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3. Primary Education

3.1 Principal indicators

Of all levels of education, it is on the primary level that the most constant and continued progress has been made, this being translated into the large growth in enrollments, as can be seen in Table 28. In just 9 years, between 1991 and 1999, there was an increase of 6.5 million in enrolled students, that is, 22.3%.

Table 28 – Enrollment in primary education and growth rates Brazil – 1970-1998 (in 1,000)

Year

Total

% Growth

1970

15,892

-

1980

22,598

42.2

1991

29,204

29.2

1998

35,793

22.3

% Growth 70/98

-

125.2

Source: Ministry of Education/INEP/SEEC

The policies to make primary education universal, adopted in collaboration by all three levels of government, have produced highly positive results this decade. From 1991 to 1998, the net enrolment rate of the population aged 7-14 rose from 86% to 95%. This ensured compliance with and went beyond the target set by the Ten-Year Plan for Education for All, which projected raising the school-age population covered to at least 94% by the year 2003. On the other hand, gross enrolment rates in primary education went up from 106% to 128% in the same period (Table 29).

It should be observed that the net enrolment rates are lower than the coverage rate for the 7-14 age group, because many children of 7 or over are still enrolled in pre-school programs, and especially in reading and writing classes. As pointed out above, the new financing system introduced by FUNDEF encourages correcting this distortion by lending incentive to earlier entry into primary education.

Table 29 – Primary education – gross and net enrolment rates – Brazil – 1970/1999

Schooling rate (%)

Year

Gross (%)

Net (%)

1970

81

67

1980

98

80

1991

106

86

1994

114

89

1996

116

91

1997

119

93

1998

128

95

Source: Ministry of Education/INEP/SEEC

Obs.: *Preliminary data from the 1999 Census.

Table 30 – Net enrolment rate in primary education – Brazil and regions – 1996-1998

Year

Brazil and Regions

1996

1997

1998

Brazil

90.5

93.0

95.3

North

86.1

89.3

90.4

Northeast

84.3

89.1

90.0

Southeast

94.7

95.9

97.4

South

94.7

96.1

96.2

Mid-West

94.6

94.4

93.9

Source: Ministry of Education/INEP/SEEC. IBGE - Population Count – 1996

Obs.: Data estimated by Carlos Américo Pacheco (NESUR/IE/UNICAMP)

and José Marcos Cunha (NEPO/UNICAMP)

The permanent monitoring of the educational system carried out by means of the annual School Census has shown that the coverage capacity of the educational networks is already enough to guarantee access to all children between the ages of 7 and 14, as well as to cover most of the 15-17 age group. The current problem of primary education involves not so much access but especially extra- and intra-curricular factors that hinder retention in school and schooling progression. This assertion is corroborated by the results of quality control of the information provided by the School Census of 1997, which pointed to extremely high drop-out rates - as much as 20% in some regions.

As a matter of fact, analysis of the indicators put together on the basis of the School Censuses allows us to diagnose the main problems that need to be faced: repetition, which causes the gap between age and grade, over-enrollment and dropping-out; regional differences; and deficient teacher training. Though closely connected, these questions will be dealt with separately.

The gross enrolment rate and its regional repercussions already define the seriousness of two of the three problems detected. The present rate of 128% reveals that a very significant proportion of students present the age/grade gap, in other words, are older than the corresponding cohort for each grade. This phenomenon has two main causes: the first is the aforementioned late entry - after the age of 7 - which occurs most often in the rural areas; the second and more important is repetition, which is responsible for the drop-out and over-enrollment rates seen today in primary education. Repetition also shows the extent of inefficiency of Brazil’s educational system, where students take an average of 10 years to complete the 8 grades of compulsory schooling.

The age/grade gap caused by repetition bears at least two more very serious consequences: the first involves the impact on the educational systems, whose costs are swollen by about 30%, while the second directly affects the students delayed in their schooling career, reflecting on their self-esteem and performance, as can be verified in the results of the latest evaluations undertaken by INEP. The tests applied by the National Primary Education Evaluation System (SAEB), and by the Evaluation of Students who Complete Secondary School (ACEM) have shown that the performance of students tends to grow worse as the age/grade gap increases.

