Primary Education in Brazil

In 1994, a six-year-old Brazilian child from the bottom quintile of the income distribution was likely to complete only the first few grades of primary school, despite spending years returning to the schoolhouse, repeating grades in the one- or two-room structure without books, electricity, or water. The child’s mother likely never went to school herself, and the child’s teacher could boast only somewhat more educational achievement. In Brazil’s rural northeast, 60% of teachers had not completed secondary school; 30% had not finished primary school.[1]

To make matters even worse, there was no way for the Brazilian government to evaluate student achievement and teacher performance in school.

The 1988 Brazilian Constitution specifically lays out education as a “right of all, and a duty of the State and families, in cooperation with general society” (VII.3.i). It guarantees equal and universal access to quality education, even going so far as list provisions, such as night courses, that must be made to guarantee accessibility, and to stipulate specific percentages of the federal, state and municipal budgets that must be allocated to education (18% and 25%, respectively).

However, as can be seen from the description above, it was not until the mid to late 1990s, that the newly democratic Brazilian state attempted to make good on its promises. As can also be seen from the above description, the challenges facing Brazil’s education system were legion.

In what seems to be a typical maneuver for the Brazilian state, the response to the numerous educational challenges was an alphabet soup of acronyms, each designed to tackle one aspect of the Herculean task that was, and continues to be, required to improve Brazilian education.

First came the SAEB (Sistema de Avaliação da Educação Básica), a sample-based, state-by-state biennial measurement test of students’ abilities in math and Portuguese. Introduced by the Cardoso administration in 1995, the SAEB was supplemented in the Lula years by another student evaluation, Prova Brasil (“Test Brazil”) that tests all fourth and eighth grade students (in addition to the cutely named Provinha Brasil or “little test Brazil,” an voluntary reading test for 3rd graders). These test results are combined with other data (specifically, grade progression rates) to create the IDEB (Índice de Desenvolvimento de Educação Básica), which the World Bank described as “one of the world’s most impressive systems for measuring education results…superior to current practice in the United States and in many other OECD countries.” Finally, in 2000, Brazil joined the OECD’s Program for International Student Achievement, PISA, to further international comparison and standardization.

Next came, the FUNDEF (Fundo de Desenvolvimento do Ensino Fundamental), which in 1996 sought to streamline and regularize the funding promises laid out in the 1988 Constitution. Because such a significant portion of the funding and managing of the school systems was in state and municipal hands, there existed huge inequalities in spending-per-student both within and between states. FUNDEF set spending-per-student minimums that mandated redistribution within states (that is, between municipalities) and provided federal-level redistribution between states, for those unable to meet the expenditures with their own revenues. An important innovation in the history of Brazil’s education, FUNDEF tied these funds to student enrollment, through capitation, thereby incentivizing municipalities to boost enrollment (while the IDEB mentioned earlier disincentivized holding students back). Finally, FUNDEF mandated that at least 60% of the funds be spent on teacher salaries, which prior to the reform had dipped below the minimum wage in some parts of the country.

Again, the initiative of the Cardoso administration was strengthened under Lula, when FUNDEF, which contained a sunset clause of 8 years, was renewed as FUNDEB, and expanded to include pre-primary school, secondary school, and special spending requirements for indigenous and Afro-Brazilian (quilombo) communities.

Finally, any blog post on the state of primary education in Brazil would be remiss to not mention the famed conditional cash transfer program, Bolsa Família (“family allowance”). First implemented by the mayor of Brasilia in 1995 as Bolsa Escola (“school allowance”), the program was adopted nationally by Cardoso and once again expanded and reinforced by Lula, to the tune of 45 million people. Bolsa Familia currently covers nearly a quarter of Brazil’s population, providing a monthly stipend of between 13 and 15 USD per child, to female heads of households below the poverty line. The condition is that the children must receive a health check-up and vaccinations, and must maintain an attendance level of 85% at school. It is an audacious program, with broad and far-ranging goals of eradicating poverty, child labor, hunger and illiteracy as well as stimulating local economic growth and improving public health. As it is the world’s largest conditional cash transfer program, its effects on educational achievement are a matter of continuous debate and dissection. Though the exact extent of its impact on educational achievement may be debated, its effect has clearly been positive.

