Pagina Principal

English Report

The country has more than 42 million people above the age of 10 who cannot read or write in their day-to-day life, which represents 31.4% of the population in this age group. In 2001, 49.8% of teachers for basic schooling had not completed higher learning, and 3.1% of them had basic schooling as their only education, completed or not. The worst levels are in the Northern region: 78.2% don't have higher education and 8.3% don't have basic education. Docents in the Northeast make 44% less than the national average salary. In considering the indigenous population, the level of exclusion can be seen in the amount of resources devoted to this category in 2003: 0.001% of the federal budget for education.

Access to education in Brazil
is still not universal

Sergio Haddad 1
Mariâgela Graciano 2

There were no changes to educational policy in 2003 that resulted in changes to the educational system or that could have altered statistics in this area.

The legacy left for the Lula administration in the area of education demonstrates that despite an increase in the availability of basic education registered in the past years, the country has yet to achieve even universal access for the population between 7 and 14 years of age: in 2000, 98.9% of this population were enrolled in basic schooling, meaning that over 280 thousand people in this age group were out of school. Fourteen percent of children between 7 and 9 do not attend school in the Northeast, a statistic that rises to 15.6% in the North. If we consider the group between 10 and 14, the national level for children out of school is 6.39% -- 14% for the North and Northeast regions. Twenty-six percent of Brazilian children do not attend pre-school (ages between 5 and 6).

There has been a higher increase in attendance for high school in relation to other education levels in the past ten years: from 1991 to 2000 enrollment increased 117.31%, while for basic schooling it increased 22.31%. Despite this increase, the levels are still very low: in 2000, only 40.1% of the population above 14 attended high school.

In addition to not reaching everyone, the increase in attendance for basic education was not followed by an increase in the quality of the education. A higher number of students per class, less time for classes, teachers' low qualification, low level of professionalism and low salaries, inadequate installations, and a lack of teaching materials become factors that impede a satisfactory performance of teachers as well as students.

The conditions described above have caused high levels of students dropping out or being held back - 19.5% in Brazil. These indicators show a huge discrepancy between the supply and the demand, and confirm the regional differences: the highest levels of students dropping out or being held back appear in the North, with 27.3%, and the Northeast, with 27.5%.

The large number of children and teenagers outside the school system, combined with the slowing down of education caused by the number of students dropped out or held back, lead to high levels of discrepancies between age and grade. In 2001, the level of discrepancy between age and grade was 50% for 5th grade; 45.7% for 8th grade; 58% for the 1st grade of high school and 50.8% for the 3rd grade of high school.

The low educational average in the country caused by this situation can be verified by the high level of functional illiteracy. Added to the number of completely illiterates, there are 42,844,220 people above 10 years of age who cannot make use of reading or writing in their daily life, representing 31.4% of the population in this age group. The Northeast once again shows the highest levels: 17.92% of the people in this age group are completely illiterate (more than three times that of the South) and 28.93% are functionally illiterate.

Another factor that needs to be considered when analyzing the quality of public education is the teacher, including their education, career, and salary. According to statistics from the Department of Education/National Institute for Educational Study and Research (MEC/INEP), for all of Brazil in 2001, 49.8% of teachers for basic schooling had not completed higher education, which is considered adequate for teaching at this level. Of those, 3.1% had only basic education, completed or not. Regionally, the worst level is in the North, with 78.2% of teachers without higher education and 8.3% without basic education, followed by the Northeast, with 70.7% and 6.3% respectively.

Teacher's salaries, beside being very low, once again show regional discrepancies, without there being a national standard or single career track, leaving them at the mercy of economic conditions of regions, states and municipalities. Teachers in the Northeast make approximately 43.9% less than the national average for their category. In addition, many schools do not have adequate for good education. In 2001, 44.4% of students in basic schooling had no access to a library and 62.4% had no access to sports facilities.

The data from IBGE also reveal that the progress made in education for Brazilians has not change the level of inequality for the most vulnerable groups. According to a study by the Brazilian Women´s Network (Articulação de Mulheres Brasileiras), in 2001 the level of illiteracy lowered for everyone, but in 1999 it was still considerably higher for blacks (20%) than for whites (8.3%). In that same year, while whites had on average 6.7 years of education, the average level for blacks was 4.5 years.

Between 1992 and 1999, the percentage of people between 14 and 17 years of age who did not attend school fell from 35.8% to 18.3%, but comparing whites and blacks, the level for the former lowered from 31% to 15.6% and for the latter from 40.6% to 21%, preserving the inequality.

In 2001 the National Education Plan, following guidelines from the World Health Organization, estimated that there are 15 million Brazilians with special needs. However, in 1999 there were 293,403 enrollments from that group, with 58% having mental disabilities; 13.8% with multiple disabilities; 12% hearing impaired; 3.1% seeing impaired and 4.5% with physical disabilities. In that same year, of the 5,507 municipalities, 59.1% did not offer Special Education. In the Northeast, 78.3% of the municipalities did not offer them, compared to 41.9% in the Southern region.

In relation to the indigenous population, the intensity of exclusion can be seen in the minuscule resources devoted to this category in 2003: 0.001% (R$ 250 thousand) of the national budget for education (roughly R$14.9 billion). In general, the rural population receives less support for education. Black women have fewer educational opportunities. While white women have literacy and education levels of 90% and 83%, respectively, black women have levels of 78% and 76%.


The only recent innovative educational policy has been in relation to teaching teenagers and adults to read and write-a task that is now controlled by the program Brasil Alfabetizado (Literate Brazil), officially launched by the government in September 2003, with the goal of educating 20 million people in four years, in partnership with private organizations, while utilizing various methods.

The first result of this initiative was to put the right to education for teenagers and adults in the national debate. Historically, this category of education has been handled by the government as a compensational policy, or a type of assistance, rather than a basic human right. In the recent past, former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso vetoed this category of education from benefiting from a universal policy by limiting its access to resources from the Fund for Development and Maintenance of Basic Education and Teaching Values - Fundef. At the same time, he encouraged a compensatory policy through the Programa Alfabetização Solidária (Program for Literacy through Solidarity).

However, beyond teaching teenagers and adults to read and write, it is necessary to guarantee that these segments of the population have access to continued education, as it is required by the 1988 Constitution. In order to do this, it is necessary to give this group access to Fundef, lifting the former president's veto and forcing states and municipalities to consider this population in their educational systems. Without the guarantee for continued education, the most that can be achieved is an increase in the level of functional illiteracy.

It is also necessary to combine these measures with other policies of inclusion, since education alone does not result in personal and social development: it does not guarantee land, work, food or housing.

1. National investigator for Direito à Educação (Right to Education), executive secretary for the NGO Ação Educativa and professor at PUC-SP.

2. Auditor for National Investigator for Direito à Educação.