Table 31 indicates enrollment in primary education by age, showing the great percentage of students over 14 who are still attending this level.

Table 31 – Enrollment in primary education by age group – Brazil and Regions – 1998

 

Unit of the Federation

Enrollment by age group

Total

Under 7

7-14

15-19

Over 19

No

%

No

%

No

%

No

%

No

%
Brazil

35,792,554

100.0

449,279

1.3

26,870,018

75.1

7,097,448

19.8

1,375,809

3.8

North

3,207,880

100.0

36,561

1.1

2,377,054

74.1

664,080

20.7

130,185

4.1

Northeast

12,210,131

100.0

182,830

1.5

8,407,429

68.9

2,918,530

23.9

701,342

5.7

Southeast

13,249,814

100.0

71,441

0.5

10,431,785

78.7

2,369,062

17.9

377,526

2.8

South

4,558,892

100.0

117,483

2.6

3,777,447

82.9

614,192

13.5

49,770

1.1

Mid-West

2,565,837

100.0

40,964

1.6

1,876,303

73.1

531,584

20.7

116,986

4.6

Source: Ministry of Education/INEP/SEEC

In terms of the relation between age and grade, it is surprising to find that the percentage of schoolchildren over 14 years old enrolled in primary school grew substantially between 1991 and 1998. This percentage, which had stood at around 15.5%, reached 16.3% in 1991 and 23.6% in 1998. This appears to contradict the trend shown in earlier analyses. The likely answer is that there was a re-entry of students who had dropped out during the period. In this case, the larger number of students over 14 is truly auspicious, denoting as it does the effort of the drop-outs to return to the school system and finish their compulsory schooling.

Although the problem continues to be a serious matter, there was quite a positive improvement in the flow indicators, with the age/grade gap falling from 64.1% in 1991 to 46.7% in 1998, as can be seen in Table 32. The reduction was even sharper in the lower grades, a tendency surely linked to the initiative of many teaching systems to implement primary education, thereby getting rid of the problem of failing students. This policy has not yet had an effect on the upper grades, which still show the old, very high distortion rates, especially the 5th grade (54.3%).

The high repetition rates in the 5th grade also spring from another feature of the Brazilian educational system. Primary education in 8 grades was instituted not by integrating but rather by juxtaposing two previous levels of education, which were and remain quite different: the old primary school with just one teacher, and the old secondary schools split into subjects taught by different teachers. This divergence in the pedagogical and curricular organization of the two levels of primary education causes problems of adaptation in the 5th grade that are reflected in higher repetition rates.

As far as regions are concerned, the worst problems related to the age/grade gap are concentrated in the Northeast and North Regions, characterized by the worst rates - 64.1% and 61.3% respectively (Table 32). This contrast is even more pronounced when these rates are placed alongside those registered in the South, namely, 25.8%, the lowest in the country.

Table 32 – Primary education – age/grade gap – Brazil and regions – 1982-1998

Region/ Year

Grades (%)

Total 1st grade 2nd grade 3rd grade 4th grade 5th grade 6th grade 7th grade
Brazil
1982 76.2 71.9 76.5 77.2 76.6 80.4 80.2 79.8
1991 64.1 59.5 62.6 63.3 62.7 70.2 68.6 67.4
1996 47.0 40.0 44.1 46.4 46.6 55.6 53.2 49.2
1998 46.6 38.2 43.9 44.5 45.7 54.3 52.5 52.0
North
1982 84.4 78.2 87.3 88.3 87.9 90.2 90.0 90.0
1991 79.0 72.5 81.0 81.6 81.4 84.3 83.1 81.8
1996 62.3 54.7 63.1 65.0 64.9 69.1 67.5 60.7
1998 61.3 51.2 62.3 64.5 64.9 69.7 67.4 65.7
Northeast
1982 85.1 80.9 87.0 87.8 87.6 89.7 89.2 88.9
1991 80.6 75.7 82.9 82.6 81.6 84.5 82.9 82.6
1996 65.7 58.4 66.9 68.0 67.3 72.8 70.2 67.1
1998 64.1 54.1 65.0 67.7 66.2 72.2 69.2 70.2
Southeast
1982 69.8 61.0 68.9 70.7 70.5 76.2 76.2 75.7
1991 54.7 39.6 49.0 53.8 54.1 64.5 63.5 61.6
1996 34.8 16.7 26.5 32.1 34.4 47.4 46.1 42.9
1998 34.2 14.7 22.6 25.6 34.3 43.9 45.5 45.4
South
1982 70.5 64.3 70.1 71.1 71.7 74.2 74.8 74.3
1991 43.8 33.3 38.1 40.0 44.3 52.5 53.0 52.6
1996 27.2 12.8 20.0 23.8 26.7 38.2 38.1 34.7
1998 25.8 10.5 17.6 21.4 24.0 35.8 33.1 32.2
Mid-West
1982 80.8 73.7 80.8 82.9 83.0 86.6 86.0 86.3
1991 65.9 55.0 63.1 65.0 65.5 73.9 72.9 72.1
1996 47.1 30.0 40.0 44.9 47.4 60.6 58.9 55.6
1998 45.5 25.1 36.3 42.2 43.4 56.7 58.0 57.5

