The Education System in Brazil1
Through the advice of the Brazilian Ministry of Education, the national government is responsible for legislating on the Guidelines and Bases for national education, coordinating and developing Federal Education Plans, and providing technical and financial aid to the states, the federal district and the municipalities for the development of their educational systems and for priority assistance to compulsory schooling.
Education System in Brazil: Goals and ObjectivesThe general goals and objectives of the Brazilian education system are represented in specific statutory laws. Specifically, the National Educational Bases and Guidelines Law, enacted in 1961 and later amended by a series of other statutory laws, serves as an instrument which regulates educational goals and objectives, and the means and powers of educational actions.2
According to the constitution as it pertains to the Brazilian education system, the legislation that defines the goals and objectives of education applies to all schools as long as it does not go against the Constitution. According to the Bases and Guidelines Law still in force, the national education system, conceived in the principles of freedom and in the ideals of human solidarity, has the purpose of:3
- 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 them to use existing possibilities to aid 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.
Education is mandatory for all children between the ages of six and fourteen and free at all public institutions, including adult institutions, for those individuals who did not have access to school at the appropriate age. The Constitution does not expressly set age limits. Instead it determines that “education is compulsory, aiming at providing the necessary structure to the development of the students potential as an element of self fulfillment, training for work, and conscious exercise of citizenship.”4
Intermediate education, also known as upper secondary education, is also free at all public schools, although it is not compulsory. This level of education aims for the full development of adolescents, including the elements which make up the objective of fundamental education, as well as employment training, depending on the specific choice/focus of each educational institution.
As for higher education, the system in place aims at the development of the sciences, arts, qualification of professionals at the university level, research and specialization. Higher education is also free for students in Brazil’s public schools and universities.5
Education System in Brazil: Structure
The education system in Brazil is divided between 5 distinct levels or stages: pre-primary or preschool education, primary education, lower secondary education, upper secondary education and tertiary or higher education.6 Of these five levels, only primary education and lower secondary education are compulsory.
Preschool education in Brazil, known locally as Educação Infantil, is entirely optional. The system offers parents two options when it comes to preschool education: Maternal, or state run crèches, for children aged 2-5, and Jardim, for children aged three to six years of age.
The one key difference between Maternal and Jardim is that the former is basically a playgroup, where children learn to socialize collectively in a very informal setting. Jardim, on the other hand, has a more academic focus for small children.7
When determining the best fit for a preschool-age child, Brazilian schools meet with the parents and child prior to enrollment and, depending on the academic and social skills of the child, the school will advise parents on where it feels the child would find more success. All state-run preschools and nurseries are free of charge for all parents, regardless of income level.8
Compulsory Schooling: Primary Education and Lower Secondary School
Schooling is compulsory for all children between the ages of six and fourteen in Brazil. Children under the age of six are free to enroll in the primary level of education as long as they will turn six within the first semester.
The eight-year compulsory stage of education is known as Fundamental Education, or Ensino Fundamental. It is divided between two distinct four-year stages:9
·Fundamental Education I (Ensino Fundamental I) ages 6-10
·Fundamental Education II (Ensino Fundamental II) ages 11-14
The core curriculum in both stages of Fundamental Education is set by the National Education Council and implemented at the local level. Students in the first stage of Fundamental Education receive instruction from a single teacher, while those in the second level have as many teachers each day as they do subjects.
During Fundamental Education I (Ensino Fundamental I), children study age-appropriate course matter designed to improve their skills in mathematics, Portuguese (the official language of Brazil), science, arts, history, geography and physical education. During Fundamental Education II (Ensino Fundamental II), students study the same course matter, albeit more advanced. They must also take courses in at least one other compulsory language, typically Spanish, English or French.10
The usual practice in Brazilian schools, both public and private, is to group students according to age group. However, students who demonstrate advanced academic ability may be placed in a higher grade level where he/she will be more academically challenged. Under the Brazilian state system of education, a comprehensive exam is given to all students at the close of each school year to determine whether the child will move on to the next grade level, or whether they will be held back to repeat their current grade.11 Holding a child back is not an unusual practice in Brazil, which often leads to classrooms that may be quite varied in age.
Depending on the educational philosophy of a given private school, children may also be required to repeat a grade, although the practice is not as common as it is in public state-run schools. If it becomes apparent that a child is not managing to keep up with the advance in learning levels of their classmates, the school will typically speak to parents about other options involving academic systems, options that may better serve the child’s needs.12
There are some privately-run schools in Brazil, including those run by the Roman Catholic Church, which divide an academic year into levels of academic ability for classes, in line with the British state model, for example.13 This practice, however, is become decreasingly common as more and more private schools adopt more tightly controlled pedagogic models.
Upper Secondary Education
Upper secondary education in Brazil, known locally as Intermediate School or Ensino Medio spans four years in duration and is designed for students between the ages of 15 and 18. Attendance in this optional level of education varies by region and socioeconomic status, with the largest cities having the highest rate of attendance, particularly among children of affluent families.14
The core curriculum during Intermediate School is also designed by the Educational Council. It includes mathematics, Portuguese, foreign languages, history/government, geography, science, technology, arts, music, physical education, philosophy and sociology.15
The coursework in which students engage during Intermediate School is essentially designed to prepare them for university (usually public) admission.16 Courses can be conducted either at the private school at which the students has been attending up to this point, or at specific colleges which training teenagers to take the specific entrance exam set by a specific university. Students may also opt to take professional training concurrently with their academic studies—training that will help prepare them for a specific trade or career.