Through Bolsa Família and the educational reforms laid out above, Brazil has made significant progress in the realm of education since its return to democracy. However, with the BRICS euphoria of the past decade now fading, further reform may be necessary for Brazil to overcome such longstanding obstacles to sustainable economic development as functional illiteracy (estimated at half of all high schoolers). Until then, the Patria Educadora that President Dilma promised on the campaign trail will remain an aspect of “the country of the future,” but never the present.

Christopher Owens, MPP ’16


[1] Barbara Burns, David Evans and Javier Luque, Brazilian Education 1995-2010: Transformation (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2012)]


Favela Upgrading in Rio, Brazil: Rocinha Neighborhood

Rocinha (little farm), located in Rio de Janeiro, is widely considered as one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest and most densely populated and urbanized favela neighborhoods. Built on a steep hillside only one kilometer away from the nearby beach, Rocinha is identified by the 2010 census as with a population of 69,161 people while the actual estimate ranged from 150,000 to 300,000 during the 2000s. As the most populous favela in Rio and in Brazil as well, Rocinha developed from a shanty town into an urbanized slum with almost all houses made from concrete and bricks with basic sanitation, plumbing, and electricity. Compared to smaller shanty towns or slums, Rocinha has a better developed infrastructure and hundreds of businesses such as banks, medicine stores, bus lines, cable televisions, including locally based channel TV Rocinha.

Although located between two of Brazil’s wealthiest neighborhoods, São Conrado and Gávea, Rocinha has faced substantial disparities in public health conditions and education. Among approximately 800 slums in Rio de Janeiro, Rocinha is ranked only 316th from the top in its Human Development Index (HDI), significantly below the average HDI of the 510 slums considered in a 2008 government census. Considering the size of the community and its low HDI, it is argued that the number of Rocinha’s residents who suffer from at least one health related disability is probably significantly higher than the official estimates.

Similar to other favelas in Rio, Rocinha experienced removal attempts and forced evictions during the 1960s and 1970s when residents were relocated to distant neighborhoods that were 45 kilometers west of the neighborhood. In the 1990s, Rocinha was chosen to receive the pilot Project Rocinha, the community’s first slum upgrading program that stimulated it continue to grow throughout the decade. During the same period, violence and organized crime increased dramatically in Rio’s favelas like Rocinha. In the late 1980s and 1990s Rocinha became famous for its baile funks, some of the largest and rowdiest funk parties in the city that many middle class cariocas began to frequent as well. In November 2011, a security operation was undertaken where hundreds of police and military patrolled the streets of Rocinha to crackdown on rampant drug dealers and bring government control to the neighborhood.

Today, Rocinha has become a community where its residents can find basically everything they need without going outside of Rocinha. A favela of this size with growing concerns on the wellbeing of its residents has undoubtedly imposed large challenges on its upgrading, especially with Brazil under the World Cup and Olympic spotlight and its government’s alleged expansion on upgrading programs like Morar Carioca. The outcome of such efforts on favela upgrading remains to be seen.

Zhangjun (Winnie) Zhou, MPP ’15

Favela Upgrading in Rio, Brazil: Morar Carioca

In Rio, a few favela-upgrading projects from the Favela-Bairro program, and the Bairroho and Granhes Favelas programs were delayed due to insufficient funding in the late 2000s. In July 2010, Mayor Eduardo Paes made a bold announcement that as part of the social legacy of the 2016 Olympics, all of the favelas in Rio would be upgraded by 2020 through a municipal program called Morar Carioca. The program would have an R$8 billion budget and a partnership with the Brazilian Institute of Architects (IAB), responsible for arranging the upgrades in all favelas with over 100 homes. Learning from Favela-Bairro’s strengths and weakness, Morar Carioca was designed to carry out large-scale upgrading (public works to improve water and sewerage services, drainage systems, road surfacing, street lighting, the provision of green areas, sports fields, recreational areas, and the construction and equipping of social service centers), plus land titling and social services such as education and health centers in favelas.