Source: Ministry of Education/INEP/SEEC.

Obs.: The recommended age for each grade/level of education should be taken into account, that is, 7 years old for the 1st grade of primary education, 8 years old for the 2nd grade, and so on.

Parallel to the positive aspect denoted by the drop in the age/grade gap, a similarly positive evolution has been observed in the main flow indicators. These gains in terms of better educational flow will obviously be enhanced by strengthening policies to improve the quality and efficiency of teaching systems (Table 33).

Table 33 – Primary education – aggregate transition rates – Brazil – 1981 – 1997

Year

Promotion (%)

Repetition (%)

Drop-out (%)

1981

58

36

6

1985

58

36

6

1990

60

34

6

1995

65

30

5

1997

73

23

4

Source: Ministry of Education/INEP/SEEC

The programs being implemented in the different regions with the aim of speeding up the learning process are headed in that direction (Table 34). They involve the provision of special classes, under proper pedagogic guidance, for those students with an age/grade gap of two years or more, to enable them to complete the necessary learning, so that they can join the more advanced classes they should be attending at their age in a shorter period of time.

Table 34 – Enrollment in special catch-up classes in primary education – Brazil and regions – 1998

BraZil AND RegiONS

Enrollment in Special Classes

Total

Rural

Brazil

1,189,998

64,031

North

29,454

2,890

Northeast

411,719

33,380

Southeast

56,964

18,157

South

153,789

7,142

Mid-West

31,072

2,462

Source: Ministry of Education/INEP/SEEC

Unfortunately, these special catch-up classes are difficult to implement in rural areas, where schools are small and often limited to one teacher and few students. Another program was created for this population in 1998, called Active School, within the context of FUNDESCOLA activities.

It is also noticeable that the Northeast, where the age/grade gap is most pronounced, is being favored with an enrollment rate that is higher than its relative population, on account of the resources specially allocated to the region by the Federal Administration through the Nordeste Project. This program of catch-up classes is therefore a very important initiative to correct regional inequalities and foster equity and effectiveness in the system as a whole.

The positive improvement in transition rates, sustained by the systematic decrease in repetition and drop-out rates and by higher promotion rates, has brought about a substantial rise in the number of students completing primary education. Over the last four years, this growth rate was 34.4%, whereas enrollment for the same period went up by only 12.2%. This trend should hold for the next few years, enhancing the demand for secondary education and, consequently, leading to more enrollments in high schools, as can be perceived already.

The improvement in the performance of primary education can also be measured by the increase in the expected graduation. In 1995, only 52% of all students enrolled in elementary schools were expected to complete primary education, while in 1996 that figure climbed to 66%. At the same time, the average number of years to conclude the 8 grades - about 10 years, as stated earlier - is becoming shorter. Therefore, the gains in efficiency in the educational systems are quite evident, despite the persistence of serious regional discrepancies.

The recent development of primary education presents yet another positive factor, namely, the rapid growth in enrollments in the 5th to the 8th grades, precisely where the drop-out rate was the highest, reflecting the increase in promotion rates in the lower grades. This phenomenon is linked both to lower repetition rates and to the demographic factors analyzed above (Table 35).

