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Part II Analytic Section

  1. Introduction: General Scenario
  2. The Brazilian educational system has been remarkably improved in recent decades – particularly over the last decade – and, as a result, there has been a sharp drop in the illiteracy rate, a huge increase in enrollments at all levels, and a gradual increase in the average schooling of the population, particularly of the female population.

    1. Illiteracy
    2. The illiteracy issue has mobilized Brazilian intellectual leaders at least since the Republic was established. Since then, laws have been passed and many different campaigns have been launched to deal with the problem. Since the end of the last century, educators, politicians and journalists have been reporting the high illiteracy rates prevailing in the Country as a national shame and demanding strong actions from the Government to eradicate this evil from the Brazilian society.

      There is no doubt that eradicating illiteracy is the key to ensure minimal social equity conditions and to enable the population at large to enjoy their citizenship rights. However, illiteracy is not an isolated problem that can be attacked and removed without tackling the conditions that produce it. Poverty, isolation, marginalization from the market, lack of schools and textbooks, are problems closely related to illiteracy.

      Isolated massive literacy campaigns that do not take into account the social conditions that generate illiteracy have produced unsatisfactory results in Brazil. As a matter of fact, it was impossible to eradicate illiteracy without at least getting close to ensuring universal access to primary education, that is, without putting an end to the production of new illiterates.

      Although the Brazilian Government is still criticized for not having managed to eradicate illiteracy so far, the problem has been constantly reduced in recent years. The illiteracy rate dropped by almost half in 30 years – from about 40% in 1960 to a little over 20% in 1991, as a result of the larger access to primary education, the building of roads, less isolation of rural populations, and a fast urbanization process. The pace of this progress, however, was slow: 0.63% a year in average. Nevertheless, illiteracy rates have been dropping much faster over the 1990s, during which a mean annual decrease of 1.08% has been registered. In 1996, in addition to the drop in that rate to 14.7% of the population aged 15 and over, there was, for the first time, a drop in the absolute figures for illiterate individuals (Table 4).

      Table 4 – Illiterate individuals in the population aged 15 and over – absolute figures and percent distribution – Brazil – 1920-1996  Not available

      Sources: IBGE demographic censuses: 1920, 1940, 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1991

      PNAD (IBGE) 1996 and Population Count 1996.

      One must recognize, however, that while the faster drop registered in the illiteracy rate is a positive factor, the present rate of 14.7% is still too high and represents, in absolute figures, over 15.5 million individuals.

      In the definition of a policy to bring illiteracy rates down more rapidly, policy-makers must take into account the fact that the phenomenon does not affect the population uniformly. Positive results depend on a differentiated policy focused on specific situations and difficulties.

      Differentiating the age group of illiterates is an important measure. Because it is a phenomenon related to the lack of access to primary education, illiteracy today is concentrated in the population above the age of 40, the age group that did not benefit from the expansion of the educational system. Table 5 shows the variation in the illiteracy rate in age brackets in the population aged 15 and over.

      Table 5 – Illiteracy rate in the population aged 15 and over by age groups – Brazil – 1970-1996

      Year

      Illiteracy Rate (%)

      15 years and over

      15 – 19 years

      20 - 24 years

      25 - 29 years

      30 - 39 years

      40 - 49 years

      50 years and over

      1970

      33.6

      24.3

      26.5

      29.9

      32.9

      38.5

      48.4

      1980

      25.4

      1.5

      15.6

      18.0

      24.0

      30.8

      43.9

      1991

      20.1

      12.1

      12.2

      12.7

      15.3

      23.8

      38.3

      1995

      15.6

      6.8

      7.5

      9.3

      11.0

      16.7

      32.7

      1996

      14.7

      6.0

      7.1

      8.1

      10.2

      15.5

      31.5

      Source: IBGE - PNAD 1996.

      Obs.: Excluding the rural population of Rond˘nia, Acre, Amazonas, Roraima, Para and Amapa in 1995 and 1996.