The Morar Carioca program guarantees the right to “the participation of organized society”, and explicitly acknowledges that favelas developed as a solution to the absence of adequate public housing in the city. It concludes from past experiments upgrading favelas in Rio that, if upgraded in a participatory way, favela-style development is a valuable urban form for the city. In response to this, the IAB hosted a design competition in 2010 in which over 80 architecture firms from around the world presented sample designs for favela upgrading. Forty winning firms were chosen, and each was assigned a “grouping” of favelas to create plans specific to their topography, layout, and social service needs.

However, the Morar Carioca program has been criticized as “the label that the city government is using to refer to all sorts of upgrades that were not designed as part of this program”, says Mariana Cavalcanti, a Fundação Getúlio Vargas professor and anthropologist who was hired by one of the first architecture firms selected in the formal IAB competition. Originally designed to receive participatory upgrades through the IAB partnership, the program now has non-participatory upgrades interventions –even forced evictions –on several favelas by the city government.

Today, Morar Carioca is more used as a re-election campaign strategy by Eduardo Paes, rather than the implemented favela-upgrading program, since no favela upgrades have been done using the IAB-sanctioned participatory process. Despite its incredible promise, the program’s name has been used so far by local authorities to undertake arbitrary interventions in Rio’s favelas. Morar Carioca has arrived a contradictory path: a proclamation of upgrading but a practice that emphasizes home removals, both through overt demolition and enabling of gentrification.

Rio on Watch. A History of Favela Upgrades Part III: Morar Carioca in Vision and Practice (2008-Present).

Zhangjun (Winnie) Zhou, MPP ’15

Lar Doce Lar (Home Sweet Home)

38,000 families in Jacarezinho, Rio de Janeiro have access to just two primary schools. As far as physical health and recreation, there is one outdoor soccer court that borders the polluted river.

Addressing the undeniable irony of the latter observation, residents and community organizers are pushing the 2016 Olympic Games planning officials to genuinely consider the rights and needs of slum residents – a population that was grossly disregarded, and in some cases violently removed, to make way for last year’s World Cup infrastructure.

These were some of the first insights shared with members of the Social Policy team on Tuesday, March 3rd, when we had the opportunity to meet with NGO Rio de Paz (Rio of Peace) and a collaborating resident’s association in the favela, the population of which is only surpassed by comparatively developed Rocinha.

People routinely sped by on motorbikes in the unmarked roads – no one can afford a car, our guides said. Entering a tight space in between buildings in single file as we began our walk, I immediately felt the restriction of air flow into my lungs.

Manifestations abounded of the way living conditions are limited to residents’ self-provision: this included everything from open-air plumbing and sewage that children played around; to exposed electrical wires that we could have reached up and touched. Concrete slabs precariously positioned one after the other formed much of the ground in between houses. Makeshift generators buzzed over our heads.

One of my colleagues asked why basic needs were not being fulfilled by policies such as Bolsa Familia, which claims relevant progress across the country.

‘I think it’s interesting,’ said our guide, Marcos, ‘how you all have this idea that the government actually does everything it says it does.’ No one here, he continued, benefits from any urban or social development program from the government. This view was universal among the different individuals who we talked to.

Contrary to stereotypical presuppositions, there was little perceivable danger as we walked through the quebrada. To the contrary, there was an evident affirmation of messages of community solidarity (popularized by funk and pop culture). Many residents sat together in front of their houses, in living rooms watching TV, or in front of cafes. Others worked on household chores or walked in between errands. The ‘shopping mall’ that we passed through was largely owned by outsiders, our guides said. Store employees, predictably, were actual residents.

