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6. Secondary Education

The main phenomenon observed in Brazil's educational system in the 1990s has been the speed with which secondary education has expanded, repeating with greater intensity the movement witnessed in the 1970s and 1980s in respect to primary education. There is, therefore, no exaggeration in stating that the 1990s are characterized as the decade in which access to secondary education was democratized.

As a matter of fact, in the period between 1990 and 1998, enrollment in this level of education more than doubled, soaring from 3.5 to 6.9 million students. The number of students who concluded the course more than doubled, from 658,000 in 1990 to 1.5 million in 1998. Such growth gave rise to a mighty pressure on the demand for openings in the secondary educational system, as well as in post-secondary professional courses.

There are nevertheless signs that secondary education can expand even more in the next few years, considering that only about 32% of the population aged between 15 and 17 are enrolled at the moment. This picture places Brazil far below the more developed countries, such as France and Great Britain, where over 80% of the population in this age group attends schools. The position is also unfavorable when the Brazilian figures for high school graduates in relation to the population at 17, theoretically the age to complete the course, are compared to those registered in OECD countries (Table 50), or even in Latin-American neighbors like Argentina and Chile.

However, it should be remembered that while 85% of the segment of the population aged 15-17 is served by the school system, the high repetition rates and high rates of students who drop to re-enter later on retain a large percentage of adolescents over 14 in primary schools.

Table 50 – Rate of secondary education graduation vis-à-vis the population of 17 years of age (theoretically age for graduation)

Countries

Total

Men

Women

Brazil

32

20

46

Canada

72

68

75

Mexico

26

-

-

France

87

86

89

Greece

80

75

84

Italy

67

64

70

Spain

73

65

81

Sweden

64

60

68

Switzerland

79

84

75

Turkey

37

43

31

OECD average

80

80

85

Source: Brazil: MEC/INEP/SEEC; OECD countries: Education at a Glance/1997

Obs.: 1. Data on Brazil refer to 1995

2. Data on OECD countries refer to 1994

Secondary education is also where one finds the biggest gender gap, with a high concentration of female students enrolled, which shows how Brazil needs to develop a policy to stimulate male schooling beyond primary education. With a more regular flow in the educational system and more participation by males, the demand for openings in high schools should continue to grow at a fast pace in the next decade and reach a level of stability only after the year 2008, when INEP estimates that the system will have 10.4 million enrollments.

The federal, state and municipal administrations are faced with the tremendous challenge of ensuring this growth and at the same time promoting more quality in the education they provide. Enrollments in this level of education are growing particularly in the public system, mainly in state-managed schools, while there are clear signs of stagnation and even retraction in the private sector.

Another important feature of secondary education in Brazil is that openings in the public system are concentrated in evening courses (Table 51). Although this concentration has positive aspects, allowing as it does access to secondary education to young people who have daytime jobs, there are indications that it might be excessive. Indeed, the availability of secondary education at night is often due to the necessity of using school facilities dedicated to primary education during the day for this purpose.

Table 51 – Secondary education – Enrollment by instruction period– Brazil and regions – 1989-1998

