Basic Education

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Basic Education is the whole range of educational activities, taking place in various settings, that aim to meet basic learning needs as defined in the World Declaration on Education for All (Jomtien, Thailand, 1990). 

According to the standard of the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), basic education comprises primary education (first stage of basic education) and lower secondary education (second stage). It also covers a wide variety of non-formal and informal public and private activities intended to meet the basic learning needs of people of all ages.

According to the IBE Curriculum Terminology, “basic education is the   foundation   for   lifelong   learning   and   human   development     on     which     countries     may     build,     systematically, further levels  and  types  of  education  and    training.    Basic    education   typically   comprises   primary   and   lower   secondary education, and  increasingly  one  or  more  years      of      pre-primary      education.      It      usually      encompasses compulsory schooling.” (UNESCO-IBE, 2013).

Basic education is the first level of education in Brazil. It comprises three states: early childhood education (up to 5 year-old children), primary education (from 6 to 14 year-old students) and secondary education (from 15 to 17 year-old students).

The corresponding levels of the Brazilian education and the ISCED and the stages and levels of Basic Education, according to the LDB National Law 9394/1996 (Brazil): 



  • Stage 1 = Educational development in early childhood
  • Stage 2 = Pre-primary education

ISCED 1 = Primary education


  • Lower secondary education – general
  • Lower secondary education – professional/vocational


  • Upper secondary education – general
  • Upper secondary education – professional/vocational

ISCED 4 = Non-tertiary post-secondary education



  • Stage 1 = Early childhood care
  • Stage 2 = Pre-school

LEVEL 1 = Initial years of fundamental education (1st to 5th grade)


  • Final years of fundamental education (6th to 9th grade)
  • Final years of fundamental education (6th to 9th grade) PROEJA FIC


  • Medium education (Upper secondary education)
  • Medium level technical and professional education, articulated with Medium Education

LEVEL 4 = Medium level technical and professional education, subsequent 

Improving Basic Education

An educated work force is the key to moving beyond extractive and agricultural economies. An educated citizenry is necessary to carry out informed and sustainable development. Nations with high illiteracy rates and unskilled work forces have fewer development options. These nations are largely forced to buy energy and manufactured goods on the international market with hard currency. To acquire hard currency, these countries need to trade, and usually this means exploiting natural resources or converting lands from self-sufficient family-based farming to cash-crop agriculture. The first priority of education for sustainable future was the promotion of basic education (Chapter 36 of Agenda 21).

The relationship between education and sustainable development is complex. Generally, research shows that basic education is important to a nation’s ability to develop and achieve sustainability targets. Research has shown that education can improve agricultural productivity, enhance the status of women, reduce population rates, enhance environmental protection, and generally raise the standard of living. But the relationship is not linear.

For example, four to six years of education is the minimum threshold for increasing agricultural productivity. Literacy and numeracy allow farmers to adapt to new methods, cope with risk, and to respond to market signals. Another profound change occurs when women reach the same level of education as men. An average of six to eight years of public education for women is required before the birth rate drops and infant health and children’s education improve. Nine to twelve years of education is required before industrial productivity increases nationally.

Finally, for a nation to shift to an information or knowledge-based economy – fuelled less on imported technology and more on local innovation and creativity – a subtle combination of higher education, research, and life-long learning must exist.

In many countries, the current level of basic education is too low, severely hindering national plans for a sustainable future. Unfortunately, the lowest quality of education is often found in the poorest regions or communities. The impact of little and/or poor-quality education severely limits the options available to a nation for developing its short- and long-term sustainability plans.

(Source: Adapted from UNESCO (1997). Environment and Society: Education and Public Awareness for Sustainability, Background Paper prepared for UNESCO International Conference, Thessaloniki).

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