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Conditions for the educational system in Brasil

Holistic Think Tank

According to the goals set in the National Education Plan (2014-2024), the main challenge for the Brazilian education system is to expand educational opportunities for Brazilian students. However, this offer must proceed in an equitable manner, favoring socially disadvantaged groups. There is great confusion in the current government, lack of public investment, dispute over a political-ideological project, among other factors that make it impossible to manage education in the country in a democratic way. Education is a very relevant topic for any modern society and, due to the nature of numerous problems that Brazil presents; it is a key element to solve them.

Historical Conditions

Education in Brazil emerged focused on catechization, in 1549, when the first Jesuits landed in Brazil. The Jesuits were priests who belonged to the Society of Jesus, a religious order belonging to the Catholic Church whose objective was the preaching of the gospel throughout the world. The education provided by the Catholic Church aimed to convert Brazilian indigenous people to the Christian faith. The classes to the indigenous Brazilians took place in improvised schools, built by the Indians themselves, in the so-called missions; The settlers’ children, on the other hand, received their education in schools, more structured places due to the heavier investment.

A prominent name in this period is that of missionary José de Anchieta. Anchieta used theater, music and poetry to teach the Portuguese language to the indigenous people. Descendants of Europeans also attended Jesuit classes, but they received more in-depth teaching.

Literate education in colonial Brazil was aimed only at men. Women did not have access to schools and were educated only for domestic and religious life.

Jesuit education followed a curriculum document with content developed by the Catholic Church: Ratio Studiorum. This document, created in 1599, includes the teaching of middle grammar, higher grammar, humanities, rhetoric, philosophy and theology. 

The expulsion of the Jesuits, in 1759, commanded by the then Prime Minister of Portugal, Marquês do Pombal, meant a total Brazilian education system remodeling. By order of the State, the Jesuits had their books and manuscripts destroyed by the Portuguese, and religion was left out of the curriculum. Influenced by Enlightenment ideals, Pombal was convinced that it was necessary to change education in Brazil. It was an attempt to introduce more practical subjects into school life. However, there was no systematization of school age. Children from the age of seven could start school, but there was no established limit for when they should stop attending school.

When the Portuguese royal family arrived in Brazil in 1808, fled due to Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal, they brought with them thousands of books that helped create the National Library – in the capital of Brazil at that time, the city of Rio de Janeiro.

The presence of the Portuguese crown boosted some investments in the area of education, contributions that culminated in the creation of the first higher education schools. These places aimed to academically prepare the children of the Portuguese nobility and the Brazilian aristocracy while the lower classes were marginalized .

In 1827, the first Brazilian law that dealt exclusively with education was enacted. The text, in its article 1, stated that “In all cities, towns and more populous places, there will be schools of first letters that are necessary”. The new rule was also a milestone for the girls, who began to mingle with the boys in the state’s schools of letters. There was not yet a defined period of time for primary education, but the law was the beginning of a new way of organizing Brazilian education.

In article 6, the law dealt with the subjects that teachers should teach in the classroom: reading, writing, mathematics, catholic christian moral principles and history.

In 1834, the monarchical government inaugurated the first teacher training school, Niteroi Normal School (Escola Normal de Niterói). During the first 50 years of operation, normal schools were attended almost exclusively by men.

One of the legacies of the Brazilian imperial period in the Republican Constitution of 1891 was the maintenance of the duality of the school system: a few good schools for the elites and schools of dubious quality for the others.

The attempt to change this reality gained momentum from the 1920s onwards. The New School movement gained strength in the educational environment. A prominent name in this movement is that of educator Anísio Teixeira, considered the inventor of public schools in Brazil.  The New School, in Brazil, tried to make education more inclusive and to adopt a more modern teaching model, focused on a practical education of life. In the same decade, the Brazilian Association of Education (Associação Brasileira de Educação – ABE) was founded, which had the function of promoting the first major debates on education in our country and implementing a consistent educational system.

In the dictatorial government of president Getúlio Vargas, despite the ideological control that existed in the classrooms, a movement towards the creation of an organized system of education began and education is seen as “a right for all”. One of the government’s first initiatives was the creation of the Ministry of Education and the state secretariats of education. The Constitution of 1934 was the first to include an entire chapter on education in its text.

