2014 – and probably won’t even reach R$30 million this year.

FNDCT’s total amount collected therefore also fell from R$4.5 billion in 2013 to R$3.2 billion in 2014; and over R$1 billion of this amount was reserved for the “Science without Borders” program. This scenario is aggravated by the appreciation of the dollar against the Brazilian real, and by recession, which reduce tax collections and impact the budget of foundations that support research.

The National Counsel for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq)’s budget this year foresees a transfer of R$1,22 billion from FNDCT, but only one fourth of this (R$330 million) was received thus far. The Counsel is delaying notice payments approved last year and cancelling or postponing new openings. Only six notices were opened this year, compared to 51 in 2014 and 91 in 2013.

Many scientists are waiting for payments and financing for their approved projects. They remain in line, but having to pay these researches out of their own pockets. Thus, “the priority right now is to pay what is owed before launching new things,” says Olivia, former president of CNPq.

In the academic sphere, in order to refrain from canceling scholarships, a department of the MEC had to cut 100% of capital resources and 75% of the cost of funds for post-grad programs across the country. “We had to adjust to our new reality,” says the director of the Programs and Scholarships of the MEC, Marcio de Castro Silva.

Read article in Portuguese here

Brazil’s Amazon city of Manaus sees surge in violence

BBC News, 7/21/2015

They began after a police officer was shot dead outside a bank. Several killings happened at almost exactly the same time, suggesting co-ordination.

Officials are investigating whether they may be part of a drug gang war or the result of police officers avenging the death of their colleague.There are normally between two and three murders a day in the city.

The nature of the shootings has raised suspicions of police involvement.Local officials say that another possible explanation could be local drug gangs settling scores.

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Bertelsmann sets up Brazil fund in education push

Harro ten Wolde and Georgina Prodhan – Reuters, 7/16/2015

German media company Bertelsmann is putting up as much as 100 million euros ($109 million) to set up a fund to invest in education companies in Brazil, it said on Thursday.

Bertelsmann wants to make education a third pillar of its business alongside media and services, aiming to grab a billion-euro slice of the fragmented $5.5 trillion global market in which the biggest single player is Britain’s Pearson .

Europe’s largest media group, which controls broadcaster RTL and book publisher Penguin Random House, said it would take nearly 40 percent in the fund with a target endowment of 800 million Brazilian real ($255 million).

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Brazil: man’s lynching compared to slave flogging

Emmanuelle Saliba – NBC News, 7/10/2015

A shocking newspaper cover – comparing a recent lynching to the treatment of slaves – has gone viral in Brazil.

“From trunk to pole,” declared the cover headline of the newspaper “Extra,” comparing a 200-year-old public slave flogging to the lynching Monday of Cleidenilson Pereira da Silva.

According to reports, residents took matters into their own hands in São Luís, a city located in northern Brazil, after da Silva, 29, and a teenager attempted to rob a bar. Silva was caught, stripped naked, tied to a pole and beaten to death, the O Estado newspaper reported. Angry residents also threw a variety of objects at him, including stones and bottles. The teenager was brutally beaten.

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Brazil’s prison system faces ‘profound deterioration’ if youth crime law passes

Bruce Douglas – The Guardian, 6/29/2015

Brazil’s justice minister has described his country’s violent and overcrowded prison system as “terrible” and warned that it will only get worse if congress votes this week to lower the age of criminal responsibility.

José Eduardo Cardozo ordered the early publication of a justice ministry report on prison overcrowding ahead of a vote on Tuesday over legislation which would reduce the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16 for serious offences involving violence.

The new statistics show that Brazil’s prison population has doubled in the last 10 years and now contains more than 220,000 inmates over its capacity. Lowering the age of criminal responsibility will add up to 40,000 more inmates to the system, Cardozo said.

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Another defeat for Brazil’s kids

Vanessa Barbara – The New York Times, 6/25/2015

This month, public school teachers from the state of São Paulo announced the end of their three-month-long strike — without any of their demands having been met. For the first time since it began, the strike reached the front page of a major newspaper; it had been mostly neglected until then. The headline declared: “Defeated, São Paulo’s Teachers Put an End to Their Strike.”

It was the longest teachers’ strike in the state. They maintained to the end their demand of pay parity with other college-educated professionals — which would ultimately have meant a 75 percent salary increase. This is a steep rise in public salaries, but the parity principle is part of the National Educational Plan, a law adopted last year with support from President Dilma Rousseff. According to that plan, parity is to be achieved by 2020.

The teachers also demanded smaller classes, with at most 25 students. The secretary of education stipulates a maximum of 40 students in high school classes, but last February, at the beginning of the school year, there were accounts of classes with 85 or 95 enrolled students. As if that weren’t bad enough, the state government shut down more than 3,000 classes this year, according to the teachers’ union for São Paulo State.

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