Whoever says that the favela is violent is wrong, according to the residents’ association representative, José. ‘If you come in and stir up trouble,’ he said, ‘then, yeah, you will get trouble.’ Otherwise, he affirmed, the myth of the unruly poor pervades perspectives – be those of taxi drivers not willing to enter the favela, or of decision-makers crafting Brazilian security policy.

(Indeed, as many representing favelas argue, the Pacifying Police Units’ invasion and occupation of space in the favelas has worsened the lack of security. But I’ll leave that to our Security policy group to interpret.)

When I asked a colleague of José to elaborate on his perspective of Bolsa Familia, he critiqued the program as not doing enough to instill long-term self-sufficiency in residents. For example, he argued, mothers who are given the monthly cash transfer could and should be given certification in skills that they can easily build upon in an entrepreneurial sense, such as cooking.

Quality of health is also major concern for the residents, José explained. In collaboration with Rio de Paz, he and other nurses-in-training work to treat patients with zero access to needs like physiotherapy for elderly individuals. The issue here, though, is that nurses are not trained to diagnose.

Similar to organizations like the Favela Observatory, which we visited in Maré, these civil society actors work to provide services and expand dignity and quality of life among favelados. The primary strategy of their actual activism, though, is to alter the dominant discourse of at best, excluding and at worst, misrepresenting favela life.

Through alerting the media of the deficit of basic services and opportunity for economic mobility, the organization hopes to put pressure on the government to create real change.

Until then, says Rio de Paz’s leadership, no one in the favela is thinking about achieving educational, health nor socioeconomic equities – concerns reflected in many of the research questions posed by our group.

Instead, what one is going to eat is the day-to-day priority of a typical favelado in Jacarezinho.

Aliza Kazmi
MPP ’16

Slum Upgradation Strategies from around the world


Today, 330 million people in the world live in sub-standard housing. In Brazil, 11.4 million of the 190 million people resided in areas of irregular occupation. But, policy responses to deal with these settlements have evolved in Brazil in the last 30 years from evictions under the military dictatorship to Progama de Aceleração do Crescimento(PAC), an investment program aimed to develop basic amenities in these settlements. Peru in Latin America was a pioneer in using tenure regularization as a tool for dealing with urban informality. World Bank studies show that the provision of basic services along with secure land tenure leads to substantial private investment in home construction – on average, each $1 invested in infrastructure generates $7 of household investment. But, in cities as dynamic as Rio, these programs need to be complemented by redevelopment strategies to build the city for future. Morar Carioca is a similar redevelopment program which aims to upgrade the settlements where tenure security is high and ameneties are provided for, but aims to resettle other favela residents into housing provided by Morar Carioca.

Looking for model slum redevelopment projects around the world show that an effective scalable solution comprises of attractive incentives for primary stakeholders, incorporates affordability in provision of services and takes into account the dynamic growth of the city. Here are some of the examples from around the world which demonstrate some of these aspects of successful slum revitalization.

In Dharavi, state government conceptualized a unique program called Slum Redevelopment Scheme (SRS) which aimed at in-situ redevelopment to create better ameneties, as the conventional wisdom of property titles found few takers. Hence. It aimed to use strategic densification to accommodate not only existing slum dwellers but also shelter incoming flux of migrants. This approach differed from earlier projects which only provided for existing residents. Private entities were provided incentives for investment through a mix of subsidies and through a profit sharing arrangement. They were given selling rights for additional dwellings, that remained after existing migrants were accommodated. Ensuring that redevelopment projects are treated as financially viable projects instead of as welfare project, has ensured its long term sustainability. Also, in-situ redevelopment ensured that livelihoods are not lost. Earlier redevelopment projects had resulted in displacement of existing communities to city peripheries and had built suspicion among residents. The involvement of neighborhood association in planning and the prospect of higher land value were used to attract skeptical residents

In Villa El Salvador, Lima unused and mis-used public spaces were reclaimed to provide amenities to slum residents. The Alameda de los Jardines project envisages building a water treatment plant to treat household grey water from the slum households in a land which was previously used a dumping site. Its vertical location is strategic as the semi-treated water from that plant could be used for horticulture purposes and is aimed to be used for a park located just below it. Such strategies not only reduce the cost of pumps to transfer the water and watering the park, but also give vibrancy to a squatter community.

