Cablegate: Consulate Sao Paulo

DE RUEHSO #0301/01 1061519
R 161519Z APR 07 ZDK





E.O. 12958: N/A

(C) SAO 06 PAULO 1038

------- SUMMARY -------

1. Prominent commentators and politicians have increasingly identified deficiencies in Brazil's public education system as a leading cause of the country's subpar economic performance and its inability to keep pace with other so-called BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) economies. Recent results of standardized national tests tend to confirm these concerns, showing a marked decline in student performance over the past ten years. Last year a group of civil society, private-sector, and government leaders called Everyone for Education (EFE) launched a new, long-term education initiative to press for reform of the system and realignment of priorities. More recently, The Ministry of Education unveiled a comprehensive Plan for Educational Development (PDE), which appears to adopt many of EFE's priorities and to shift government priorities towards improving the quality of primary education. End Summary.

-------------------------------- TEST RESULTS CONFIRM WORST FEARS --------------------------------

2. Along with social inequality - or because of it - the low quality of primary education has long been identified as the main obstacle to Brazil's economic growth and development. According to the Map of Illiteracy in Brazil, a research project conducted by the Anisio Teixera National Institute of Studies and Research on Education (a branch of the Ministry of Education), the country has 16 million illiterates and 30 million "functional" illiterates (defined as person over the age of 15 with less than four years of formal schooling). Worse yet, in February the Ministry of Education itself published the 2005 national exam results for elementary schools. The figures showed a decline in students' performance in Math and Portuguese Language compared to 10 years ago, suggesting that, far from increasing their knowledge, Brazilian students are performing worse each year.

3. The standardized national examination, created 10 years ago, is given every two years by the Ministry of Education. It includes tests in Mathematics and Portuguese designed to measure the performance of public and private school students alike. In Brazil, the educational system comprises 11 years of schooling divided into two phases. The first, called fundamental (primary) education, includes 8 years of schooling for children aged 7 to 14. The next phase, consisting of three years of schooling, is called complementary (secondary) education and is for children aged 15 to 17. In 2006, President Lula enlarged the fundamental cycle of education by one year. All children should now begin to attend school at age 6, a change that will be phased in over the next decade.

4. The 2005 results show that the students from the 4th grade (first half of fundamental education) averaged 182 in Math and 188in Portuguese on a scale from 0 to 500. According o exam standards, students at that level are suposed to score at least 300 in both exams to prov they are literate and have appropriate number skils. However, the results indicate they are fallig short. Worse yet, performance in 2005 shows adecline from 1995, when the average scores were 91 and 188 respectively.

5. The same disappointing picture is reflected in test scores from other age groups. Students from the 8th grade at the end of the "fundamental" cycle averaged 239 in Math and 232 in Portuguese. In 1995, the scores were 253 and 256. Finally, the 11th grade, near the end of complementary education, scored 271 in Math and 258 in Portuguese, decreasing from 282 and 290, respectively, in 10 years.

SAO PAULO 00000301 002 OF 006

6. There was a little good news from the fourth-graders. Their performance shows an improvement in 2005 over their 2003 results, when they scored 169 in Portuguese and 177 in math. However, this trend was not observed among other age groups; overall scores in both subjects were lower in 2005 than in 2003. In other words, while there may be some slight short-term improvement at the lower level, elementary-school students are scoring lower on standardized tests than they did in 1995, and secondary-school students have showed a steady decline, leaving little room for optimism. The result of this failure of the education system is that many students leave the schools with little or no basic reading, writing, or numbers skills, severely limiting their value in the workforce.

--------------------------------- HOW WE GOT HERE - A BRIEF HISTORY ---------------------------------

7. The problems exposed by the test results did not surprise experts on education. "These results just confirm what everybody who deals with education in Brazil already knows: the system doesn't work at all," said Professor Sergio Haddad, president of the NGO Educational Action. "What strikes us is why this situation has stayed the same for so long." Professor Haddad believes that the federal government in recent years has been focused on getting children into the schools rather than on improving the quality of education. In large part because of the priority placed on access to education, almost 100 percent of school-aged children are enrolled in elementary schools, a major advance over thirty years ago. Until the 1970s, the majority of public school students were from middle-class families, and poor children were largely excluded. The quality of education was excellent in those days. However, things began to change in the late 70s and early 80s. Public schools began slowly to receive students from the lower economic and social classes, increasing class size. Middle-class families started sending their children to private schools. This phenomenon became widespread in Brazil and stimulated a boom in private education for middle-class students. At the same time, several local and state governments implemented programs to encourage poor families to send their children to public schools, particularly in rural areas.