Special education in Brazil is offered from preschool through the upper secondary level. Support for special education programs is provided by the Ministry of Education, by the state, by some municipal secretariats, and by non-governmental organizations (usually churches and other non-profit organizations).17 Depending on the type of program, a school or institution might include rehabilitation centers, clinics, hospitals and more. According to recent statistics 63 percent of the special education population in Brazil suffered from some form of mental retardation (learning delays, etc.), 15 percent suffered from hearing difficulties, 9 percent were physically handicapped, and 5 percent had visual deficiencies.18 There are many programs existing in Brazil designed to help the special education population, including an increasing interest in helping blind students or those with sub-normal vision at an early age increase their academic performance in order to reach their full potential.
Adult education in Brazil, like other countries, is considered remedial schooling. The minimum age for entrance into Brazilian adult school is 18 for the elementary level and 21 years of age for the secondary level. The Brazilian Ministry of Education and the state secretariats provide support for Adult Education through special courses, equivalent to the American GED, which can be taken in schools or via an online format.19 Supervision is handled by state Boards of Education and inspection services. Students who successfully complete the full program of Adult Education are awarded a diploma indicating satisfactory completion of all coursework.
Wider access to the Internet has made Distance Education more and more popular in Brazil, especially for those who have limited access to traditional schooling. At the beginning of the 21st Century, the Brazilian federal government created the Secretaria de Educação a Distância or SEED (Secretariat of Distance Education).20 The formation of this leadership is a prime example of the government’s commitment to modernizing education. SEED strategically applies new technologies and methodologies in order to diversify and raise the standard of educational quality.Television in Brazil is a major vehicle for Distance Education. Distance learning is done with the help of the TV Escola (TV School), which reaches over 60,000 schools across the country. It is broadcast on a special channel by satellite and provides for hours of programs that are repeated four times a day. TV Escola is also a program designed for teachers and is updated by the Reforma do Ensino Médio or REM (Reform of Secondary Education). It was created in October of 1999 as an experimental program and proved to be one of the most efficient tools that the Ministry of Education had for updating the methods and resources of primary and secondary level teachers.21
Education System in Brazil: Higher EducationThe tradition of higher education in Brazil dates back to the mid 18th century with the foundation of Jesuit colleges and the early 19th century with the foundation of the first professional schools. Today Brazil plays hosts to scores of world-class universities, two of which were included in the 2010 Academic World Ranking of Universities (University of Sao Paulo and University of Campinas).22
Structure of Higher Education
The higher education system in Brazil consists of public and private schools, the latter operated by both for-profit and non-profit organizations. The latest census of Brazil listed some 1900 institutions of higher education, of which 163 were universities. Nearly half of these universities are public, though 70 percent of the overall higher education market is private, as the number of private institutions has surged in recent years in order to keep pace with the demand for higher learning and professional training.23 Admission to public universities in Brazil is extremely competitive, given the fact that students do not pay admission fees and due to the publicly-perceived higher quality of education at these schools. Public universities are seen to excel in the agrarian and human sciences, such as medicine, teacher training and psychology, while private institutions are well-known for the applied social sciences, including law, administration and economics.
Institutions of Higher Education
The higher education system in Brazil is made up of three types of institutions: Universidades, Federações de Escolas, and Faculdades.24
- Universidades. Universidades are multidisciplinary institutions that must include professional staff training in higher education, research, and the creation of human knowledge. Roughly 35 percent of the instructors at Universidades must hold a Master’s or a Doctorate degree. Universidades are more autonomous, with the independent ability to open new course programs and set student enrollment numbers.
- Federações de Escolas. Federações de Escolas are also multi-disciplinary institutions, but do not have the same number of disciplines as the Universidades. Slightly less autonomous in their course offerings and student placement offerings, they are not obligated to invest in research, as are the Universidades.
- Faculdades. Faculdades, while nearly as autonomous as the Federações de Escolas, are institutions that typically only specialize in one or two disciplines, such as law or business.
While private schools of higher learning have the ability to determine staffing levels and make personnel decisions, all human resource decisions in public institutions are linked to the civil service and public-sector rules surrounding pay and working conditions. The nomination of a Rector or University President, however, is a decision granted to the institution and is usually decided with considerable input from the faculty.25
Degrees Offered at Higher Education Institutions
There are three primary degree types offered by the higher education institutions of Brazil, although not each type is offered at every institution and in every discipline. They are:
- Bachelor Degree (Bacharelado)
- Master’s Degree (Mestrado)
- Doctoral Degree (Doutorado)
The Bachelor degree is an undergraduate degree that may take between four to six years to complete. The first two years towards this degree are designated as one of two core streams set by the Brazilian Ministry of Education: the humanities or the sciences. Upper-level courses are dedicated to coursework in the student’s chosen discipline. Although the number of elective course options in Brazilian universities has been traditionally low, today many institutions are opening up their curriculums to allow for more elective options.26
Undergraduate admission is based on the national entrance exam, typically offered to students once every academic year. Public institutions generally require high scores on the entrance examination due to the heavy competition for admission slots. The exam in offered by each institution of higher learning. However, according to Brazilian law, the exam must cover each of the following subjects: Portuguese language, mathematics, natural sciences, humanities and one foreign language.27
The Master’s Degree level at Brazilian institutions of higher education is very similar to that of the North American Master’s system, generally taking two years for student’s to complete. While pursuing a Master’s degree in an academic field, a minimum number of classes, usually five to eight, as well as a research thesis are required. A Master’s degree in a professional field, such as teaching, requires students to complete more coursework and complete a project as an intern, including a final paper or report.28
The doctorate degree level is also very similar to that of the North American academic system, typically taking between 3-5 years to complete. Much like in the Master’s degree programs, doctoral candidates must take advanced courses in their chosen discipline or field of study. They must also pass an oral qualifying exam prior to admission in order to begin work on their thesis. Successful candidates will produce a thesis or dissertation with a “significant original contribution to knowledge in their discipline.29 They must also present an oral defense of their thesis or dissertation to the program faculty.