With the recent scandal implicating construction industry, low cost methods to rejuvenate the city of Rio can prove very useful for Rio ahead of Olympics 2016.

Sneha Rao

Sao Paulo Sem Agua

Despite having the world’s largest water supply, taps are running dry in Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo. Other major cities, such as Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais are also being forced to grapple with the worst drought in nearly a century. While February’s rainfall has been above average, it is still a long way from replenishing reserves to stable levels.

But how has the water shortage situation become so dire? The origins of the crisis go far beyond the recent drought and can be attributed to array of factors:

  • Sao Paulo experienced unprecedented population growth during the 20th With over 20 million residents, the city’s outdated water system, known for its poor infrastructure and leaky pipes, has increasingly been unable to meet growing consumption demands. It is estimated that more than 30% of the city’s treated water is lost to leaks and pilfering[1]. Over the years, ineffective maintenance has led to the depletion of Sao Paulo’s water system.
  • Sao Paulo’s main water reservoir network, the Cantareira system, is at its lowest point ever recorded, below 7% of its capacity[2].
  • Severe pollution of the Tiete and Pinheiros rivers has eliminated these as a viable water source.
  • Population growth has led to the destruction of surrounding forests and wetlands that have historically soaked up rain and released the water into the reservoirs.
  • Deforestation in the Amazon River basin is also at fault. Experts cite that cutting down the forest reduces its capacity to release humidity into the air, reducing rainfall in southeast Brazil[3]. Loss of the world’s greatest rainforest has disrupted Brazil’s weather patterns[4].
  • Scientists state that global warming is also to blame for the severe drought conditions. Nonetheless, Brazil’s new science minister, Aldo Rebelo, a denier or climate change, discredits this assertion[5].

To deal with the water shortage, Sao Paulo’s water utility Sabesp is promoting incentives for families to reduce their water usage, instituting fines for excessive usage, and installing water savers on taps[6]. While rationing has not officially been implemented, the shutoffs residents are experiencing are a de facto form of rationing. Since last year, residents have reported shutoffs lasting from hours to days on end. The water utility claims it is planning the construction of new reservoirs, however, these efforts won’t aid the crisis in the short-term.

In the meantime, residents have taken to the streets to protest the local and national mismanagement that has led to the intensifying water crisis. Residents and business owners have had to adjust their lifestyle to account for the shortages. Bathing on a daily basis has become impossible for millions, and running a business in a sanitary way has become a challenge. Schools have altered their school lunch menus to account for the lack of water to wash dishes, hair dressers have had to restrict their services because they cannot wash clients’ hair, and restaurants have struggled with food preparation and sanitation requirements.

While Sao Paulo residents look to the government to find an immediate solution to the water crisis, the prospect of a short-term solution is bleak. Water specialists warn that Sao Paulo may only be experiencing the early stages of the crisis[7].

Analidis Ochoa-Bendaña
MPP ’15

[1] Romero, Simon. “Taps Start to Run Dry in Brazil’s Largest City.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <;.

[2] Loria, Kevin. “São Paulo and the 20 Million People Who Live There Are Literally Running out of Water and It’s Getting Dangerous.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 18 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.

[3] Romero, Simon. “Taps Start to Run Dry in Brazil’s Largest City.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <;.

[4] Romero, Simon. “Taps Start to Run Dry in Brazil’s Largest City.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <;.

