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

Welcome to IEDP Brazil Blog

It started with Costa Rica in 1999. 35 students interested in international policy formed a committee and began working with professors to ramp up the international curriculum in their Master of Public Policy program at the Ford School of Public Policy. With the help of the school and faculty, the committee created a three credit class called the International Economic Development Program (IEDP). After spending the fall semester looking at the problems befalling Costa Rica, the group traveled there in the spring and examined the policy issues firsthand.

Now in its 15th year, IEDP has become an annual hybrid class that starts with research intensive classwork in the fall and culminates in a 10 day trip to the country of study over spring break. Students plan the trip, develop the curriculum and produce a final report. Over 350 students have had an opportunity to learn and travel through the program. This spring 22 students from three different professional schools with be going to Brazil. Accompanying them will be Professor Mel Levitsky, the former U.S. Ambassador to Brazil from 1994 to 1998 and Professor Liz Gerber, a specialist in regional politics and intergovernmental cooperation.

This blog will serve to archive and inform. We hope to create an active feed of the lecturers we host and our progress in the class. Additionally, we want this blog to become a resource for people interested about Brazil. Culture, current events and policy topics will also be covered on a weekly basis.

We encourage you to follow us on twitter for additional updates and information. We are always open to your thoughts and comments. Please feel free to email the blog or any of our writers with your feedback.

Happy reading,

Matt Manning
MPP ‘15


Please consider making a tax-exempt donation to help fund IEDP’s trip to Brazil. Your gift is indispensable and will help defray critical program costs. To make a secure donation through the University of Michigan, follow this link, enter the amount of your donation, and type “for IEDP” as a comment on the next screen.