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març 13 2013

Educational inequalities and poverty in Brazil and Latin America

Summary video (in Spanish).

In March, 2013, PUC Minas is publishing a collective book based on the proceedings of a seminar on educational inequalities and poverty organised by the Fundaçao Joao Pinheiro of Minas Gerais and the research center on Globalisation, Education and Social Policies of UAB in Belo Horizonte (Brazil) in August 2011.

Generally speaking, the authors document the progress and limitations of educational development in Brazil and Latin America. Across-the-board progress is noticeable in terms of enrolment to the extent that almost all children have a place in primary schools, a growing share is enrolled in secondary schools, and even a number of students from a background of social vulnerability have availed of the dramatic increase in higher education places. Although any appraisal cannot overlook that some children are still excluded from primary education, and this shortcoming is harder at the pre-primary, secondary and tertiary levels, the positive trend has been remarkable. As to academic performance, in Brazil international data such as the OECD PISA indicators observe that half of fifteen-year-olds have not acquired the most basic intellectual competencies despite being schooled; however, the Index of Basic Education detects a sound advancement in academic results school by school that is slowly compensating for such a huge shortcoming.

In addition, an array of innovative policies has been implemented. The Bolsa Familia programme, an internationally recognised best practice in the field of Conditional Cash Transfers, delivers social benefits to families conditioned to the effective vaccination and school attendance of their offspring. This programme has produced a positive impact on school attendance and the reduction of child labour in Minas. In the same state, the Programa de Educação Profissional has also contributed to significantly improve vocational education and training as well as career guidance.

Nevertheless, this collection of studies has to highlight important, persisting problems that link educational inequalities with poverty. The most obvious one is the strong effect of parental socio-economic background on educational indicators concerning enrolment, graduation and performance. But a further constraint is due to the perverse effect of crime and violence. Besides self-evident consequences in terms of death rate and imprisonment for many youngsters, the climate of insecurity is also disrupting educational processes such as school attendance and leisure education in many Latin American cities.

Last but not least, the dramatic improvement of access to higher education has a negative face too. On the one hand, ethnic discrimination is still damaging the opportunities of black and coloured students. A ‘race and colour’ classification distinguishing ‘white’, ‘yellow’, ‘coloured’, ‘black’ and ‘indigenous’ groups is widely accepted in the country, and normally included as a variable in official statistics. These data show that ‘black’ and ‘coloured’ students often deal with worse circumstances than their mates from a similar socio-economic status. On the other hand, the proliferation of many new private universities that cater for the students who cannot pass the examinations of the prestigious public universities has produced a segregative effect. Unfortunately, most students from the more humble social origin cluster in the same low-prestige, low-quality programmes in the Brazilian system of higher education institutions.

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