|Public school hallway.|
|Private school hallway.|
About 10% of k-12 schools in Brazil are private. Most Brazilians consider private schools to be far superior to public schools. Public universities, however, are much better than private colleges. To get into a public university you have to score very well on a high stakes entrance exam, the vestibular or the ENEM. Most students in Brasilia who are accepted are from the upper classes and graduated from private high schools. When you hear that public universities in Brazil are free, you might assume that students from lower socio-economic classes have good access to higher education. But that is not the case here. In fact, many well-off parents of students at the University of Brasilia buy their kid a car since there are no other major expenses. The parking lots at U. of Brasilia are filled with BMWs and Audis, and they don't belong to the professors.
Most public schools provide uniforms, books, and supplies to their students. The poorest families can also qualify for the Bolsa Familia, which is about $20 USD a month. This program began in 2003 under President Lula (although it was developed by others before him). They receive this stipend only if their child attends school every day. The government also provides meals and transportation cards.
Due to overcrowding, many schools have three schedules every day: morning, afternoon, and evening. Students attend one session (7-12, 12-5, or 5-10). It is very common for students to go to school in the morning and then take language classes (most commonly English or Spanish) at a language school a couple days a week. Teachers often teach multiple sessions and work at multiple schools.
Despite major challenges, there have been some significant improvements over the past 20 years. In 1993 only 42% of students in Brazil completed primary school and only 28% finished high school. In 2009, those numbers were 71% and 55%. A problem that continues to persist is the huge shortage of teachers. 26% of teachers have just a high school diploma, and in some more remote areas of the country, not even that. The federal government wants to invest a lot of money in teacher education in the next few years and they are designing some interesting programs. I will write more about teacher preparation in a separate post.
In Brasilia, we visited a public high school, an elite private high school, a public language school, and a teacher preparation program. I will write about each of these experiences in upcoming posts. For the next week I will be observing and co-teaching in public schools in Teresina, Piaui. Teresina is in the northeast, the poorest region of the country. I expect to see a sharp contrast to the schools in the capital.