8. The "Bolsa Familia" conditional cash transfer program (ref B), for instance, was initiated under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003) with the name Bolsa Escola as an incentive to increase school attendance in poor families. According to many experts, the increase in attendance adversely impacted the quality of education because there was insufficient funding and administrative infrastructure to train more teachers, build new facilities, and respond to an educational clientele with special needs. Many of the new students came from dysfunctional families and/or violent neighborhoods. The overall educational strategy gave priority to quantity over quality. Bad education was deemed better than no education at all.

----------------- LACK OF DEMAND... -----------------

9. Professors and experts on education say that the inclusion of poor children in the educational system is no longer an excuse for providing bad education. Professor Claudio Moura Castro, former head of education policy at the Inter-American Development Bank and one of Brazil's foremost education experts, believes that investment in good education lacks political appeal to the federal government in Brazil. He cited a 2006 survey of public views on education in Brazil. The results are surprising. The poll, conducted by the Brazilian Institute of Popular Opinion and Statistics (IBOPE), shows education ranked 7th among the Brazilian people's worries, after health care, jobs, hunger, public safety, corruption and drugs. The

SAO PAULO 00000301 003 OF 006

survey also shows that public appreciation of education varies from one level to another across the economic and social spectrum. People from the lower classes - who are generally less educated - tend to believe that the quality of education is good or improving, while the more educated sectors of the population are much more critical. "The Lula government was re-elected by the less educated voters and, for them, there's no problem in the educational system," opined Professor Moura. "Therefore, this government has no political reason to provide a better education" and does not treat it as a priority.

-------------------- ...AND LACK OF FOCUS --------------------

10. During Lula's first term, the federal government went through several different Ministers of Education and developed no clear policy. Cristovam Buarque, a former Governor of the Federal District (Brasilia), a 2006 presidential candidate, and now a senator from the Democratic Labor Party (PDT), gave priority to adult education. His successor, Tarso Genro, now Minister of Justice, devoted attention and resources to the higher education system. After Genro left in 2005, Fernando Haddad continued his policy of concentrating on improving universities. His priority was to get more students from the lower economic and social classes into the universities. He designed federal programs to offer loans to poor students and provide tax exemptions to private universities that accepted them. The Ministry also implemented quotas in public universities for poor and Afro-Brazilian students. Those initiatives were praised by education experts as good tools for bringing poor students into the system, but few believed that they would improve overall education quality.

11. The real problem in the eyes of many observers was a poorly defined or even misguided education policy focus. While the government was seeking to help higher education students, many protested that fundamental education needed more attention. In September 2006, a group of professors, experts, and private-sector leaders founded a movement called Todos pela Educacao (Everybody for Education - see ref C) to demand a policy shift towards primary education. It identified five main objectives to be achieved by 2022, when Brazil celebrates the bicentennial of its independence. "This group is an important tool to press the government," says Professor Maria do Carmo Brant de Carvalho, general coordinator of the Center for Studies and Research on Education, Culture and Common Action (CENPEC). She considers the group very effective and noted that the new program recently unveiled by the Lula administration appears to be consistent with the direction suggested by the movement.

-------------------------- ROLE OF THE PRIVATE SECTOR --------------------------

12. The private sector's role in education, health and social services in Brazil is significant. Private schools account for a significant percentage of enrolled students, especially in secondary schools and universities. Private sector associations, business confederations and multinational companies have been involved for some time in efforts to train a more qualified industrial workforce. The quality of available jobs in Brazil is generally low, as illustrated by low pay, low productivity growth, high turnover, a significant decline in the number of jobs in industry, and the high percentage of jobs in the informal economy. To address this situation, programs have been created to provide education, technical know-how, and expertise in information technology to their workers as part of a process to restructure and modernize Brazilian companies to be competitive in today's global market.

13. For example, the Sao Paulo state Federation of Industries (FIESP) operates the National Industrial Apprenticeship Service

SAO PAULO 00000301 004 OF 006

(SENAI) to train young professionals for the industrial sector. SENAI is an educational organization for training, development, and specialization of both semi-skilled and technically trained woerkers. Both SENAI and a related organization, the Industry Social Service (SESI), are funded by mandatory monthly contributions collected by the government from industrial companies and passed to FIESP. SESI is a nationwide organization created to provide supplementary health and education services to workers and their families. The largest private organization in terms of schools and students, SESI has 600,000 students enrolled this year in a wide variety of classes. Another example is the National Center for Commercial Education (SENAC), which trains workers in trade-related areas

14. The Bradesco Foundation, operated by Bradesco Bank, is one of the oldest institutions in Brazil focused on basic education. It has 40 schools and more than 100,000 students nationwide. Individual companies have developed Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs to provide education. Some have created foundations for this purpose, while others prefer to sponsor programs developed by independent NGOs.

