Education in Brazil

Education in Brazil

Education in Brazil is regulated by the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Education, which defines the guiding principles for the organization of educational programs. Local governments are responsible for establishing state and educational programs following the guidelines and using the funding supplied by the Federal Government. Brazilian children must attend school a minimum of 9 years, however the schooling is usually inadequate.

The 1988 Brazilian Constitution states that "education" is "a right for all, a duty of the State and of the family, and is to be promoted with the collaboration of society, with the objective of fully developing the person, preparing the individual for the exercise of citizenship and qualifying him/her for work".

The National Educational Bases and Guidelines Law enacted in 1961 says that, "national education, inspired in the principles of freedom and in the ideals of human solidarity, has the purpose of:
*understanding individual rights and responsibilities, as well as those of citizens, the State and other community groups;
*respecting man's dignity and fundamental freedoms;
*strengthening national unity and international solidarity;
*integral development of the human personality and his/her participation in the work towards common welfare;
*preparing individuals and society to master scientific and technological resources which will allow the use existing possibilities to common welfare;
*protecting, disseminating and expanding cultural heritage;
*condemning any unequal treatment resulting from philosophical, political or religious belief, as well as any social classes or racial prejudices.


When Kingdom of Portugal's explorers discovered Brazil in the 15th century and started to colonize its new pocessions in the New World, the territory was inhabited by various indigenous peoples and tribes which had not developed neither a writing system nor school education.

The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) was since its beginnings in 1540, a missionary order. Evangelisation was one of the main goals of the Jesuits, but they were also committed to teaching and education, both in Europe and overseas. The missionary activities, both in the cities and in the countryside, were complemented by a strong commitment to education. This took the form of the opening of schools for young boys, first in Europe, but rapidly extended to America and Asia. The foundation of Catholic missions, schools, and seminaries was another consequence of the Jesuit involvement in education. As the spaces and cultures where the Jesuits were present varied considerably, their evangelising methods were very often quite different from one place to another. However, the Society's engagement in trade, architecture, science, literature, languages, arts, music and religious debate corresponded, in fact, to the same main purpose of Christianisation. By the middle of the 16th century the Jesuits were present in West Africa, South America, Ethiopia, India, China, and Japan. This enlargement of their missionary activities took shape to a large extent within the framework of the Portuguese Empire.

In a period of history when the world had a largely illiterate population, the Portuguese Empire, was, however, home to one of the first universities founded in Europe - the University of Coimbra, which currently is still one of the oldest universities in continuous operation. Throughout the centuries of Portuguese rule, Brazilian students, mostly graduated in the Jesuit missions and seminaries, were allowed and even encouraged to enroll at higher education in mainland Portugal.

The Jesuits, a religious order founded to promote the cause and teachings of Catholicism, had gained influence with the Portuguese crown and over education, and had began missionary work in Portugal's overseas possessions, including the colony of Brazil. By 1700, and reflecting a larger transformation of the Portuguese Empire, the Jesuits had decisively shifted from the East Indies to Brazil. In the late 18th century, Portuguese minister of the kingdom Marquis of Pombal attacked the power of the privileged nobility and the church, and expelled the Jesuits from Portugal and its overseas possessions. Pombal seized the Jesuit schools and introduced educational reforms all over the empire. In Brazil, the reforms were also noted. In 1772, even before the establishment of the Science Academy of Lisbon (1779), one of the first learned societies of both Brazil and the Portuguese Empire was founded in Rio de Janeiro - it was the "Sociedade Scientifica". Also, in 1797, the first botanic institute was founded in Salvador, Bahia. During the late 18th century, the "Escola Politécnica" (then the "Real Academia de Artilharia, Fortificação e Desenho") of Rio de Janeiro was created in 1792 through a decree issued by the Portuguese authorities as an higher education school for the teaching of the sciences and engineering. It belongs today to the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and is the oldest engineering school of Brazil, and one of the oldest in Latin America.

A royal letter of November 20, 1800 by the King John VI of Portugal established the "Aula Prática de Desenho e Figura" in Rio de Janeiro. It was the first institution in Brazil systematically dedicated to teaching the arts. During colonial times, the arts were mainly of religious or utilitarian nature and were learnt in a system of apprenticeship. A Decree of August 12, 1816 created the "Escola Real de Ciências, Artes e Ofícios" (Royal School of Sciences, Arts and Crafts), which established an official education in the fine arts and built the foundations of the current Escola Nacional de Belas Artes.

