Constitutional & Legal Foundations
The Constitution of 1824 established that basic education was a right of the citizen and an obligation of the state. Since then, all Brazilian constitutions have included free primary education as one of the basic needs the state must provide to the population. However, the Brazilian government became actively involved with educational constitutional rights only after the Revolution of 1930.
The Brazilian educational system was revolutionized by the promulgation of Law 5,692 on August 11, 1971. Unlike the preceding law (Law 4,024/61), Law 5,692/71 was very well received by the educational community for the amplitude of its articles and its promise of updating and expanding the teaching of primary and secondary education. The main changes implemented by Law 5,692/71 included: redefinition of the role of primary education (based on students' potentiality, citizenship consciousness, and working-skills development); free and mandatory primary education for children between the ages of 7 and 14; 8 years of schooling at the primary educational level; a national, unified primary level curriculum that would also take into consideration relevant individual and/or regional differences; ensino supletivo (primary and secondary educational opportunities for adult citizens), which is the equivalent of the GED in the United States; and rules for teaching and financing (on federal, state, and municipal levels).
Elementary education in Brazil is free in all state schools and compulsory for all citizens between the ages of 7 and 14. Secondary education is not compulsory, but it is still free. Nevertheless, the free and mandatory basic educational system has not prevented two serious educational problems derived from social and regional inequalities: illiteracy and child labor. Although the number of illiterate people has decreased over the last 20 years, the illiteracy rate in Brazil during the 1990s was still significant (approximately 16 percent in 1993). According to a U.S. Department of State report on human rights (February 2001), recent governmental figures from Brazil state that the number of children working has decreased since 1993, conversely increasing the number of children attending school. The Brazilian federal government administers 33 programs to combat child labor. The Ministry of Labor's program for the eradication of child labor provided supplemental income to 147,000 families in rural areas, who in return were required to send their children to school. Similar programs administered by municipalities benefit another 202,000 children living in the major urban cities.
The most recent educational objectives of the Brazilian educational system, started in the 1990s, are still based on the main changes established by Law 5,692/71. Nevertheless, there were some innovations and pledges included in the Constitution of 1988. Infantile education was seen as a preliminary step towards schooling. The state must provide day care for a variable number of hours and kindergarten (not mandatory) for the underprivileged. Public universities must offer free, high-level quality courses and promote research. The state must support poor students with food, books, transportation, and health care. Additionally, special attention must be paid to students who suffer any kind of physical or mental disability.
Other important legal tools for education are: Law 9,131 of 1995; constitutional amendment 14 of 1996; the National Educational Guidelines and Framework Law 9,393 of 1996 (Lei de Diretrizes e Bases-LDB); and the FUNDEF (National Education Fund), Law 9,424/1996. Other legal tools include decrees and administrative rulings that regulate the LDB; in addition, recommendations and resolutions issued by the National Council of Education contain important legal information.
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