Education: Competing Against the World
Only now is Brazil reaching universal elementary education. Overcrowding has forced the country to run schools in shifts.
The education regimen is similar for La?s Batista Oliveira Neiva, 16, who lives in Salvador, 3-million population, in northeast Brazil. She attends a military school, though her family isn't military. Many such schools closed after the military left power. The few remaining are renowned for their academics -- so respected that La?s' father, a furniture maker, tutored her to pass the entrance exam at age 10. She was one of the 60 who made it out of 2,000 applicants. "I had to study really hard since third grade," she says. Like Alan, she was selected a Youth Ambassador for her community service. On her U.S. visit to Nebraska, she didn't find the classes difficult but admired the school's resources and its community service requirement, which she believes would be good for Brazil. She also has a job -- at the tutoring center her father started after his success in preparing her for the military school entrance exam. La?s hopes to study engineering and international affairs and wants to attend one of the military universities. Also like Alan, she is focused on her favored university's vestibular next year.
Lais Batista Oliveira Neiva, 16
Colégio Militar de Salvador
Family: She's an only child. Her father and mother run a school.
School: Colégio Militar de Salvador is a 15-minute car ride from La?s' home.
Courses: Physics, math, chemistry, Portuguese, English, geometry, history, geography, biology, literature, military instruction.
L?gia Carrelli Sa Silva's parents recently moved her to a 13-year-old, 1,937-student, kindergarten-and-up private school to better prepare the teen for getting into a university. "Everybody has iPods, and they all travel," says L?gia of her new school. Most also have computers at home. "I feel so different because I study. I do homework. Some people don't care about school." She would like to be a nutritionist. Her classes have 40 students, and her school day is from 7:10 a.m. to 12:10 or 12:55 p.m. L?gia, who will face the vestibular in 2007, already takes three review classes per week in physics, math and chemistry. Competition for the relatively few slots at the prestigious, free universities is fierce in this highstakes test. Says L?gia, with typical teenage hyperbole: "It's like 40 places for like a billion people."
L?gia Carrelli Sa Silva, 16
Colégio Albert Sabin
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Family: The younger of two children of university-educated parents. Her father is an economist, and her mother stays at home.
School: The private Colégio Albert Sabin is a 10-minute drive from her home.
Courses: Chemistry, physics, biology, math, Portuguese, English, geography, history, art and physical education.
In Brazil, packed secondary schools are putting pressure on universities to expand.
? Nearly 90% of children attend public schools. States and schools set curriculum. The 200-day school year runs from late January to December, with a break in the Southern Hemisphere's summer.
? Municipalities run elementary education, states run secondary and the federal government runs higher ed, though some large municipalities might run all three. Students average five 50- minute classes in secondary school.
? At the secondary level, according to a 2001 study, 7.5% of children have failed at least one grade, 16.5% have dropped out and 58.6% are at least one year older than expected, meaning they missed or failed at least one year of school, generally at the elementary level. Vocational schools get high marks.
? Brazil only now is reaching universal elementary education, which has led to a soaring number of secondary students and, in turn, to pressure for expansion at universities. "High school is not enough any longer. To compete, they have to get into a university now or a higher education institution," says Helo?sa L?ck, a consultant with the National Council for State Secretaries of Education.
? A major issue is how to foster more innovators. "Traditionally, our education was too much oriented to content and not enough to thinking and doing," L?ck says. "We developed a lot of knowledge but not how to apply that knowledge."
? Inverse to the United States, the most prestigious universities in Brazil are the free public schools. Competition to get in is intense. While U.S. colleges judge applicants on a combination of their GPA, test scores, extracurricular experiences and application essay, in Brazil, only the "vestibular" exam -- university entrance exam -- matters.