In the 19th century, the Portuguese royal family, headed by D. João VI, arrived in Rio de Janeiro, escaping from the Napoleon's army invasion of Portugal in 1807. D. João VI gave impetus to the expansion of European civilization to Brazil. In a short period (between 1808 and 1810, the Portuguese government founded the Royal Naval Academy and the Royal Military Academy (both military schools), the Biblioteca Nacional, the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden, the Medico-Chirurgical School of Bahia, currently known as Faculdade de Medicina under harbour of Universidade Federal da Bahia and the Medico-Chirurgical School of Rio de Janeiro (Faculdade de Medicina of Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro).

Brazil achieved independence in 1822, and until the 20th century, it was a large rural nation with low social and economic standards comparing to the average North American and European realities at the time. Its economy was based on the primary sector, possessing an unskilled and increasingly larger workforce, composed by both free people (including slave owners) and slaves or their direct descendants. Among the first law schools founded in Brazil, were the ones in Recife and São Paulo in 1827, but for decades to come, most Brazilian lawyers still studied at European universities, such as in the ancient University of Coimbra, in Portugal, which had awarded all type of degrees to several generations of Brazilian students since the 16th century.

With the massive post-war expansion that lasts to date, the government focused on strengthening Brazil's tertiary education, while simultaneously neglecting assistance to primary and secondary education. [ [ Educação ] ]

Today, Brazil struggles to improve the public education offered at earlier stages and maintain the high standards that the population has come to expect from public universities. The choice on public funding is an issue. In particular, the U.N. Development Goal of Universal Primary Education and a larger offer of education for students with special needs are pursued by Brazilian policy-makers. [ [ Plano Nacional de Educação Especial - Ministry of Education] ]

Despite its shortcomings, Brazil has progressed substantially since the 1980s. The nation witnessed an increase in school enrollment for children aged 7-14, from 80.9% in 1980 to 96.4% in the year 2000. In the 15-17 age demographics, in the same time period, this rate rose from 49.7% to 83%. [ [ Edudata Brasil] ] Literacy rates went up, from 75% to 86.4%. [ [ COELHO DE SOUZA, Marcos Medeiros. "O Analfabetismo no Brasil sob o Enfoque Demográfico". Ipea. Brasília, 1999] ] [ IBGE] ]


As a large middle-income country, Brazil still has several underdeveloped regions. Its educational system is accordingly plagued by many deficiencies and racial and regional disparities. [ [ Universidade de Brasília - Assessoria de Comunicação] ] [ IBGE] ] [ [ Política Educacional - O Desafio da Qualidade] ] [ [ BRNOrdeste - "Campanha propõe investimento de mais R$ 24 bi por ano em educação"] ]

As of 2002:
*Literacy rates of 88.2% for people aged 15 or older
*6.2 years of formal education, on average. (Compare with 12 years in the U.S., 11 in South Korea and 8 in Argentina):8.4 years for white people, 6.1 years for black people:5.1 years in the Northeast "versus" 7.2 years in the Southeast and 6.9 years in the South.

As of 2006:
*The nation invests 4.3% of GDP on Education - the federal government aims to increase gradually this number to 7%.

Organization and structure

Education is divided into three levels, with several grades in each division. Fundamental education (the first educational level) is free for everyone (including adults), and mandatory for children between the ages of 6-14. Secondary education is also free, but it is not mandatory. Higher education (including graduate degrees) is free at public universities.

Pre-School education (Educação Infantil)

Pre-School education is entirely optional, and exists to aid in the development of children under 6. It aims to assist in all areas of child development, including motor skills, cognitive skills, and social skills while providing fertile ground for the later acquisition of knowledge and learning. There are day nurseries for children under 2, kindergartens for 2-3 year olds, and preschools for children 4 and up.

Fundamental Education (Ensino Fundamental)

Fundamental Education is mandatory for children ages 6-14. There are 9 "years" (as opposed to the former 8 "grades"). [ [ Folha OnLine] ] The current "First Year" broadly corresponds to the former Pre-School last year of private institutions, and its aim is to achieve literacy. Generally speaking, the only prerequisite for enrolling in first year is that a child should be 6 years old, but some educational systems allow children younger than 6 to enroll in first year (as long as they turn 6 during the first academic semester). Older students who, for whatever reason have not completed their fundamental education are allowed to attend, though those over 18 are separated from the younger children.