[5] Watts, Jonathan. “Brazil’s Worst Drought in History Prompts Protests and Blackouts.” The Guardian. The Guardian, 23 Jan. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <;.

[6] Bowater, Donna. “Taps Run Dry in Brazil’s Biggest City as Drought Bites.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <;.

[7] Romero, Simon. “Taps Start to Run Dry in Brazil’s Largest City.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <;.

Cadastro Unico: Behind the Scenes of Bolsa Familia

Targeting is a key issue in any social welfare program, and Brazil’s Bolsa Familia program is no exception. As the largest conditional cash transfer program in the world, the Brazilian government has worked hard to ensure the beneficiaries are among the poorest in society. This effort has been recognized by the World Bank, which called Bolsa familia “the best targeted CCT [conditional cash transfer] scheme in Latin America.”[1] Bolsa Familia owes much of its targeting success to Cadastro Unico, a single registry that has consolidated data on Brazil’s most vulnerable and has enabled Brazil to expand and improve its social welfare system. This database now contains information on 40% of Brazilian families,[2] and is used by Bolsa Familia, Literate Brazil, Minha Casa Minha Vida and a wide range of other social assistance programs.

First introduced in 2001 by President Cardoso, Cadastro Unico was significantly strengthened in 2003 when Bolsa Familia consolidated four separate cash transfer programs under one name. The system has continued to develop, and in 2010 an online version, Cadunico, was launched.[3] With the goal of increasing efficiency, improving targeting of social assistance programs, and increasing the knowledge and understanding of Brazil’s low-income population to facilitate the design of targeted policies, Cadastro Unico is an essential tool for social policy.[4]

Local governments, the federal government and the public bank, Caixa Economica Federal play distinct roles in implementing Bolsa Familia. Local governments identify vulnerable families, collect socioeconomic data through questionnaires, house visits and interviews, and enter the information into the registry.[5] This data includes everything from the geographic location of the household, access to public services (water, electricity, sanitation), household incomes and education levels of each family member.[6] Currently, there are 5570 local governments collecting data for the registry.[7]

While local municipalities participate in data collection, the federal government, through the Ministry of Social Development (MDS), oversees the registry, defines eligibility requirements and cross-checks data within the registry.[8] MDS has defined eligibility criteria based on self-reported incomes. Lastly, Caixa Economica Federal, a public bank chosen to oversee the registry, holds responsibility for managing the database, assigning identification numbers to families and disbursing benefit payments. With the combined work of these actors, Caixa successfully distributes 13.8 million payments a month to Bolsa Familia recipients, an impressive number of transactions for any agency to oversee.[9]

While critics of big government often point to inefficiency as a huge drawback, Brazil has modeled what an efficient system might look like. While far from perfect, Cadastro Unico is a significant step towards efficiently managing large-scale social welfare programs and targeting populations most in need. As a central piece of Brazil’s overarching social program, Brasil sem Misereria, the single registry system will continue to play a significant role in coordinating the many policies focused on ending poverty in Brazil.

Corey Ackerman
MPP ’16

[1] Hall, Anthony. “Brazil’s Bolsa Familia: A Double Edged Sword?” Development and Change. 2008.

[2] Silveira, Fernando Gaiger. “The Single Registry for the Social Programs of the Brazilian Federal Government.” May 2013.

[3] Curralero, Claudia Baddini. “Single Registry for Social Policies Cadastro Unico.” The World Bank.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Lindert, Kathy and Anja Linder, Jason Hobbs and Benedicte de la Briere. “The Nuts and Bolts of Brail’s Bolsa Familia Program: Implementing Conditional Cash Transfers in a Decentralized Context.” The World Bank. May 2007.

[6] Curralero, Claudia Baddini.

[7] Van Langenhove, Thibault. “Cadastro Unico-Operating a Registry through a National Public Bank.” International Labour Office. 2014.

[8] Curralero, Claudia Baddini.

[9] Van Langenhove, Thibault.