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English Report

If it is true that all initiatives that promote affirmative action policies at any teaching level should be valued, it is also true that any mechanism that implies the support of private initiative by the public sector in education can occur only for limited periods of time as an emergency measure, based upon a clear plan to offer quality public education to everyone.


Education in Brazil in the Lula government:

A brief assessment

* Sergio Haddad and Mariângela Graciano


  This article deals generally with the educational policies of the federal government in Brazil from the period of January 2003 to September 2004, and how the Right to Education has been handled by Lula’s government.

 The Brazilian government, through the Education Ministry, has made it a priority to take action to democratize access to education at all levels by continuing the Literacy Brazil program, by creating laws aimed at implementing university reform, and by creating the Fund for the Maintenance and Development of Basic Education (FUNDEB).

 The Literacy Brazil program is an advance over the literacy campaigns and programs promoted in the country since the 1940’s and specifically compared to the Literacy Solidarity Program, the only federal government initiative between 1998 and 2002.

 To begin with, the Literacy Brazil program is a government initiative, as opposed to the earlier program, which left civil society responsible for a right that can only be realized by the effective action of the State. Furthermore, the Literacy Brazil program was developed in a more democratic format. It provides for social control mechanisms, not only regarding their associations, but also in relation to the identification of participants and the evolution of the program’s scope. The earlier program (Solidarity Literacy) was inadequately launched with the intention of eradicating illiteracy. It announced 20 million illiterate teenagers and adults, when this number is really no more than 15 million. Furthermore, it set an expectation of participation without creating the necessary conditions. There were no studies on the mechanism for participation, mainly in the contracts with private groups, nor was there an analysis of the existing initiatives in the public education system for the targeted social group.

 However, the allocated resources are still insufficient to achieve the announced target. The Literacy Brazil program aided 1.92 million teenagers and adults who have little or no formal education, deploying a total of R$175 million (US$58 million*) in 2003. In addition to the programs produced with resources from the Ministry of Education, other groups such as NGOs also created literacy projects, totaling 3.2 million people that year. The target for 2004 is to aid 1.65 million illiterates, with an investment of R$168 million (US$56 million*).

 In 2004, with a new minister in place, the debate about education has focused on educational reform at the university level, the University Program for All (PRO-UNI), in addition to the quota system at federal institutions of higher education. The bill that creates PRO-UNI is being assessed by the National Congress. It would place students from public schools whose family income is less than the minimum wage and elementary school teachers with no higher education into a portion of the 550,000 openings in private higher education institutions. It also proposes that philanthropic institutions of higher education should designate the 20% allowance, already required by law, in exchange for the exclusive tax exemption established by the Federal Constitution for scholarships.

 In addition, profit and non-profit institutions, which adhere to PRO-UNI will offer 10% of their openings for free in exchange for exemption of certain taxes. 

 The Special System of Reserved Seats which is part of Higher Education Reform provides that 50% of openings in public universities should be assigned to students who have attended middle school in public schools. Through this quota, seats to Blacks and Indigenous people are provided in accordance to their proportion in each State, by determination of the census of the IBGE (Brazilian Geographic and Statistics Institute).

 Federal Law 10.639/2003 was enacted during the first days of Lula’s government. It establishes required studies in Afro-Brazilian and African History and Culture at the basic education level. Along with this requirement, the initiative of introducing the quota system in Brazilian universities goes beyond the State’s recognition of ethnic race inequalities, and for the first time, affirmative action suits are being filed in order to overcome these inequalities.

 In this regard, PRO-UNI is also attempting to overcome the exclusion of the poor population from education, and to provide opportunities for professional qualification.

 Nevertheless, restrained by insufficient financial resources assigned for such a level of education, the effectiveness of the program is based on the controversial relationship between the public and private sectors, where the State, through a targeted tax cut, transfers resources to private entities in exchange for an increase in openings offered, based on information about their availability. This originates from the uncontrolled and unplanned stimulus to the expansion of openings in private universities promoted by Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s previous government, completely abandoning the public universities.

 If it is true that all initiatives that promote affirmative action policies at any teaching level should be valued, it is also true that any mechanism that implies the support of private initiative by the public sector in education can occur only for limited periods of time as an emergency measure, based upon a clear plan to offer quality public education to everyone.

 The third initiative that impacts education deals with the creation of the Fund for Basic Education and Development (FUNDEB), also moving through the National Congress. The initiative should replace the Fund for Development of Basic Teaching (FUNDEF), implemented since 1998 with the objective of financing only elementary school for children from 7 to 14 years old, excluding all other levels and modalities of basic education, such as childhood education and middle school, as well as education of youth and adults. Nowadays, the FUNDEF aids 32 million students. With the creation of FUNDEB, the forecast is that more than 47 million students, registered in childhood education, elementary and middle schools at the municipal and state level, in all modalities of teaching (education of youngsters and adults, special education, indigenous education, professional education and rural education) will be aided.

 The logic remains the same: for states that cannot, by their own means, make available minimal investments per student in municipal and state educational levels, resources will be complemented by the Federal Government.

 This program is also imbued with the logic of inclusion, incorporating sectors that were excluded by the previous government’s proposal. However, the Education Ministry does not present data indicating that the amount of resources necessary to sustain the program in the medium and long term is guaranteed. Another aspect strongly criticized in the proposal is the possibility that this Fund will also finance university studies, thus dividing up the sparse resources even more.

 All these initiatives illustrate the impasse within the present administration. These programs are based upon the principles of the universal right to education and the need to overcome inequalities, but there is a lack of resources caused mainly by the maintenance of the economic policies of previous governments. Constrained by so-called “political governability”, the present government continues to make agreements with multilateral financial institutions, keeping a rigorous adjustment policy, with high interest rates and financial guarantees to the market through a primary surplus that takes away from the social budget a substantial portion of the resources necessary to implement basic rights.

 While there is a lack of resources to effectively implement the announced programs, Brazil’s economy has been registering a progressive increase in its primary surplus beyond the absurd target agreed to this year with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of R$56,9 billion (US$19 billion*). This amount would be enough to multiply the Education Ministry’s budget, reviewed for 2004 at R$6 billion (US$2 billion) and budgeted at R$7,6 billion (US$2,5 billion) for 2005.


* Sérgio Haddad – relator nacional para o Direito à Educação; Mariângela Graciano – assessora da Relatoria Nacional para o Direito à Educação