Region/Year

Total

Day

%

Evening

%

Brazil

1989

3,477,859

1,459,900

41.98

2,017,959

58.02

1996*

5,739,077

2,520,364

43.92

3,218,713

56.08

1997*

6,405,057

2,824,455

44.10

3,580,602

55.90

1998*

6,968,531

3,150,843

45.22

3,817,688

54.78

North

1989

181,840

73,061

40.18

108,779

59.82

1996*

371,454

145,345

39.13

226,109

60.87

1997*

435,160

177,432

40.77

257,728

59.23

1998*

450,787

176,485

39.15

274,302

60.85

Northeast

1989

784,469

354,985

45.25

429,484

54.75

1996*

1,202,573

550,452

45.77

652,121

54.23

1997*

1,353,691

627,236

46.34

726,455

53.66

1998*

1,515,169

713,571

47.10

801,598

52.90

Southeast

1989

1,730,911

707,653

40.88

1,023,258

59.12

1996*

2,815,026

1,141,146

40.54

1,673,880

59.46

1997*

3,140,823

1,315,219

41.87

1,825,604

58.13

1998*

3,385,659

1,473,637

43.53

1,912,022

56.47

South

1989

546,057

232,242

42.53

313,815

57.47

1996*

937,937

506,293

53.98

431,644

46.02

1997*

1,018,324

501,452

49.24

516,872

50.76

1998*

1,115,919

558,525

50.05

557,394

49.95

Mid-West

1989

234,582

91,959

39.20

142,623

60.80

1996*

412,087

177,128

42.98

234,959

57.02

1997*

457,059

203,116

44.44

253,943

55.56

1998*

500,997

228,625

45.63

272,372

54.37

Source: Ministry of Education/INEP/SEEC

(*) Evening classes were considered to be those administered from 5 p.m. on.

The public network now accounts for 82.4% of secondary education enrollments, absorbing the impact of the expansion witnessed in the 1990s. On the other hand, the private network has seen a reduction in its supply of enrollments at this level of education. This phenomenon has been greatly intensified over the last two decades. In fact, the proportion of secondary school students attending private institutions fell from 46.5% in 1980 to 17.6% in 1998. There was also a reduction in absolute terms, since the figure of 1,310,921 high-school students enrolled in private schools in 1980 dropped to 1,226,641 in 1998.

Secondary education having become less élitistic than in the 1980s, the implication is that the demand for new openings will remain concentrated mostly in the state-managed public network. Accordingly, in this scenario of change it will become increasingly urgent to create post-secondary technical courses, since the main expectation of a great deal of those graduating from secondary school is to enter, or remain in, the labor market.

1. Educational mobility

The rapid growth of secondary education is linked to the socioeconomic dynamics of the country and points to a process of great educational mobility. But there are also intra-systemic factors that are certainly contributing to induce this growth, such as the improvement of primary education, which has led to a considerable increase in the number of students who complete the 8th grade.

There is no doubt that the priority attached to primary education in the last few years has been the main lever expanding enrollments in secondary schools. However, it bears adding that this phenomenon reflects above all new market needs brought about by profound changes in the work process, as a result of technological innovations and the intense re-structuring of the productive sector.

In this closing of the 20th century, the labor market has become more selective, demanding secondary-education qualification as the minimum schooling for applicants for a job, regardless of the function to be performed, encouraging students to enroll in secondary schools. This explains the tendency observed in recent years for the number of enrollments in the 1st grade of secondary schools to exceed the number of students who concluded the 8th grade of primary education the year before, since there is a significant number of people returning to the system to complete their basic education. So there will be a need for hefty investments in new school buildings.

If secondary education, from the point of view of expansion of enrollment, has performed remarkably in the 90s, the same cannot be said with regard to the indicators of efficiency, which are still far from desirable (Table 52). Serving a more heterogeneous clientele makes the challenge all the greater. Nonetheless, given the priority attached to secondary education, it is possible to turn that situation around by means of more effective policies to improve the quality of education, as was done with primary education in the last four years.

Table 52 – Secondary Education – Aggregate transition rates – Brazil – 1981-1997

Year

Promotion (%)

Repetition (%)

Drop-out (%)

1981

67

25

8

1985

60

31

9

1990

60

32

8

1995

65

27

8

1996

72

23

5

1997

75

19

6

Source: MEC/INEP/SEEC

The Ministry of Education claims that this objective cannot be met just by increasing enrollment, but rather calls for a deep reform of secondary education and broadening of opportunities for technical training. That is why the Federal Administration has drawn up and is implementing - with the indispensable partnership of the states - a far-reaching curricular and organizational reform of this level of education.

Re-distributing openings among day and evening courses, implementing the reform of secondary education, and designing these policies are actions that must take into account the profile of high-school students. A survey carried out by INEP in November 1997, involving about 430,000 students who completed secondary school in nine states, offered an important contribution for identification of the clientele. The first relevant aspect is monthly family income, one of the pieces of information making it possible to define socio-economic levels. It was discovered that 53% of the students who managed to complete the 11 years of basic education come from families whose monthly income amounts to less than 6 minimum wages (R$ 720).