In 1942, industrial education was regulated. In the same year, SENAI schools (professionalizing schools) were created, aimed especially at the poorest sections of the population.

In 1961, the first National Education Guidelines and Framework Law (Leis de Diretrizes e Bases da Educação – LDB) was enacted. The document establishes a core of disciplines common to all branches.

In 1971, the second version of LDB appeared and we have a teaching system more similar to the current one. In this document, completion of primary school is mandatory, set at eight years. The 1st degree (primary education) and 2nd degree (vocational education) nomenclatures are created .

This structure remained until the LDB of 1996, when the denomination of Elementary and Secondary Education came into force. The change that took place that year included both periods as stages of basic education, and officially integrated early childhood education, which gained more relevance on the national scene.

In 1985, The National Textbook Program (Programa Nacional do Livro Didático – PNLD) was created, whose objectives are the socialization and universalization of education through the selection, acquisition and free distribution of textbooks for all students enrolled in public elementary schools throughout the country ( Decree No. 91,542, on August 19, 1985).

In 1998, the National High School Exam (Enem) was created as an instrument for evaluating the performance of students and schools. In its fourth edition, in 2001, it became accepted as a valid test for access to higher education, either alone or in combination with the traditional entrance exam.

In 2001, the National Minimum Income Program linked to Education was created. It was the so-called Bolsa-Escola aiming to help needy children and young people aged between 6 and 15 to break, through education, the cycle of misery reproduction. Mothers benefiting from the program received a magnetic card to collect the funds released by the MEC (Ministry of Education) from Caixa Econômica Federal (a national bank).

In 2003, teaching Afro-Brazilian History and Culture became mandatory in the official curriculum of public basic education schools.

In 2005, the Brazilian Sign Language (Libras) was included as a curricular subject in teacher training courses for the exercise of teaching, at secondary and higher levels, in public and private institutions of the federal education system.

In 2015, based on an in-depth analysis of Brazilian curriculum documents carried out by 116 experts appointed by the secretariats of education of Brazil’s counties and states and universities, The National Curricular Common Base (BNCC) began to be developed.

Legal Grounds for Schools in Brazil

There are several Laws that govern the educational system in Brazil, starting with the Federal Constitution of 1988 that dedicates an entire chapter to education composed of 10 articles full of principles. But it is the National Education Guidelines and Framework Law (LDB) that regulates the Brazilian education system, both public and private.

Other important laws for Brazilian Education are: Child and Adolescent Statute, Law 8069/90; Law 10,098/94, which establishes general norms and basic criteria for promoting accessibility for people with disabilities or reduced mobility, and other provisions; Law 10,436/2002 on Brazilian Sign Language; Law 7,853/89 on support for people with disabilities; Law 10,172/2001, known as the National Education Plan; and Law 9131/95 which created the National Education Council (CNE), responsible for assisting the Ministry of Education in the formulation and evaluation of the national education policy; among others.

Along with these laws, several departments are responsible for the functioning of the Brazilian educational system. At the federal level: the Ministry of Education (MEC) and the National Council of Education (CNE). At the state level, the State Education Secretariats (SEE) and the State Education Councils (CEE). And, in the municipality, they are the Municipal Education Secretariats (SME) and the Municipal Education Councils (CME).

There is a normative document that defines the organic and progressive set of essential learning that all students must develop throughout the stages and modalities of Basic Education – The National Curricular Common Base (BNCC). As defined in the National Education Guidelines and Framework Law (LDB, Law 9.394/1996), the National Curricular Common Base (BNCC) should guide the curricula of the education systems and networks of the Federative Units, as well as the pedagogical proposals of all public and private schools in Early Childhood Education, Elementary School and High School, throughout Brazil.

The Brazilian National Curricular Common Base

The document establishes the following general competences:

1. Valuing and using historically constructed knowledge about the physical, social, cultural and digital world to understand and explain reality, continue learning and collaborate to build a fair, democratic and inclusive society.

2. Exercising intellectual curiosity and using the sciences’ own approach, including research, reflection, critical analysis, imagination and creativity, to investigate causes, develop and test hypotheses, formulate and solve problems and create solutions (including technological ) based on knowledge of the different areas.

3. Valuing and enjoying the different artistic and cultural manifestations, from local to global, and also participating in diversified practices of artistic-cultural production.

