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In the 1960s, the so-called "Brazilian economic miracle" accelerated the development of the economy, but education was on a slow pace. This changed radically toward the end of the last century because government realized that growth and productivity are linked to education. Quality was a main concern due to regional disparities in the country. Technology and educational improvement needed to be made to meet the demands of the job market.

In 1999, the number of students in higher education in all of Latin America was 5.6 percent of the population. In Brazil, only half of the students finished elementary school, therefore only a small number of students went to middle and high school. Few students made it into higher education. In 1990, there was just over one vacancy in higher education for each student who finished high school.

Claudio de Moura Castro (2000) points out the advancements made in the 1990s and the necessary steps for the further development of the Brazilian educational system. Some of his considerations are as follows: of those aged seven to fourteen, 97 percent are enrolled in schools. This means that illiteracy is no longer a major issue; In 1998, 63 percent of the students finished elementary school; approximately eight million students attend secondary school, therefore, the number of students applying to higher education has risen at a considerable rate.

Brazil has advanced and has a balanced educational system. But, illiteracy must be reduced. Elementary school still has to improve in quality, consolidating universal access to primary education. Teachers have to be better prepared and paid to meet this challenge. The legislation of higher education has to meet contemporary needs: there have been only a few attempts to implement community colleges, and a country as large as Brazil needs to have more courses offered by distance education (à distância) using modern technology. New legislation and decentralization would ease the burden imposed by too many inflexible rules. More money has to be allocated by the federal, state, and municipal governments for the advancement of education. Nevertheless, in comparison to the past, Brazil has taken gigantic steps.

The government is working on current targets and future perspectives. It created a Ten-Year Plan (1993-2003) and redefined the Political Strategic Plan (1955-98) to improve the quality of teaching and to better institutional performance. As the Minister of Education, Paulo Renato Souza (April 11, 2000) states:

Education today can no longer be carried out only in the stages of infancy and youth. Professional updating must be permanent, given the speed of technological evolution. As professional careers are less rigid and clear-cut, they require a very high degree of interdisciplinarity and flexibility in the curricular structure of courses. Incorporating the new technologies of information and communication is crucial and should stimulate the growing use of distance learning as a means of guaranteeing access to professional training and updating.

The Brazilian education system has made important advances since 1995. In educational terms, the government seems to be falling into step with the rest of the world. Since 1995, there has been an expansion in access to elementary education. The proportion of children enrolled in school considerably increased in 1999, as four million new students were added to the system.

Age and grade distortion rates continue to be high in Brazil—47 percent of students could be in higher grades. Nevertheless, Brazil is trying to improve its performance at the elementary education level. The promotion rate, which measures the number of students who are promoted to a higher grade, also increased from 65 percent in 1995 to 73 percent in 1997. During this same period, the number of students repeating a grade fell from 30 percent to 23 percent. The dropout rate also decreased, from 5.3 percent to 3.9 percent.

The expectation of finishing the first level of education has risen to 63 percent, and the average time taken to pass through the eight grades has fallen from 12 to 10 years. Secondary educational level enrollment rose to 57 percent between 1994 and 1999. In 1999 alone, the growth rate was of 11.5 percent. This increase in secondary school enrollments may be explained by the improvements in fundamental education and the increasing demand for better-educated people in the job market.

Regional inequalities are diminishing as well. In the northeast region, enrollment in elementary education has grown by about 27 percent, as compared to 13 percent countrywide. In secondary education, it has increased 62 percent compared to a previous national figure of 57 percent. In the last four years, higher education enrollment has grown in absolute terms more than in the previous 14 years. In 1998, the growth rate was 28 percent more than in 1994.

There has also been marked growth at the graduate level in Brazil. Between 1994 and 1999 the number of students at the master's level increased by 27 percent. The rate at the doctorate's level was even more impressive—around 60 percent. Brazil is producing 14,500 graduates at master's level and 4,600 doctorates per year.

Considering all enrollments at all levels of education, Brazil had approximately 54.3 million students in 2001. One third of Brazil's population was attending school. Public schools were meeting the learning needs of 45.8 million students at the basic educational level, which represents 87.8 percent of all students.


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—Monica Rector and Marco Silva

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