Also noticed was a concentration of students from higher income brackets - above R$ 1,201 - in the daytime courses (36.4%), while 66% of those who attend night-time vocational training courses belong to the income bracket of up to R$ 720. The differentiation in the socioeconomic level of students of daytime and night-time classes appeared to a greater or lesser degree in all the states surveyed.

As far as age is concerned, it is to be hoped that students will finish secondary school when they are turning 17 or 18 years old. However, more than half of those who graduated (50.36%) were found to present an age/grade gap, with a substantial percentage of students over 21 (25.24%). In this regard, secondary education reproduces a very similar pattern to what is seen in primary schools, as mentioned earlier. Evaluation of those who graduate from secondary school also revealed that the students' performance varies negatively as the age/grade gap increases.

An analysis of the parents' schooling disclosed a scenario of significant educational mobility in the group of students concluding secondary education in 1997, with only 9.02% of fathers and 7.19% of mothers with a level of education higher than that achieved by their offspring. About 50% of the adolescents are children of parents who failed to complete primary education; around 11% of the parents have secondary education, and a mere 5% boast completed higher education.

Again according to the survey undertaken in 1997, most of those who concluded secondary education reconciled work and study (60%), a proportion that reached 72% among students attending evening classes. Of the latter, 19.26% began to work before the age of 14, and 34.47% between 14 and 16, a proportion that drops to 16.26% for the daytime classes. Finally, 13% of the students stated they were jobless, a percentage that rises to 31.7% for the night-time vocational training courses.

This confirms not only the well-known fact that adolescents enrolled in evening secondary education are young workers, but also and chiefly the urgent need to review and discuss the current coverage of these students, in terms of curricular structure and methodology, teaching techniques and didactic material.

The expectations of those who conclude secondary education are quite diversified. For 31.5% of the young people, the main expectation was to continue with their studies and enter university. Another chief expectation generated by secondary education is work-related, since, with the exception of the students enrolled in daytime academic courses, secondary school is seen as an instrument that will enable them to enter or to better their opportunities in the labor market.

Indeed, 20.5% of these students expect to find a better job on completing secondary school, while 13% view it as the way to get a job. The reform of secondary education envisages the possibility of satisfying that condition in regular courses.

In a labor market where the level of occupation is growing less than what would be necessary to incorporate the population seeking employment, schooling and prior professional experience differentiate applicants in the hotly disputed competition. Satisfying this yearning for a more stable professional situation means defining training programs in specific activities performed in the labor market. There is a strong repressed demand for computer-science courses, for example. Even those who engaged in no extra-curricular activity expressed interest in this area.

As a means to meet this demand, the Federal Administration is undertaking, together with the reform of regular education, another reform geared to education in vocational training courses offered in schools. The reform offers students the chance to attend simultaneously the regular secondary school course and a vocational training course. This is feasible in the Brazilian situation because the regular courses are only half-period, lasting 4-5 hours, and there is a great supply of evening classes. Another arrangement provided by the reform would enable the student to join the professional course after completing secondary school.

7. National System for Evaluation of Basic Education – SAEB

Since 1990, Brazil has been developing an evaluation system known as the National Basic Education Evaluation System (SAEB). Capable of providing information on the performance of primary education, SAEB allows for evaluation of the effectiveness of the teaching systems, with emphasis on quality, efficiency and equity.

Every two years data are collected not only to check the performance of the students by applying progress tests but also to investigate socioeconomic and contextual factors that interfere in the learning process. These factors are grouped together in four areas under scrutiny: school, school management, teachers and students.

