Does the future belong to the youth ?

“Literacy and the struggle against hunger are connected, closely interdependent,” Nobel literature prize winner Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio said Sunday (07/12) in his Nobel lecture to the Swedish Academy. The 68-year-old Frenchman continued with: “One cannot succeed without the other. Both of them require, indeed urge, us to act.”

From a president who himself had no chance to follow a proper education, you expect the portfolio of education in his government highly favoured and enjoying all the (financial) support it deserves. Indeed the future belongs to the youth and that’s certainly true for an emerging economy as Brazil. But not so in Lula’s mind. Apparently Lula believes that if he has been able to become president without education, everyone else must be able to reach the top on his own merits. The results are disastrous and will wreck the future development of this country. Shortness of skilled personnel is already the major complaint of businesses and in several cases, foreign investors pulled out, especially in those regions desperately needing investments. Thus the North!

Although elementary education is ‘enjoyed’ by 97.6% of 7-14 year old children, this figure is no synonym for quality. The majority of the Brazilian school children between 8-14 years can neither read nor write. Data from the IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística – Institute for Statistics) also show that of all the Brazilians who can not read or write 1.7% are 14 years old, although these 58.1 thousand pupils almost finished elementary school. Nearly half of that group (approx 29 thousand youngsters) is illiterate, even though they are going to school.

IBGE also points to inequality in education based on colour or race. In absolute numbers: of the approximately 14 million illiterates aged over 15 years, nearly 9 million are black or mulatto. Of the white population 6.1% can read nor write, of the black and coloured population 14%.
In relation to gender, women show a better result than men. The female population studies on average a year longer than the male part. The female presence dominates also in the higher education, 57.1% of university students are female, compared with 42.9% male. Notwithstanding this, women still occupy only a small part of the management level.

Education in Brazil has everything to do with income. Cross-linking the data shows that the Brazilians up to 17 years are the hardest hit by poverty. In this age group 46% belong to the poorest part of the population (with a monthly income of half the minimum wage (about € 70) per capita). Most children in this situation are living in the northern and north-eastern regions.

But even a higher income and sending your child to a private school is no guarantee for better education. Matheus Aguiar, 17 years, is an exception in the 4 million participants in the Exame Nacional do Ensino Medio (ENEM = National Exam for Secondary Education).
The ENEM is a voluntary test for students of the 3rd year of secondary school. The popularity of ENEM jumped since with the founding of the Programa Universidade para Todos (ProUni = University for Everyone) in 2004, the federal government distributes university scholarships to poor students. Participation in the exam is a prerequisite for anyone who hopes to start a university education. The result of the exam requires a minimum of 45 points on a scale of 100.

And in this nationwide exam Matheus Aguiar ended as fifth and is the best from the federal state of Pará. Matheus is in the third year of the (private and exclusive) College Nazareth in Belém. With 93.65 points in the general section and 100 in ‘editorial’ (writing an essay) he reached an average of 96.82 and the fifth place out of four million examinees. Although Matheus studies at a private school, his results of the ENEM exam are important as private colleges and universities use the results as a parameter in the selection. Matheus wants to study ‘mecatronica’ at the University of Brasilia,

But unfortunately the good performance of Matheus seems to be an exception. The state which yielded the fifth best secondary school pupil in the country, ranked as a whole at the 10th place from the bottom with an average of only 36.9 points. The pupils from Pará scored 4.8 points lower than the national average. Pará belongs to the sad bottom of the northern region, of which all ended up in the 10 lowest places. A region that did not go beyond an average of 36.07 points. The lowest ranking compared with other regions.

But the results of the pupils from other federal states are not much better. At the top, the secondary school students of the Federal District (capital Brasilia) with a poor 45.39 points. Let’s not forget that the minimum requirement is 45, and that all examinees (public and private education) voluntarily participate in the exam, so that they can obtain a place with a university. The nationwide average of the exam was 40.59, which is 4.41 point below the minimum requirement.
What is supposed to be the level of the schoolchildren (the largest group), which do not go for the ENEM exam, but just quit school and try to find a job.

Secondary school students pushing a “Lula-puppet” in protest against the education policies

Of course, the financial situation of students reflects in the performance. The results show that between a public school student and a private school one there is a gap. For Pará the difference is more than 16 points. The average score of students from a public school was 33.37 points (more than 12 points below the minimum requirement), while the students from a private school scored 49.95 (only 5 points above the minimum requirement).

Should a private school guarantee a better education, in Pará (as with so many things) it is a bit different. The examinees of private schools from Pará, compared with the rest of the country, show up on the twentieth place, only seven states are worse. While public schools score the 11th place from below.

The figures from the Ministry of Education unfortunately do not show how many secondary public school students have met the minimum threshold of 45. At an average of 33.37 points, few students will be able to make the (subsidized) step towards a university, I’m afraid.

Photos: Matheus Aguiar and “Lula-protest’: O Liberal
Source: O Liberal, Agência Brasil