The Federal Council of Education ("Conselho Federal de Educação") sets a core curriculum consisting of Portuguese, History, Geography, Science, Mathematics, Arts and Physical Education (for years 2, 3, 4 and 5). As for years 6, 7, 8 and 9, one or two foreign languages are also compulsory (usually English and also Spanish).

Each educational system supplements this core curriculum with a diversified curriculum defined by the needs of the region and the abilities of individual students.

Fundamental Education is divided in two stages, called "Ensino Fundamental I" (years 1-5) and "Ensino Fundamental II" (years 6-9). During "Ensino Fundamental I" each group of students is usually assisted by a single teacher. As for "Ensino Fundamental II", there are as many teachers as subjects.

The length of the school year is set at at least 200 days by the National Education Bases and Guidelines Law ("Lei de Diretrizes e Bases da Educação"). Fundamental schools must provide students with at least 800 hours of activities per year. The actual school calendar is set by individual schools which, in rural areas, often organize their calendar by sowing and harvesting seasons.

econdary Education (Ensino Médio)

Secondary education takes 3 years. The minimum is 2,200 hours of coursework over 3 years. Students must have finished their Fundamental education before they are allowed to enrol the Ensino Médio. Secondary education core curriculum comprises Portuguese (including Portuguese language, Brazilian and Portuguese literatures), foreign language (usually English, also Spanish and very rarely French today), History, Geography, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Recently Philosophy and Sociology, which were banned during the military dictatorship (1964-1985), became compulsory again.

It is possible to take professional training along with mainstream Secondary education. Such trainings usually last 2 years and can be taken during the 2nd and 3rd years of Secondary education.Some Secondary schools provide professional training in Agriculture. Such schools usually have a greater amount of instruction hours per week and the complete course lasts 3 or 4 years.

Higher Education (Ensino Superior)

Secondary education is mandatory for those wishing to pursue higher education. In addition, students must pass a competitive entrance examination (known as "vestibular") for their specific course of study. The number of candidates per available place in the freshman class may be in excess of 30 or 40 to one in the most competitive courses at the top public universities. In some particular courses with small number of vacancies, this number can be as high as 200 [] .

Higher education in Brazil, as in many nations, can be divided into both undergraduate and graduate work. In addition to providing education, Universities promote research and provide stand-alone classes to the community.

The standard Brazilian undergraduate degree, styled "bacharelado", is awarded in most fields of arts, humanities, social sciences, mathematical sciences, or natural sciences, and normally requires 4 years of post-secondary studies at a certified university. Students who wish to qualify as secondary school teachers must complete a separate licentiate ("licenciatura") degree course, which, like a "bacharelado", also has a normal length of 4 years, but has a stronger emphasis on teaching methods and pedagogy. Five-year degrees leading to a professional diploma are awarded in select state-regulated careers such as architecture, engineering, veterinary medicine, psychology, and law. The professional degree in medicine requires in turn six years of full-time post-secondary studies. "Residência", a two-to-five years internship in a teaching hospital is not required, but it is pursued by many professionals, especially those who wish to specialize in a given area.

Students who hold a four-year bachelor's degree or a five-year professional diploma are qualified for admission into graduate school ("pós-graduação"). Graduate master's degrees are normally awarded following the completion of a two-year program requiring satisfactory performance in a minimum number of advanced graduate courses (typically between five and eight classes), plus the submission by the degree candidate of a master's thesis ("dissertação de mestrado") that is examined by an oral panel of at least three faculty members, including at least one external examiner. Doctoral degrees on the other hand normally require four years of full-time studies during which the degree candidate is required to complete further advanced graduate coursework, pass a doctoral qualifying exam, and submit an extensive doctoral dissertation ("tese de doutorado") that must represent an original and relevant contribution to current knowledge in the field of study to which the dissertation topic belongs. The doctoral dissertation is examined in a final public oral exam administered by a panel of at least five faculty members, two of whom must be external examiners. Results from the dissertation are normally expected to be published in peer-reviewed journals, proceedings of international conferences, and/or in the form of books/book chapters.

Teacher training and qualification

Teacher training is available at universities. A university degree is required however to qualify an individual to teach High School classes (i.e. grades 10-12 in the new 12-year school system, 9-11 in the old system). There are frequent programs for teachers to update their skills.


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