4. Use different languages – verbal (oral or visual-motor, such as Libras, and written), body, visual, sound and digital – as well as knowledge of artistic , mathematical and scientific languages, to express themselves and share information, experiences, ideas and feelings in different contexts and produce meanings that lead to mutual understanding.

5. Understand, use and create digital information and communication technologies in a critical, meaningful, reflective and ethical way in the various social practices (including school ones) to communicate, access and disseminate information, produce knowledge, solve problems and exercise protagonism and authorship in personal and collective life.

6. Valuing the diversity of knowledge and cultural experiences and appropriating knowledge and experiences that allow you to understand the relationships inherent in the world of work and make choices in line with the exercise of citizenship and your life project, with freedom, autonomy, conscience, criticism and responsibility.

7. Argue based on facts, data and reliable information, to formulate, negotiate and defend common ideas , points of view and decisions that respect and promote human rights, socio-environmental awareness and responsible consumption at the local, regional and global levels, with an ethical positioning in relation to the care of oneself, others and the planet.

8. Knowing yourself, appreciating yourself and taking care of your physical and emotional health, understanding yourself in human diversity and recognizing your emotions and those of others, with self-criticism and the ability to deal with them.

9. Exercise empathy, dialogue, conflict resolution and cooperation, ensuring respect for and promoting respect for others and human rights, welcoming and valuing the diversity of individuals and social groups, their knowledge, identities, cultures and potential, without prejudice of any kind.

10. Act personally and collectively with autonomy, responsibility, flexibility, resilience and determination, making decisions based on ethical, democratic, inclusive, sustainable and sympathetic principles.

The areas of knowledge provided by the BNCC are:

1. Languages (Portuguese, arts, physical education, and English).

2. Mathematics (math).

3. Natural Sciences (science).

4. Human Sciences (history and geography).

5. Religious studies (a means to provide knowledge about religious, cultural and aesthetic issues).

Each of which has specific competences in its area – a reflection of the ten general competences of the BNCC – which must be promoted throughout the whole of Elementary School. Although the BNCC is mandatory even for private institutions, sanctions are not yet foreseen for schools that do not follow it. The expectation is that the skills present in the document will be contemplated – or at least influence their work.

Brazilian Education System

According to the 1988 Constitution, education is a right for all, a duty of the State and the family. It aims at the full development of the person, their preparation for the exercise of citizenship and qualification for work.

Basic education is compulsory. It is the parents or guardians’ responsibility to have their children complete basic education, as well as the responsibility of the State to provide such education. It consists of the following programs:

1. Early Childhood Education: duration of 4 years, with students from 0 to 3 years old;

2. Preschool: duration of 3 years, with students from 4 to 6 years old;

3. Elementary School: duration of 9 years, with students from 6 to 14 years old;

4. High School: duration of 3 years, with students from 15 to 17 years old;

5. Technical High School: schools can offer technical courses in after-hours periods – which are extracurricular periods – for their students. The duration is variable, ranging from 1 to 3 years.

Municipalities are the administrative units responsible for providing basic education, that is, daycare centers (up to 3 years old), preschools (child education; 4 and 5 years old) and elementary education (from 7 to 14 years old).

States must prioritize high school (secondary education), but they can act, in partnership with municipalities, in the provision of elementary education.

Higher education is the Federal government’s duty. The Federal Government organizes and finances the federal education system by providing technical and financial assistance to States and Municipalities, which must act as a priority in attending to compulsory education. The national education system comprises public systems and other public or private institutions that provide educational services.
  • New High School

The main changes in the New High School are the increase in student workload, the adoption of a common curriculum base and the student’s choice of training itineraries.

The New High School is a model of learning by areas of knowledge that will allow young people to choose for technical and professional training. At the end of high school, the student will receive, in addition to the regular high school certificate, the certificate of the technical or vocational course he attended. The new high school curriculum is organized by areas of knowledge and not by subjects and will consist of 4 areas of knowledge (Mathematics and its Technologies; Languages and their Technologies; Natural Sciences and its Technologies; Applied Human and Social Sciences;) and Technical and Professional Training.

The New High School was launched in 2022 for students studying the first year of High School and by 2024 it will be in all classes in the country. 

