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Social Issues

Racial Inequality and the Unequal Distribution of Quality Education in Brazil

In Achieving World Class Education:  the Next Agenda, the World Bank states that “broad-based access to education not only develops the skills of the labor force; it creates the platform for a more equal society;” therefore, “the substantial expansion of schooling attainment in Brazil over the past 15 years would be expected to improve income inequality and it has.”

Thus, it is accurate to suggest that Brazil, a country plagued by such blatant income inequality, would benefit from the development and implementation of aggressive social policies targeting the  “unequal distribution of education.”

Not only is it important to extend access to education, but it is much more important to extend the quality of the educational experience as well.  Quality education distribution directly affects the job opportunities available to a person, in turn affecting their income and standard of living, which ultimately affects the family’s overall quality of life.  Because the quality of education a person receives correlates to monetary funding, lower class citizens are at the highest risk for facing educational disadvantages.  Furthermore, Afro-Brazilians are at a higher disadvantage because of their tendency to reside in the lower classes in conjunction with the normalized racism in Brazilian society that promotes black inferiority.  As a result of these complicated connections, it is sufficient to argue that racial inequality inhibits access to quality education; additionally, the disparities surrounding quality education, reinforce economic inequality, causing those facing racial inequality to become under siege by a vicious cycle of disparity, where each facet relies heavily on the facet before and after it.

Despite making sizable gains in the area of equal access to education, Brazil is currently falling short in the area of equal access to quality education as a result of three interchangeable factors:  teacher quality, distortion in grade-for-age, and OECD math and reading scores.

Teacher quality affects the quality of a child’s education because low paid teachers lack the incentive to strive for high performing students.  In conjunction with below par salaries, the average teacher is not very highly trained and may have completed no more than eight years of school, not to mention, their years in school, much like the students they teach, does not necessarily correlate to their actual learned knowledge.

The second issue limiting equal access to quality education is the distortion in grade-for-age.  This occurs as a result of students who are not qualified to move beyond their grade level and are thus forced to repeat coursework; furthermore, children may return back to school in an attempt to finish and will be placed in lower classes because they score poorly for their expected grade level.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, many students are passed along through grades without successfully completing the coursework, causing the rise in children finishing primary and secondary school to grossly exaggerate their actual skill level.

A third factor highlighting the unequal distribution of quality education, is the fact that Brazil scores considerably below the OECD averages for math and reading, a disadvantage that most certainly unequally plagues lower class children and Afro-Brazilians.  Therefore, providing equal access to quality education for the children of public schools is important because it has the potential to cause significant gains in the area of alleviating poverty in Brazil.  Improved teacher quality, special attention to math and reading skills, and a more accurate grade-to-age ratio are three improvements that can help Brazil succeed in the area of quality public education.  These development goals are crucial because the increased quality in education will increase the human capital and earning potential of Brazilians, which in turn works to alleviate poverty.

It is crucial to understand that the issue of education quality is important because the factors which affect equal access to quality education fundamentally hinder Brazil’s potential growth rate as a BRIC economy.  Unequal access to quality education and higher education places limits on Brazil’s overall economic inclusivity because those who are lacking proper education are not raised to their full potential as human capital.  Because of this social limitation, they are not fully incorporated into the formal economy in a way that maximizes their production capacity.  As a result, these citizens may fall into the informal sector, which is quite large in Brazil, but does not contribute in the way it could to Brazil’s overall economic growth because it is treated as distinctly separate from the formal economy.  In order to remedy this issue, Brazil must embody an inclusionary attitude as a component of its formal value system.

By looking at the current nature of social policy in Brazil, one can grasp the types of problems deemed important by government policy makers.  Brazilian social policies such as affirmative action, show that their is a consciousness beginning to surround the idea that racial injustice and unequal access to quality education such as university level education are directly correlated.  Furthermore, Brazil  has made considerable strides in the following areas concerning education policy:  school performance monitoring through the Indice de Desenvolvimento da Educacão Basica, the expansion of federal technical schools, investment through the program Mais Educacão, capacity building through PAR, equalizing regional funding through FUNDEF and FUNDEB, monetary transfers through Bolsa Familia, and standardized testing through Prova Brasil.

In addition to these types of programs, in order to target racial discrimination, Brazil should begin constructing more policy targeting the Afro-Brazilian population.  Now identifying as over half of the population despite facing the most discrimination, Afro-Brazilians are in desperate need of policies that target the main sources of racial inequality.  The following list describes a few suggestions to begin the facilitation of this process:  education reforms at the primary and secondary level that will prepare Afro-Brazilians for the competitive university entrance exam, mentoring programs through the private sector beginning while the child is young until they graduate from secondary school, and raising the legal age of employment to 16 while also requiring students to attend school until they reach 17.  These types of policies will help target the economic exclusion of Afro-Brazilians by strengthening their chances for success through educational and professional development.  If the issue of racial inequality is tackled extensively throughout all of its components, then Brazil’s potential as an economic power will exponentially grow because major sectors of the society will no longer be excluded from the formal sector, allowing them to maximize their production value in favor of the Brazilian economy.

Works Cited

Latin American and the Caribbean Regional Office.  “Achieving World Class Education in Brazil:  the Next Agenda.”  The World Bank.  December 21, 2010.



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