Understanding how the education system works is the first step towards investing in improving the quality of education in the country.
Education is part of the lives of most Brazilians. Not by chance, it is seen as the main tool for the individual’s personal and professional development. Even so, the functioning of the Brazilian educational system is an unknown for many citizens.
Education alone will not solve all the country’s social problems, but it is undoubtedly one of the fundamental pillars in the development of critical citizens who are committed to improving society as a whole.
That is why understanding the functioning of this educational ecosystem is so important: so that managers, educators and citizens can demand from the State the right to a quality education.
Check out in this article how the Brazilian education system works and what is the current situation of education in Brazil.
1 → What is education
The education is a right of every Brazilian citizen, but it was not always like that. It was only recognized in this way in the Federal Constitution of 1988 — before that, the State did not assume the obligation to guarantee quality public education for the population.
We can look at education as a means of transferring our knowledge across generations. More than guaranteeing the personal and professional development of each individual, it also influences the way our society collectively evolves. And as society changes, the educational process changes as well.
It is the duty of the Public Power to develop laws and public policies that promote education, as well as to protect and monitor this right. Citizens, in turn, have the role of demanding this return from the competent authorities. After all, in a country marked by inequalities, education acts as a fundamental instrument in building a more egalitarian society.
2 → How the Brazilian education system works
The Brazilian Educational System is regulated by the Federal Constitution of 1988 and by the Law of Directives and Bases of National Education (LDB), instituted by law nº 9394, of 1996. It is from these that the government maintains educational programs designed from the National Base Curricular Common (BNCC).
Currently, it is organized into Education Systems of the Union, the States, the Federal District and the Municipalities. Early childhood education (for children from 0 to 3 years old) and elementary education (from 6 to 14 years old) are the responsibility of the municipalities, while the States and the Federal District act on secondary education (from 15 to 17 years old) and part of the fundamental. Together, they make up basic education, which is mandatory.
Higher Education (comprising undergraduate and graduate courses) is the responsibility of the federal government, which also provides technical and financial assistance related to basic education for the States, Federal District and Municipalities.
As higher education courses are optional, the State does not need to guarantee that all citizens take them, but it needs to guarantee their public and free access.
Also part of formal Education are EJA (Youth and Adult Education), special education (aimed at people with special needs), professional education and technical education (which has regular high school as a prerequisite).
In addition to the Municipal and state Education Departments and Councils, the Brazilian education system is also regulated by the Ministry of Education (MEC) and the National Education Council (CNE).
3 → Education in Brazil today
The education scenario in the country is not very encouraging. In the 2020 World Competitiveness Yearbook (WCY) released in June this year, Brazil ranked last in the education factor. The country dropped two positions compared to 2019, ranking 63rd.
When we talk about spending on education in relation to the Brazilian Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the percentage is similar to that of rich countries, reaching 6%.
The amount spent per student, however, is well below that of other countries: while in Brazil the investment is US$ 2,165, the general average reaches US$ 6,363 per student.
This is also reflected in the percentage of Brazilians aged between 25 and 34 who reach higher education: while the world average is 42.8%, the Brazilian average does not exceed 19.6%.
The illiteracy rate among people aged 15 and over, although improving in recent years, is still far from ideal. In 2019, according to the Continuous National Household Sample Survey (PNAD Contínua), the percentage of illiterate Brazilians in this age group reached 6.6% (approximately 11 million Brazilians).
The region with the highest rate was the Northeast, with 13.9%, and among black or brown people the rate was more than double that recorded among white people (8.9% and 3.6%, respectively).
Since 2019, the Brazilian Education System has gone through a series of setbacks that end up reflecting directly on the quality of teaching in the classroom.
Exchanges at the Ministry of Education, contingency of MEC funds, frozen resources and cuts in master’s, doctoral and postdoctoral scholarships at federal universities and the coronavirus pandemic were just some of them.
Added to this, known problems such as the lack of infrastructure in schools and the devaluation of teachers make the path towards a quality education system even more difficult.
National system or Education System?
The National Education System, or SNE, is not the same thing as an Education System. While an educational system concerns the organization of education in the country (contents, training stages, etc.), the national system organizes the responsibilities for education throughout the country.
In other words, it organizes and distributes the functions among the Municipalities, States and the Union. But it goes beyond that: the SNE also has the function of determining how these three spheres of government should work together for Brazilian education.
Currently, there is no national system that coordinates and distributes responsibilities for Brazilian Education, but that does not mean that its creation is not debated.