By Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
– COVID risks exacerbating existing education inequalities in Brazil and derailing social and economic progress.
– This moment calls for education systems in Brazil to look forwards, inwards and outwards to accelerate the progress achieved over recent decades.
– Three new OECD reports highlight the strengths, challenges and policy implications of Brazil’s education system.
Over the past year, I have talked to policy makers, school leaders, teachers and students about their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. From Chile to Korea, common issues emerge: an acceleration of digitalisation abounds, yet so do lost learning opportunities and widening inequalities.
Brazil is no exception to this, but there are particularities deserving attention. Over recent decades, education has been an integral part of the country’s progress. Yet, even before the COVID-19 crisis, economic growth and social progress had stalled and, in some cases, reversed. The pandemic has led to over a year of school closures and disrupted provision. It is diminishing the capacity of families, especially the disadvantaged, to support their children’s education, and challenging the ability of government to resource education. The risk is not only an end to further progress but also that achievements could be derailed.
This is a critical moment for education in Brazil. It is a moment that calls for Brazilians to look forwards, towards the education and future they want for their children; to look inwards, learning from past and present experiences; and to look outwards seeking inspiration and insights from international peers.
Looking forwards to a better education system for all
Looking forwards requires a long-term strategic vision for Brazil. It means tackling the deep-rooted challenges of quality and equity head on. In PISA 2018, half of Brazil’s 15-year-olds did not achieve baseline proficiency in reading. Socio-economic disadvantage and a school’s status still have a larger impact on students’ education success than in most OECD countries.
Looking inwards to learn from experience
Looking inwards also offers ways forward. The approval of the Novo Fundeb is a victory for Brazil, and proof of a continued commitment to education and equity. Yet, disadvantaged or rural schools in Brazil are still more likely to face resource shortages than their Brazilian or OECD peers.
Improving the distribution of resources to reach those who need it most and where the biggest gains can be made, will require states and municipalities to rethink their allocation mechanisms, addressing schools’ and students’ different needs. Ceará provides a powerful example, aligning performance- and improvement-focused indicators for inter-governmental transfers with measures to raise literacy. Brazil’s decentralised system offers such opportunities for local innovation; identifying these good practices and replicating them across the system is important work.
Brazil’s decentralised system offers such opportunities for local innovation; identifying these good practices and replicating them across the system is important work
Brazil’s Base Nacional Comum Curricular (BNCC) is crucial in promoting equity and quality by defining the competencies that all students should acquire. School closures have complicated implementation but COVID-19 is also an opportunity to reignite momentum: the BNCC will be crucial for learning recovery. Similarly, the Novo Ensino Médio, promising greater curricular flexibility and labour market relevance, may help re-engage learners after months away from school. But for either of these opportunities to be realised, effective leadership, strong co-operation, transparent communication and consistent monitoring will be required.
Looking outwards to learn from others
Looking outwards can provide inspiration. Successful school systems show us that the quality of a school system depends on the quality of its teachers. Brazil has work to do in this area, selecting and educating teachers carefully, improving the performance of those who are struggling, and structuring teachers’ pay and career trajectories to reflect professional standards. The new National Common Guidelines for Teacher Training are a positive step forwards but complementary efforts will be necessary in the coming years.
Over the last decade, many OECD countries have prioritised early childhood education and care, seeing it as an effective way to level the playing field in education and in life. In Brazil, despite high participation among older children, in 2018, only around two-thirds of 3-year-olds were enrolled at this level, with a concerning gap between the richest and poorest. Quality also needs attention: the impact of participation at this level on future learning outcomes is not as positive in Brazil as on average across the OECD.
If education is to support the country’s development, the progress achieved in the last decades needs not only to be sustained, but also accelerated
There is a lot to do. In 2021, COVID-19 response and recovery will continue to dominate the agenda. But, if education is to support the country’s development, the progress achieved in the last decades needs not only to be sustained, but also accelerated. Brazil needs to balance the urgent and the important, considering immediate priorities and longer-term structural reforms as part of a coherent recovery strategy.
- Report | Education in Brazil: An international perspective
- OECD Education Policy Outlook: Brazil country profile (national and subnational policies)
- OECD Education Policy Outlook: Brazil country profile (international policies)
This blog post was originally published in Portuguese as an op-ed article in Estado de São Paulo newspaper on 30 June 2021