      Although there was a considerable drop in illiteracy rates in all age groups, the intensity of such reduction decreases as the age of the population groups increases. Thus, the percentage of illiterates in the population aged 15-19 dropped from 16.5% in 1980 to only 6% in 1996. The drop was also significant in the group aged 20-24, from 15.6% to 7.1% over the same period. The illiteracy rate in the group aged 25-29 has fallen to less than two digits - 8.1% - already. By contrast, much higher rates still prevail in the groups above the age of 30, particularly for individuals above the age of 50, of whom 31.5% are still illiterate. In rural areas, the main pockets of illiteracy in the Country, the rate for this age group is 55.7%.

      Illiteracy is therefore concentrated in population groups that education programs have a much harder time to cover, given their socioeconomic and cultural characteristics. For this reason, the adoption of more effective public policies to deal with these groups represents a huge challenge today. Very specific and efficient programs must be designed to provide literacy classes to these groups.

      Although the percentage of illiterates is lower among adolescents in urban areas, there is a clear need to make concentrated efforts to eradicate illiteracy among individuals aged 15-29. Enabling these marginalized adolescents and young men and women to enjoy the benefits of democracy and take part in the labor market autonomously is a policy guideline that cannot be postponed any longer. Based on today’s figures, it is possible to foresee that by the end of the next decade illiteracy will have been eradicated among this young population as a result of the education policies that are being implemented, but the same cannot be said for the older population.

      Regional inequalities

      Besides its increasing concentration in older age groups, the profile of illiteracy in the Country has a strong regional bias that reflects and reproduces Brazil’s socioeconomic and interregional inequalities. Although illiteracy rates are tending to fall in all the Country’s geographic regions, they are not falling at the same pace everywhere. Just to illustrate this scenario, while between 1981 and 1995 these rates fell by 41.6% and 38.4% in the South and Southeast Regions, the drop registered in the Northeast was 26.3% and, in the North Region, 13.6%. The situation evolved more favorably in the Mid-West, where a drop of 37% was observed over the same period.

      As a result of this performance over the last two decades, regional disparities became worse, enhancing the huge gap between the Northeast and the South and Southeast Regions (Table 6). Illiteracy rates in the Northeast are still twice as high as the national average for all age groups, except for the population aged 50 or more, for which, however, the difference is still very large.

      Table 6 – Illiteracy rates for the population aged 15 and over by age groups – Brazil and regions – 1996

      15 years and over

      15 - 19 years

      20 - 24 years

      25 - 29 years

      30 - 39 years

      40 - 49 years

      50 years and over

      Brazil

      14.7

      6.0

      7.1

      8.1

      10.2

      15.5

      31.5

      North

      11.6

      3.3

      4.2

      6.2

      8.6

      14.5

      32.7

      Northeast

      28.7

      14.1

      16.9

      19.1

      24.0

      33.8

      52.7

      Southeast

      8.7

      1.8

      2.6

      3.3

      4.9

      8.7

      21.9

      South

      8.9

      2.0

      2.8

      3.8

      5.2

      8.5

      22.0

      Mid-West

      11.6

      2.5

      3.9

      4.8

      8.1

      14.1

      32.6

      Source: IBGE - PNAD 1996.

      Obs.: Excluding the rural population of Rond˘nia, Acre, Amazonas, Roraima, Para and Amapa.

      Regional inequalities are not restricted to illiteracy: they can also be felt at all education levels and modalities, which means that a specific policy was required to address them. That is why the Nordeste and FUNDESCOLA projects have been using domestic and foreign funds – the latter provided by the World Bank – to deal with educational problems in less developed regions over this decade.

      Actions to eliminate regional disparities and eradicate illiteracy are being carried out under Youth and Adult Education programs such as the Solidarity in Literacy Actions project and similar initiatives launched by state and municipal administrations, business associations and religious and non-governmental organizations, as described in a more specific section of this report.

      Gender equity, race disparities

      Although regional disparities are very worrying, the data available show improvements in the gender variable. The most important change registered in this connection is the rapid decline of illiteracy rates among younger women. As a matter of fact, when these rates are broken down by gender (Table 7), we see that the proportion of illiterates is significantly lower now among women than among men in all population groups up to the age of 39.

