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Brazil Table of Contents


Primary and Secondary Schools

In theory, public education is free at all levels in Brazil and is compulsory for ages seven to fourteen, but coverage is incomplete and quality uneven. Private schools continue to meet a large part of the demand of those who can afford to pay. Generally speaking, the private primary and secondary schools are for the upper and middle classes, while the public schools at these levels are attended by those in the lower socioeconomic strata. During the 1990s, rising costs and economic pressures made it necessary for some of the middle class to shift from private to public schools.

The system of primary and secondary schools was restructured during the 1970s and 1980s to consist of eight years of basic ("fundamental") education and three years of secondary school. The public schools at these levels are run by municipalities and states. In 1990 the Collor government adopted a system of integrated educational centers, which included day care, school lunches, and health care, called Integrated Centers for Assistance to Children (Centros Integrados de Assistência à Criança--CIACs) and later renamed Centers for Comprehensive Attention to Children (Centros de Atenção Integrada à Criança--CAICs). These centers were based on the model developed in Rio de Janeiro State by the administration of Leonel de Moura Brizola, then governor of the state. However, because of limited funds they could not be implemented throughout the country, and the validity of concentrating resources on a small number of beneficiaries was questioned.

Between 1960 and 1990, enrollment rates for school-age children (seven to fourteen) increased from 50 percent to 90 percent for the country as a whole. They varied considerably from one region or state to another and within regions and states. Coverage was highest in the Southeast and South and lowest in the Northeast. There were also racial differences. According to 1985 data, 91.4 percent of white children ages seven to nine were in school, as compared with only 74.6 percent of black children of those ages.

One of the biggest educational problems in Brazil is school nonattendance. In wealthy states, 95 percent of children enroll from the start, while only 65 percent to 80 percent enroll in poor states. Approximately 25 percent drop out by the second year. UNICEF reported in mid-1994 that Brazil is in last place in a world ranking that compares the per capita income of each country with the rates of school nonattendance or absenteeism in the first five grades. Given Brazil's considerable economic strength, one would expect at least 80 percent of the children to complete the fifth grade, but only 39 percent finish, according to the UNICEF report. Often children from poor families start working from the age of ten in order to help their parents. Other reasons for school nonattendance include inadequate school facilities, the high examination failure rate, and malnutrition.

One of the government initiatives at the national level that has improved attendance and nutrition is the school lunch program. Some local governments, such as that of the Federal District, have experimented with providing payments to poor families of children who stay in school.

Colleges and Universities

The system of colleges and universities expanded rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s, reaching a total of 893 in 1993. Of these, ninety-nine were universities and 794 were isolated colleges or schools. Nearly all states have federal universities. The state universities are less widespread, while the few municipal universities or colleges are concentrated in large cities in the Southeast and South. The Southeast Region has nearly two-thirds of the country's colleges and universities. The number of undergraduate students admitted in Brazil in 1990 was 407,148, of which 14.1 percent were in federal universities, 10.9 percent in state universities, 5.9 percent in municipal universities, and 69.0 percent in private institutions. The total number of students enrolled was about 1.5 million, and the number of graduates was 230,000.

The best universities in Brazil generally include the University of São Paulo (Universidade de São Paulo--USP), the Campinas State University (Universidade Estadual de Campinas--Unicamp), the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro--UFRJ), the University of Brasília (Universidade de Brasília--UnB), and the Federal University of Minas Gerais (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais--UFMG), all of which are public. The private Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro--PUC-RJ) is also highly ranked. Public universities are free and do not charge tuition. Private colleges and universities, which charge tuition, grew very rapidly during the 1970s to meet the enormous demands of a growing middle class.

Because of the great demand for higher education and the limited resources, both public and private colleges (faculdades ) and universities in Brazil require an entrance examination (vestibular ). Passing these examinations often necessitates private college-preparatory courses, which only the upper and middle socioeconomic strata can afford. On completion of a full academic course of study, university students may obtain a bachelor's degree (bacharelado ) and may also study an additional year to receive a teaching degree (licenciatura ).

The choice of majors or specialties is not well-aligned with the job market. According to a 1993 IPEA study, two out of three students were in the social sciences or humanities, as opposed to scientific or technical fields. The study also concluded that four out of ten students dropped out before graduation and that those who graduated took an average of eight years to finish. Many of these had difficulty paying for tuition, or living expenses, and many who gave up before graduation realized that they were not being well prepared for the job market (see Research and Development, ch. 6).

Graduate study grew rapidly during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1991 Brazil had 973 master's programs in almost all areas, with 39,401 students, as well as 465 doctoral programs with 12,862 students. Because of this growth, along with budget constraints, the government restricted fellowships for university study abroad, which had made it possible for about 20,000 Brazilians to obtain their advanced degrees in the United States and Europe.

Data as of April 1997

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Brazil Table of Contents