Example and negligence: the Brazil of extremes starts in the school

26/02/2018

By Izabela Murici, Partner at FALCONI

Even if there is a consensus of opinion on the need to improve the quality of Brazilian education, there are various causes for pride when comparing Brazil to other countries. Few nations are able to carry out an initiative such as the National High School Exam (ENEM), conducted last month in over 12,000 testing locations for 6.7 million enrolled students, a number greater than the population of Ireland. The exam is the second biggest university entrance exam in the world. It only trails the Chinese Gaokao, taken by 9.4 million students last year. Fact: Brazil manages to perform an assessment of such a magnitude, improved upon every year and used as a benchmark for tests in other countries.

While it may be true that the superlative results of the 2017 Enem attest to the capacity of the Ministry of Education (MEC) to mobilize and organize, we still have serious problems with quality and dropout rates in secondary education.

The study “Public policies to reduce dropout rates among young people”, conducted by economist Ricardo Paes de Barros and available online, indicates that one out of four young people from ages 15 to 17 do not attend high school. There are more than 2.8 million young people who leave school before completing the program. The study calculated the liability to the country resulting from this dropout situation as more than BRL 100 billion. No country can afford to waste such intellectual capacity and undermine the future of so many people.

Lack of interest in school is nothing new. Brazil has been suffering from school dropout for decades. In the beginning of the 1990s, almost half of the young people from 15 to 17 years of age were not attending high school. This percentage plunged until the turn of the millennium, when it reached to 25%, but has been dropping much slower since then. It is currently only three percentage points lower, with 22% not reaching the final years.

Islands of excellence

As expected in Brazilian education, some regions of the country are exemptions to the national standard and have results that Brazil aims to achieve in several decades. They are the so-called islands of excellence which differ from the rest of the country and achieve results corresponding to developed nations. In the fight against high school dropout rates, the case of Pernambuco shows that planning and consistency are essential for overcoming the problem. In 2007, the state had the second worst score in the national ranking, with a dropout rate of 24%. It is now 1.7%, the lowest in the country.

There is no single reason that accounts for lack of interest in school. There are economic, pedagogical and social causes that can range from longstanding problems, such as school transport difficulties, teenage pregnancy and involvement in illegal activities, such as drug peddling and theft, to more abstract issues related to lack of perception of the importance of secondary education for a person’s future. Students also have new ambitions that traditional schools are unable to serve.

So, what makes schools in Pernambuco the most appealing in Brazil? Of all the causes that lead to dropping out, it ultimately comes down to the value students assign to remaining within the school environment. Overcoming the day-to-day difficulties to be able to attend school is only worth it if the time invested inside the school is truly productive.

This aspect should be taken into consideration in the definition and implementation of this initiative. Extended school programs with longer hours only make sense if there is efficient management. Leaving students in school for longer periods of time without continuity of learning only runs the risk of increasing expenses and the dropout problem.

Brazil’s educational results should serve as a trigger for decision makers to work effectively on the problem (dropping out) and its causes. We know what generates results: efficient management, ranging from planning to execution, with clear goals and an executable action plan, without all the bells and whistles. In a country marked by contrasts, democratizing the basics will ensure a revolution in education.