BRIC Component – Education in Brazil
“IN 2000 the OECD, a group of mostly rich countries, decided to find out how much children were learning at school. At the time, only half of Brazilian children finished primary education. Three out of four adults were functionally illiterate and more than one in ten totally so. And yet few Brazilians seemed to care. Rich parents used private schools; poor ones knew too little to understand how badly their children were being taught at the public ones. The president at the time, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, saw a chance to break their complacency. Though Brazil is not a member of the OECD he entered it in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Brazil came last. A decade on, it is clear that the shock was salutary. On December 7th the fourth PISA study was published, and Brazil showed solid gains in all three subjects tested: reading, mathematics and science (see chart 1). The test now involves 65 countries or parts of them. Brazil came 53rd in reading and science. The OECD is sufficiently impressed that it has selected Brazil as a case study of “Encouraging lessons from a large federal system”.”
Included among the private schools referenced by The Economist are the Jesuit schools. From my own experience as a graduate of a Jesuit school in San Francisco, among other interactions, I know that Jesuit educational institutions perform a particular economic function the world over – that is, they use funds from the richest 10% of graduates to subsidize the education of the poorest 10% of qualified students, thus playing a crucial role in the development of the middle class which is the foundation and premise of the continued expansion of the emerging markets economies several decades hence.
The Economist continues, “But the recent progress merely upgrades Brazil’s schools from disastrous to very bad.” The piece serves to highlight yet again the differences between BRIC/ emerging markets nations, drawing a contrast with India, for example, whose immigrants to America produced half of Silicon Valley’s start ups. As long as this is the case, Brazil remains vulnerable to a slowdown in demand for commodities.
The Economist notes “hope in thousands of innovative education schemes across Brazil. Some are run by foundations: Itaú Social, the charitable arm of a big bank, is coaching teachers in struggling schools, paying for parent-school liaison workers and training head teachers in management. “
This Itau-Social sounds very similar to a program that the California Jesuits have started where by students work for a corporation for a few days a week to help pay for attending a Jesuit school for the rest of the week. Personally, I have gone from being a teacher at Jesuit Bellarmine Preparatory, San Jose, CA, to now running my own (very early stage) investment company. As such, I may have the background to understand why this particular type of hybrid approach would be effective – after all, as the The Economist notes, high achievers tend to go into more financially rewarding careers than teaching.