Table 35 – Primary education – Enrollments: 1st-4th and 5th-8th grades – Brazil –1995-1998 (in 1,000)

Year

Primary education

Total

1st-4th grades

5th-8th grades

1995

32,669

20,054

12,615

1996

33,131

20,027

13,104

1998

35,792

21,333

14,459

Source: Ministry of Education/INEP/SEEC

It should also be observed that the supply conditions in primary education likewise reveal marked regional disparities in terms of school facilities, such as the lack of electricity, piped water and proper sanitation, which are most common in the North and Northeast regions. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that the precarious nature of infrastructure conditions is more a feature of schools in rural areas, which are more abundant in these regions, representing 82% of all schools in the North and 73% in the Northeast. Only 18.6% of students enrolled in the North and 32.00% of those in the Northeast are affected. The problem has to be corrected with concentration policies and focused actions that take into account the geographical and socio-demographic characteristics of each state in the federation.

One favorable condition for the development of primary education is the student/teacher ratio, which tends to be low (Table 36).

Table 36 – Primary education – student/teacher ratio by location – Brazil – 1975-1997

Year

Location

Total

Urban

Rural

1975

21.8

-

-

1980

25.6

-

-

1985

23.8

24.0

23.3

1987

23.0

23.5

21.5

1989

22.9

23.6

20.6

1991

22.5

23.4

19.4

1996

23.9

24.7

20.4

1997

24.2

24.8

21.7

1998

24.9

25.9

24.0

Source: Ministry of Education/INEP/SEEC

The ratio oscillated at around 22 students per teacher between 1975 and 1997, with a minimum of 21.8 in 1975 and a maximum of 25.6 in 1980. The most recent average - 1997 - is 24.9 students per teacher. The variation between urban and rural education is small, the urban average being slightly higher, which is normal in the context of Brazil's dispersed rural population.

In order to ensure a more efficient system and offer the teachers better wages, the government is stimulating states and municipalities to increase the ratio to at least 27 students per teacher, with the average class size ranging from 25 to 30 students in the lower grades and from 30 to 35 students in the upper grades.

The conclusion that can be drawn from these statistics is that the core problems of primary education, albeit serious, are being successfully faced. The recent educational policy has proved to be quite effective.

3.2. Training and remunerating teachers

The data analyzed above underscore serious problems that originate in the quality of education, which is chiefly affected by inadequate teacher-training mechanisms.

With regard to primary education, quite a different situation can be observed between the level of training provided to teachers in the lower and upper grades, especially because the minimum training requirements are still different: for the lower (1st-4th) grades, teachers are required to have a secondary-level degree for teaching, whereas for the upper (5th-8th) grades, teachers must be college graduates (Tables 37 and 38).

Table 37 – Primary education – 1st-4th grade - number of teachers by qualification and location – Brazil and regions - 1998

Brazil and

Regions

Teachers by qualification and location

Location

Total

Incomplete or complete primary education

Complete secondary education

Complete higher education

N.

(%)

N.

(%)

N.

(%)

N.

(%)

Brazil Total

 

798,947

100.0

94,976

11.9

531,256

66.5

172,715

21.6

  Rural

 

229,660

100.0

78,396

34.1

139,949

60.9

11,315

4.9

North Total

 

75,627

100.0

21,22

28.1

52,118

68.9

2,287

3.0

  Rural

 

32,805

100.0

18,744

57.1

13,891

42.3

170

0.5

Northeast Total

 

288,255

100.0

60,088

20.8

204,031

70.8

24,136

8.4

  Rural

 

123,362

100.0

50,012

40.5

71,406

57.9

1,944

1.6

Southeast Total

 

267,718

100.0

4,468

1.7

172,343

64.7

89,907

33.6

  Rural

 

38,355

100.0

2,842

7.4

30,836

80.4

4,677

12.2

South Total

 

113,162

100.0

4,827

4.3

68,035

60.1

40,300

35.6

  Rural

 

25,765

100.0

3,501

13.6

18,412

71.5

3,852

15.0

Mid-West Total

 

54,185

100.0

4,371

8.1

33,729

62.2

16,085

29.7

  Rural

 

9,373

100.0

3,297

35.2

5,404

57.7

672

7.2

Source: Ministry of Education/INEP/SEEC

Obs.: The same teacher may be active in more than one educational level/modality and in more than one establishment.


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