      Table 7 – Illiteracy rates for the population aged 15 and over by gender – Brazil – 1980 – 1996

      gender – Brazil – 1980 – 1996

      Gender/Age Group

      Illiteracy Rate/Year

      1980

      1991

      1996*

      15-19 years

      Men

      Women

      16.5

      18.8

      14.2

       

      12.1

      15.1

      9.0

      6.0

      7.9

      4.0

      20-24 years

      Men

      Women

      15.6

      15.9

      15.4

      12.2

      13.9

      10.5

      7.1

      8.7

      5.5

       

      25-29 years

      Men

      Women

      18.0

      17.1

      18.8

      12.7

      14.0

      11.5

      8.1

      10.0

      6.4

       

      30-39 years

      Men

      Women

      24.0

      23.6

      26.1

      15.3

      19.8

      15.3

      10.2

      14.5

      9.4

      40-49 years

      Men

      Women

      30.8

      26.9

      34.6

      23.8

      22.3

      25.2

      15.5

      15.1

      15.9

       

      50 and over

      Men

      Women

      43.9

      33.1

      49.4

      38.3

      34.5

      41.6

      31.5

      28.1

      34.4

       

      TOTAL

      Men

      Women

      25.4

      23.6

      27.1

      20.1

      19.8

      20.3

      14.7

      14.5

      14.8

      Source: IBGE. Demographic census of 1980, 1991/PNAD 1996.

      Obs.: * Excluding the rural population of Rond˘nia, Acre, Amazonas, Roraima, Para e Amapa.

      Regarding the race variable, studies show that although the disparities between different ethnic groups have been significantly reduced, there is still much to be done in Brazil with regard to the Afro-Brazilian population, which is referred to as blacks and mulattos in the terminology of the Population Census. Table 8 shows that the proportion of illiterate individuals in the Caucasian population is much lower than in the black and mulatto population.

      In 1991, only 11.9% of the Caucasian population was illiterate, against 27.8% of the mulatto population and 31.5% of the black population. However, a positive trend has been observed: the sharp decline in illiteracy rates among blacks and mulattos between 1991 and 1997, which took place at a faster pace than the decrease registered for the Caucasian population. Among Asian-Brazilians – mostly of Japanese, Chinese and Korean origin – the illiteracy rate was already quite low, namely, only 5.4% in 1991.

      The data on indigenous populations deserve special comments, given their unique historical features, small number and specific aspects related to what the Constitution of 1988 refers to as "Indigenous Education." Educating these populations is not an easy task and, for this reason, a bilingual education project has been specifically developed for them, as well as a special curriculum and actions to promote a better articulation between the federal, state and municipal administrations in their efforts to cover them.

      Because the black and indigenous movements in Brazil have become stronger and the Government is strongly committed to promoting a sound dialogue with them, significant changes are expected to be introduced in the policies designed for these groups.

      Table 8 – Illiterate population at the age of 15 and over by racial origin – Brazil – 1991-1997

      Race

      Illiterates

      1991 (%)

      1997* (%)

      Total

      19.4

      14.7

      Caucasian

      11.9

      9.0

      Black

      31.5

      22.2

      Mulattos

      27.8

      22.2

      Asian (origin)

      5.4

      -

      Indigenous

      50.8

      -

      No information

      18.7

      -

      Source: IBGE. Demographic census 1991/PNAD.

      Obs.: * Excluding the rural population of Rond˘nia, Acre, Amazonas, Roraima, Para e Amapa.

    3. Evolution in the average schooling

The progress made in Brazil in the education area can measured by the increase registered in the average schooling of the population over a period of more than ten years. This datum is based on the Population Census carried out at ten-year intervals, the National Household Sampling Surveys (PNADs) and the so-called Population Count carried out in 1996, since the annual School Census does not provide this kind of information. For this reason, the most recent indicators were calculated in 1996 and not in 1998, which means that they do not include important advances registered in the last two years.