7.1 - Evaluation of the proficiency of basic-education students

The progress tests aim at gauging the student's proficiency, this being understood as a set of skills and abilities proved by the student's performance in the subjects evaluated: "what the student knows and is capable of doing," that is, knowledge, the level of cognitive development and instrumental skills acquired while at school. The results for each subject are presented in a single scale, thereby making it possible to compare the student's performance both in different years of the survey and in the three grades evaluated: 4th-8th grades in primary and 3rd grade in secondary school.3

The main results of the SAEB/97 confirm tendencies identified in earlier surveys, the more important ones being as follows:

Heterogeneity of educational systems – there are great differences among schools, both in terms of infrastructure and available pedagogic resources, and with regard to the progress made by students. One can note considerably different averages in proficiency levels between regions, educational networks, urban and rural areas, as well as within each state.4

Studies dedicated to identifying factors that explain the learning process indicate that the performance of Brazilian students is conditioned by, or closely associated to the type of infrastructure the school presents. This being the case, there is little chance for schools that are poorly installed, badly equipped and lacking in funds to achieve any degree of success.

Disharmony between the proposed curriculum and the performance of the students – the results obtained confirm the scant effectiveness of the proposed or indicated curriculum, since it is not being satisfactorily assimilated. Few students present a performance that comes close to what is desirable as far as the curricular proposal is concerned. For the whole of the subjects evaluated, the data point to the wide gap that seemingly exists between what is proposed in the curricula and what the students are actually capable of learning and achieving. In a general sense, the performance shown by the students falls short of what is recommended for the stage of education they are attending. This trend becomes especially pronounced after the second half of primary and all through secondary education.

The age/grade gap impacts negatively on the students' progress – the performance of students older than the age recommended for their grade tends to be inferior to that of students of the proper age. Based on this, it may be stated that failing a student, rather than giving a new opportunity for him/her to learn, eventually becomes a hurdle in the path of his/her development.

The association between the student's performance and the teachers’ qualification - the higher the teachers’ qualification, the higher the average performance of students. However, it is most surprising to find that the average proficiency of students with teachers who have higher education but lack teacher training is higher than that of students whose teachers have gone through regular teacher-training courses but are not college graduates. This phenomenon is common to all the grades and subjects evaluated.

The parents´ educational level bears an influence on the student's performance – one notices a growing tendency in the average proficiency of students in accordance with the father's or mother's level of education, which shows the influence of socioeconomic factors in the learning process.

Little equity in terms of learning - one way to gather information on the degree of equity in the learning process is to check the percentage of students in each grade who are above each of the performance levels in the scales. It is desirable that most, if not all, students should present a similar performance. The results given in the following tables indicate that equity is still a challenge to be met.

Table 53 – Percentage of Students above the performance levels in Mathematics – Brazil – 1997

Mathematics

Level 175

Level 250

Level 325

Level 400

4th grade of primary education

55.6

10.9

0.3

_

8th grade of primary education

94.7

47.6

7.6

_

3rd grade of secondary education

100.0

87.2

32.2

5.3

Table 54 – Percentage of Students above the performance levels in Portuguese – Brazil – 1997

PortugueseLevel 325

Level 400

     
4th grade of primary education

42.0

8.8

_

_

8th grade of primary education

92.1

51.8

5.9

_

3rd grade of secondary education

99.2

80.0

26.3

1.0

Source: Ministry of Education/INEP/DAEB – SAEB/97

Comparative analysis of the SAEB results for 1995 and 1997 allows us, for the first time in Brazil, to study the evolution of the students' progress in learning in state-managed educational systems.5

It should be stressed that the comparisons are to be made with some caution: in the first place, the two-year gap is too small to show significant differences in student performance, and secondly, there occurred changes in the definition of the sample of student population in the 1997 SAEB, in respect to the 1995 SAEB. So in some cases the different average proficiencies may be put down to changes in the characteristics of the student populations rather than to real changes in performance.

Two positive trends stand out when we compare the results of the 1997 SAEB to those of the 1995 SAEB. On the one hand, there was an obvious improvement in the performance of students in the Northeast region and other states which over the last few years have made advances in educational reform, such as Paraná, Minas Gerais, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. On the other hand, the relative stability of the average proficiency in the other states indicates that the fast expansion of primary and secondary education witnessed lately was not due to any lowering of quality.6 Charts 2 and 3 and Figures 1 and 2 below provide a better view of the movement observed in the variation of the proficiency averages in Mathematics and Portuguese from 1995 to 1997.


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