15. There are several independent NGOs working in Brazil to improve the quality of education. Prominent among these is the Ayrton Senna Institute - established by the family of the late race-car driver - whose programs have already reached almost seven thousand under-privileged children and young adults in the country. Likewise, the Fernand Braudel Institute of World Economics operates Reading Circles for at-risk youths in metropolitan Sao Paulo. However, all these combined efforts, while encouraging, have not been enough by themselves to turn the situation around. For this reason, the Everybody for Education movement was launched last year to coordinate civil society and private sector efforts to press government and society as a whole for a better education system.

------------------------------------ THE PLAN FOR EDUCATIONAL DEVELOPMENT ------------------------------------

16. In early March, Minister of Education Fernando Haddad (no relation to Professor Sergio Haddad) launched a plan focused on education quality, informally referred to as "the PAC for education" in reference to President Lula's overall economic plan, the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC). The official name of Haddad's proposal is the Plan for Educational Development (PDE). It includes some 50 items to be implemented over the next four years, among them being early (age 6-8) literacy testing, higher minimum teacher salaries, more computers and better transportation, extension of the "Bolsa Familia" maximum eligibility age from 15 to 17, and financial incentives for school districts that improve their results. The initiative earned the plaudits of experts, academics, businessmen and even opposition political parties because, as they explain, this is the first time that the government has shown a pragmatic interest in improving the quality of education instead of merely increasing the number of students in the schools. Paulo Renato Souza, who served as Education Minister under President Cardoso and is often critical of the Lula administration, praised the PDE as positive and long-overdue while noting that much will depend on how well it is implemented.

17. The program is still something of a work in progress. Minister Haddad announced its main components without providing details and is expected to present the final, comprehensive version sometime in April. In general terms, the Ministry proposes to distribute 8 billion Reals (about USD 4 billion) over four years to those cities where the students and teachers are found to be performing better. As things stand now, funds are distributed proportionally based on the number of students enrolled in each school. In order to implement this change, the government will establish goals for educational performance and ways to measure it. "The government finally accepted the idea of evaluation based on merit," said

SAO PAULO 00000301 005 OF 006

CENPEC's Professor Brant.

18. Experts note with approval that the new plan also embraces the idea of decentralization, since the goals will be set locally through agreements between the Ministry of Education and municipal governments. "Parents and the community would be able to work with teachers to design the goals and identify how to get there, Professor Brant explained. This would also mark the first time that the government accepts inputs from people outside the formal education system, she commented. Finally, the plan calls for children to be tested early on (between the ages of about 6 and 8) to help provide an early indication whether the system is working. If not, there would still be time to correct it.

19. This is a long-term plan. According to Minister Haddad, its results will become visible in about 14 years. In other words, the government recognizes that it will take the better part of a generation to improve the quality of education in Brazil.

20. The PDE remains at this point a bundle of good intentions, because the money is not guaranteed. The Ministry of Education can currently count on only 500 million Reals (USD 250 million) out of the requisite 8 billion Reals (USD 4 billion). Furthermore, implementation itself will be a big challenge. Brazil has three different educational systems, each with its own attributes, functions, and responsibilities. Local governments and state governments are both responsible for fundamental schools but each government has it own separate system. Besides that, municipalities run the childhood education while the states are in charge of the three last years of schooling (complementary education), and the federal government is in charge of the higher education. The states are responsible for some institutions of higher learning as well. The three levels of government, far from working well together to ensure a consistent product, devote much of their attention to competing for funding.

21. The money for the basic system comes from the Fund for Maintenance and Development of Basic Education (FUNDEB), which is expected to have 2 billion Reals to spend in 2007. Created last year to replace an earlier program, FUNDEB is not yet fully implemented. Though the sources of funding have been identified, the government has not established how the money will be distributed among the different levels of education. This is money that local and state governments are fighting over.

--------------------------------------------- ---- STATE TO PUSH FOR TEACHER TRAINING AND EVALUATION --------------------------------------------- ----

22. Acting CG met April 5 with Sao Paulo State Secretary of Education Maria Lucia Marcondes Carvalho Vasconcelos, who said Minister Haddad's PDE is a good initiative because of its focus on quality. In her view, the current education system is clearly not working and needs to be fundamentally changed. The key to improvement, she said, is to train teachers and regularly monitor and measure their classroom performance. She also cited the need to test students more frequently; in Sao Paulo, elementary school students progress from one year to the next without having to demonstrate their proficiency. Secretary Vasconcelos identified addressing these issues as her top priority.