In theory, this new proposal seems to work well, but there is a lot of criticism and discussion going on. Some educators are concerned that there is a reductionism in education by restricting some disciplines and modifying others, bringing a curriculum based on contents and with little criticism. Schools will have autonomy to choose elective subjects and there is fear that public schools will not be able to offer adequate content, further increasing educational discrepancies in Brazil.

  • Education for Young and Adults (EJA)

Education for Young and Adults ( Educação para Jovens e Adultos – EJA) is a form of education in the public network in Brazil, established by the Federal Government, with the objective of developing quality elementary and secondary education for young people and adults (people who do not have school age), promoting social inclusion and access to education. EJA students are generally workers, employed and unemployed who have not had access to literate culture. What happens is that there are huge disparities between rich and poor. Poor people are at a disadvantage mainly when dealing with young people and adults.

  • Indigenous School

According to Resolution CNE/CEB n. 3, of November 10, 1999, indigenous schools are recognized as those located on lands inhabited by indigenous communities, even if they extend over territories of several contiguous states or municipalities and are exclusively for indigenous communities.

The  National Education Guidelines and Framework Law (LDB – 9.394/1996), in its article 32, assures indigenous communities the use of their mother tongues and in article 78, it establishes that school education for indigenous peoples must be intercultural and bilingual, aiming at reaffirming their ethnic identities, recovering their historical memories, valuing their languages and sciences, in addition to providing access to information and knowledge valued by national society.

  • Quilombola School

According to Resolution CNE/CEB n. 8, of November 20, 2012, quilombola schools are those located in quilombola territory, and this is characterized as a remaining space of quilombos, inhabited by ethnic-racial groups, according to criteria of community consciousness, with historical trajectory, endowed with specific territorial relations, with a presumption of black ancestry related to the resistance to the historical oppression suffered.

Quilombola School Education comprises the education practiced in quilombola schools and in schools that serve students from quilombola territories, whose pedagogical proposal must be based on: collective memory; in the reminiscent languages; in civilizational landmarks, in cultural practices; in the technologies and forms of work production; in the collections and oral repertoires; in territoriality; in the festivities, uses and traditions and other elements that constitute the cultural heritage of quilombola communities across the country (CNE/CEB n. 08/2012).

Article 59 of Resolution No. 08/2012 CNE/CBE establishes that “it is the responsibility of the State to comply with Quilombola School Education as provided for in article 208 of the Federal Constitution.

National High School Exam (Enem)

The National High School Exam (Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio – Enem), popularly known as Enem, was instituted in 1998, with the objective of evaluating students’ school performance at the end of basic education. In 2009, the exam improved its methodology and began to be used as a mechanism for accessing higher education and also enabling the development of studies and educational indicators. Due to covid-19 pandemic, since 2020, participants can choose between taking the printed exam or the Digital Enem, with tests applied on computers, in test places defined by Inep.

Enem grades can be used to access the Unified Selection System (Sisu) and the social program University for All (ProUni) by which universities and colleges offer vacancies for students. They are also accepted in more than 50 Portuguese higher education institutions. In addition, Enem participants can apply for student financing in government programs, such as the Student Financing Fund (FIES). .

Anyone who has completed high school or is completing this stage can take the Enem exams for access to higher education. Participants who have not yet completed high school can participate as “trainers” and their exam results are only for self-assessment.

The application of the ENEM takes place in two days. Inep’s Accessibility and Inclusion Policy guarantees specialized service and treatment by social name, in addition to several accessibility resources. There is also an application for persons deprived of their liberty.

Participants take tests in four areas of knowledge: languages, codes and their technologies; human sciences and their technologies; natural sciences and their technologies; and mathematics and its technologies, which total 180 objective questions. Participants are also evaluated through an essay, which requires the development of an argumentative-essay text based on a problem situation.

Diversity and disparities

Brazil is a country that encompasses a large number of geographic, social and cultural characteristics. However, all this diversity hinders, in a way, the development of an egalitarian education. This becomes a great challenge, especially without building a national system that articulates the different realities. Within the general context, the country presents inequalities both in the resources available to educational institutions and in the learning outcomes.