As shown in Table 9, the slow progress made until 1980 was accelerated since then. The table also shows that there was a substantial increase over the last two decades in the schooling of the female population, which is now higher than the one registered for the male population – a trend that could be observed in the data on illiteracy rates already (Table 9).

Table 9 – Average number of schooling years by gender, race and region – 1960 - 1996

 

1960

1970

1980

1990

1995

1996

Gender
Male

2.4

2.6

3.9

5.1

5.4

5.7

Female

1.9

2.2

3.5

4.9

5.7

6.0

Race

Caucasian

2.7

-

4.5

5.9

-

-

Black

0.9

-

2.1

3.3

-

-

Mulatto

1.1

-

2.4

3.6

-

-

Asian (origin)

2.9

-

6.4

8.6

-

-

Regions

North/Mid-West

2.7

-

4.0

-

5.6

5.9

Mid-West

-

-

-

-

5.7

6.0

North

-

-

-

-

5.5

5.8

Northeast

1.1

1.3

2.2

3.3

4.1

4.4

Southeast

2.7

3.2

4.4

5.7

6.2

6.6

South

2.4

2.7

3.9

5.1

6.0

6.3

Source: Report on Human Development in Brazil, 1996; UNDP/IPEA, 1996.

Obs: The data for 1995 e 1996 were calculated by the Ministry of Education/INEP/SEEC based on the PNDA for 1995 e 1996.

Excluding the rural population of the North Region.

Among the socioeconomic and cultural factors that caused this surprising phenomenon, special mention must be made of the entry of women into the labor market. The increasing professionalization of the female population has been a powerful encouragement for Brazilian women to seek to improve their education, as a means, among other things, to make up for the salary discrimination they still suffer, as shown by recent surveys.

On the other hand, and paradoxically, the early and undesirable entry of children into the labor market, forcing them to give up their formal education, is another factor that is contributing to enhance the schooling of the female population at a faster pace. In fact, the strong link between poverty and child labor has cruelly enhanced this gender differentiation to the detriment of male children and adolescents, who are more often forced to engage in arduous activities that are not consistent with the school routine to increase the family income. Although many poor female children also work, they usually take care of daily chores in their homes that do not necessarily prevent them from attending school.

The marginalization of children from the school system for economic reasons has been addressed by family income complementation programs designed for educational purposes. The most consolidated experience in this area in Brazil, the so-called Bolsa-Escola (Education Grant) has confirmed the effectiveness of this strategy in ensuring the retention of poor children in the school system.

In addition to these positive and negative aspects, the available data reveal two other extremely worrying aspects: one of them is the regional disparity, which can be felt not only in illiteracy rates, but also in the average schooling years of the population. According to Table 9, the indicators vary from an average of 6.6 schooling years in the Southeast Region to 4.4 years in the Northeast. Although the average eight years of compulsory education have not been registered in any region, one must consider that the deficit is heavily concentrated in the population with over 30 years of age. The data on the distribution of illiteracy rates by age groups in the population aged 15 and over (Tables 5 and 6) illustrate this phenomenon very clearly. For this reason, the progress made so far in this area does not fully reflect the efforts made to improve the situation, which most of all have favored the younger population.

Another worrying aspect, shown in Table 9, is the ethnic disparity, also revealed in the analysis of illiteracy rates, which are higher among Afro-Brazilians. The same can be said in relation to the schooling of blacks and mulattos, which is lower than that of Caucasians and individuals of Asian origin.

The Population Census and the National Household Sampling Surveys (PNDAs) constitute one of the few sources to assess the discrimination that the Afro-Brazilian population suffers. The two surveys show that there is a gap of 2.5 years in the schooling level of Caucasians and blacks, although there is no legal or formal obstacle to the enrollment of their children in public schools. Inversely, the population of Asian origin is more educated than the Caucasian population, and the difference tends to grow. Likewise, illiteracy rates are extremely low among Brazilians of Asian origin. This fact can be explained by the cultural background of this ethnic group, which attaches great importance to education.


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