23. Vasconcelos said Sao Paulo Governor Jose Serra is also pushing to improve the quality of instruction in the state education system. He is willing, if necessary, to confront the teachers' and school employees' unions in order to implement merit evaluations. Given that the local education unions are influenced by President Lula's Workers Party (PT), they are expected to mount resistance to any change. Nevertheless, Vasconcelos believes Governor Serra is genuinely committed to bringing about change and will ultimately prevail.

SAO PAULO 00000301 006 OF 006

------------------------------------ MISSION SUPPORT FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION ------------------------------------

24. The U.S. Mission in Brazil works closely with the Brazilian Ministry of Education and the State Secretaries of Education to foster good management and leadership in the public schools in Brazil. Following an Embassy-sponsored Voluntary Visitor exchange visit to the U.S. a few years ago, members of CONSED (Council of State Secretaries of Education) instituted a National Prize for excellence in school management and leadership, loosely based on similar awards for school excellence they learned of in the U.S. As an added incentive for good school management, the Embassy organized an annual principals' exchange program in which each year's award-winning school principals from each of the states and the Federal District are offered a 10-day trip to the U.S. to observe U.S. public schools and interact with U.S. school principals. The exchange is two-way, as award-winning American school principals are brought to Brazil to visit award-winning Brazilian public schools, as well. The principals' exchange also results in the distribution of a publication on "Best Practices in School Management and Leadership" which is annually distributed to all public schools in Brazil.

25. Through its Youth Ambassadors program, the Mission, in partnership with public and private organizations in both countries, annually gives recognition to 20-25 outstanding, economically disadvantaged public school students from throughout Brazil who speak English and are involved in social responsibility initiatives in their communities. Now in its sixth year, the Youth Ambassadors program gives these students the opportunity to participate in a two-week exchange program in the United States. More than 10 Youth Ambassador alumni have since won substantial four-year scholarships to U.S. colleges and universities, including the University of Chicago, Smith, and Mount Holyoke.

26. Thus, although there are serious problems with Brazil's public education system, the Mission's public diplomacy programs indicate that there are nonetheless pockets of excellence, and highly motivated administrators, teachers and students in the system.

------- COMMENT -------

27. Education in Brazil is something of a political football. As President Lula was contemplating his post-re-election Cabinet shuffle, influential members of his Workers Party (PT) urged him to make Marta Suplicy the next Education Minister based on her record as Mayor of Sao Paulo (2001-04) and in the hopes of enhancing her chances to be elected Mayor again in 2008 and to aspire to the Presidency in 2010. Intentionally or otherwise, Minister Haddad foiled those plans by presenting the PDE and demonstrating himself to be a serious, competent administrator with some practical ideas that happen to coincide with the recommendations of outside groups. Lula had no choice but to keep him in the Cabinet to refine and implement the PDE, and Marta Suplicy ended up as Minister of Tourism. Time will tell how much of the Plan is ultimately funded and implemented, and there is plenty of room for skepticism, but the fact that the federal government appears to understand the seriousness of the situation and to want to try to fix it is in itself encouraging. End Comment.

28. This cable was coordinated with Embassy Brasilia.


© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Gordon Campbell: On The Chemical Weapons Attack (and Response) In Syria

The past week’s headlines about the chemical attacks in Syria – and the military response by the US, France and Britain – have tended to overshadow a few of the downstream outcomes. More>>


North Korea: CTBTO Statement On Disarmament

I welcome the announcement by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to halt its nuclear testing programme and to dismantle the test site. This is a strong signal and an important step in the right direction. More>>


Pacific Moves: China, Vanuatu And Australia

Washington’s vigilant deputy, doing rounds on the beat in the Pacific, has been irate of late. The central issue here is the continuing poking around of China in an area that would have been colloquially termed in the past “Australia’s neighbourhood”. More>>


Diplomatic Madness: The Expulsion of Russian Diplomats

How gloriously brave it seemed, some 23 nations coming together like a zombie collective to initiate a fairly ineffectual action in of itself: the expulsion of Russian diplomats or, as they preferred to term it, intelligence operatives. More>>


Campbell On: the US demonising of Iran

Satan may not exist, but the Evil One has always been a handy tool for priests and politicians alike. Currently, Iran is the latest bogey conjured up by Washington to (a) justify its foreign policy interventions and (b) distract attention from its foreign policy failures. More


  • Pacific.Scoop
  • Cafe Pacific
  • PMC