Income disparities, by state and region, 2018  

Average per-capita income in BRL and poverty rates by state and region, 2018 

The discrepancy in the quality of education in Brazil is notorious when we compare socioeconomic levels. According to OECD’s Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA), which assessed students in 79 countries in 2018, Brazil is one of the five most unequal economies in the world in terms of education.

IDEB results, in 2019

This index ranges from 0 to 10 points.

Ideb is the Basic Education Development Index, created in 2007 by INEP, a semi-autonomous agency responsible for carrying out assessments and exams to evaluate Brazil’s basic and higher education and establishing quality performance indicators. 

Ideb works as a national indicator that makes it possible to monitor the quality of education by the population through concrete data, with which society can mobilize itself in search of improvements. It is calculated from two components: the school performance rate (passing) and the average performance in the exams applied by Inep.

By analyzing both graphs we can notice how incomes can relate to education. Higher incomes result in better educational indexes, the same way better education culminates in future higher incomes. Brazil is a country that has great socioeconomic disparities in its territory. Some areas are more privileged due to natural aspects and infrastructure investment policies, facts that promote a more advanced educational level in certain regions.

Covid-19 crisis in education

On March 11, 2020, WHO declared that the community spread of COVID-19 on all continents characterizes it as a pandemic. To contain it,  WHO recommended  three basic actions: isolation and treatment of identified cases, massive testing and social distancing.

States and Municipalities have edited decrees and other legal and normative instruments to deal with the public health emergency, including the suspension of school activities.

On March 17, 2020, through Ordinance nº 343, the Ministry of Education (MEC) expressed its opinion on the replacement of in-classes with classes in digital media, while the COVID-19 pandemic situation lasts.

As a result of this scenario, the State Councils of Education of several states and several Municipal Councils of Education issued resolutions and/or guidelines for the educational institutions belonging to their respective systems on the reorganization of the school calendar and the use of non-face-to-face activities.

On March 20, 2020, the National Congress approved Legislative Decree n. 6 that recognizes the occurrence of the situation of public calamity. On April 1, 2020, the Federal Government issued Provisional Measure n. 934, which establishes exceptional rules for the school year of basic education and higher education resulting from measures to address the public health emergency situation.

Schools reopened in 2021. In some states and regions classes only returned in the first semester, and others in the second semester of 2021. Initially at a hybrid format (online / in-class) and later on in-person classes.

The long duration of the suspension of face-to-face school activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic caused a series of problems: difficulty in replacing in-class lessons, causing some students to attend 2 school years in one; complications in the 2021- 2022 school calendars; setbacks in the educational and learning process for students subjected to a long period without regular educational activities, in view of the lack of definition of isolation time and little or no access to digital platforms and remote teaching; structural and social harm to students and low-income families, such as family stress and increased domestic violence for families in general; emotional stress for students, teachers and families; and dropout and truancy increase.

A long way to go towards equality and quality in Education

The lack of an adequate educational policy within the standards of social reality, a result of the neglect and lack of commitment of public bodies towards society, has as a disastrous and regrettable result, the inclination of children and young people to marginalization, this fact is the result of the current Brazilian social framework.

Some advances in the Brazilian educational system should be highlighted, but they are minimal and imprecise given the urgent need for changes that the country needs. 

One must believe in the possibility of transforming society through Education. But bureaucracy is intrinsic to the Educational System, thus preventing any development of society. This bureaucracy is nothing more than an instrument of the capitalist system, supported by the bourgeoisie, which is not interested in substantive changes in the thinking of the mass of the population.

It would be inconsequential to say that education does not help the individual to live in society, but it is undeniable that the ruling class uses the country’s educational guidelines, aiming to defend its own interests and maintain its privileges.


Quilombo – It is the denomination for communities of black slaves who resisted the slavery regime that prevailed in Brazil for over 300 years and was “abolished” in 1888. 

Quilombola territory (Contemporary Quilombos) – Data from the Brazilian government indicates that today there are 3,475 quilombola territories/communities spread across all regions of the country, from southern Brazil to the Amazon. In Brazil, the right to traditional lands is recognized in national law. The contemporary quilombos are social groups whose ethnic identity still distinguishes them from the rest of society. The way in which social groups define their identity is the result of a convergence of factors of their choice: from common ancestry, forms of political and social organization to linguistic and religious elements.

Author: Deusa Santana


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