Post graduation courses
Pre-school (kindergarten and equivalents) are not mandatory.
The topic Education is subject of a Chapter of the Constitution, articles 205 to 214.
The most important infraconstitutional law regarding education is Law nr. 9394, December 20th 1996, officially known as Lei de Diretrizes e Bases (Law of Guidelines and Bases), but often referred to as Lei Darcy Ribeiro (a tribute to one of the greatest Brazilian sociologist and educator).
According to article 208 of Constitution, the fundamental education is mandatory and gratuitous. Only the fundamental education is mandatory in Brazil.
The command is valid both for the State (including the Union, the States, the Federal District and the municipalities) and for parents.
"The competent authority shall be liable for the failure of the Government in providing compulsory education or providing it irregularly.", reads paragraph 2 of article 208. There have been isolated cases in which the Justice has been called to remedy situations in which a poor family can't find elementary educations for their children; in such cases, Judges have determined that the State pay for tuition in private schools on behalf of the children.
A much more serious - and frequent - problem is the case of children who don't attend school because their parents lack interest; many poor parents can't afford the costs of sending kids to school; or they simply prefer to send their children to work rather than to school.
Despite the facts that fundamental education is mandatory and work under the age of 16 is forbidden, Brazil has many cases of infant labour; and the reason is simple: parents need their kids to work to make money. Some kinds of scenes already exhibited in the Evening News: children aged 3 breaking nuts with a stick; boys aged 10 carrying and throwing wood into brick ovens.
The situation has been improving over the past few years thanks to two official programmes: Bolsa Escola, by which parents who keep their children in school and with good health receive a small stipend, and FUNDEF, by which municipalities receive federal funds in accordance to the number of children enrolled.
Most elementary schools are maintained either by municipalities or the States (as determined by paragraphs 2 and 3 of article 211); both entities are obliged to apply at least 25% of their budgets in education.
This generates a problem: richer States and richer cities have more money to invest and obtain a better education (not only because they have more funds, but also because the population are more informed and demand more resources), with better paid teachers and better infrastructure, whereas in the poorer cities and States the education will be generally of lower standards.
Even in the richer areas, however, the standards have been falling over the past decades. A cycle was observed in Brazil: the State invested little in education; the standards of public education dropped; the middle class moved their children to private schools; the middle class stopped to care about public education; the State invested even less in education; the standards fell even more;...
Education is open to free enterprising, under official supervision. Nowadays, practically all the middle class sends their children to private schools. Costs may vary from as little as R$ 50 (US$ 20) in smaller cities to R$ 500 in São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro (cities where services are most expensive in Brazil).
Brazil is participating of the One Laptop Per Child project (aiming at providing low cost laptops to poor children in Third World countries), but the program moves slowly. Read more information (in Portuguese) about the Notebook for Children program in Brazil.
Intermediary education (in Portuguese, 'ensino médio') is not mandatory in Brazil.
Clause II of article 208 says that the State should seek a progressive universalization of the free intermediary education (cf. this with Clause I of same article, which reads that elementary education is mandatory and free); the article, however, does not establish a term in which the universalization shall be reached.
Intermediary education takes three years. Most intermediary schools are maintained by the municipalities and States. A consequence of this is that the quality of schools will vary in accordance with the investment capabilities of those entities.
Most schools do not provide professional education. There are schools which provide, along with the regular intermediary graduation, also a professional formation; such schools are called 'escolas técnicas' (technical schools).
Even though not obliged, the Federal government maintains a network of technical schools, which are considered the best in Brazil. Also well regarded are the technical schools maintained by SESI and SENAI; these entities receive funds from the industries to run courses taylored to the market (usually, SESI and SENAI are attended by the poorer classes, as happened with President Lula).
Most graduates of the intermediary level do not have a technical formation. Many try to attend universities to obtain a diploma. Access to University is based mainly in merit, which is measured by performance in exams (called in Portuguese 'vestibular').
To improve their chances on the exams, many students, after finishing intermediary education, take lessons in private courses called 'cursinhos' or pre-vestibular courses. The 'cursinhos' are not official institutions (attending a cursinho doesn't warrant any official recognition).
Cursinhos became an important link in the Brazilian education chain. They exist in all medium and large cities, where there is a significant number of students finishing high school. They invest much in marketing, trying to capture candidates to university. They hire some of the best teachers (with corresponding highest salaries) in the market; these teachers have the difficult job to try to pass, in one year, learning which should have been acquired over three years.
Some of the former larger cursinhos grew so much that they became, first, franchisings, established in many cities, and, later, institutions of superior learning; Anglo and Objetivo are some examples.
Education is open to free enterprise, under official supervision.
Just like it happens with elementary education, Brazilian middle class sends their children to private intermediary schools. Most middle class families know that private schools are (usually) far superior to official schools. Attending private intermediary schools becomes even more important because the entrance examinations into college are focused on subjects taught in intermediary schools; statistics show that most students approved into college have attended private intermediary schools.
Usually, besides the regular sylabus, private schools offer supplementary activities, such as sports, languages, arts, etc. Costs of private schools may go very high, depending on the quality (and reputation) of the institution; an ordinary private school usually costs a few hundred reais, but top schools like Porto Seguro, Dante Alighieri, Colégio São Bento, American School of Brasilia, etc. can get into the thousands of dollars per month.
A consequence of this state of things is that, usually, the students which could afford the best intermediary schools or even the best cursinhos are the ones approved into the free public universities, whereas the poorer classes, who can't afford a good formation, resort to the paid, lower quality, private universities.
Read some info about Universities in Brazil.
Superior education is neither mandatory (as fundamental education is), nor there is a plan for its universalization (as happens with secondary education). However, the absolute majority of federal investments in education goes towards superior education (a reason for this, in a country where fundamental education is so defficient, is that deans and university professors are much more vocals and have a much more powerful lobby than directors and teachers of lower level schools).
Because of federal fundings, public universities are, in general, better than private ones. Public universities, which do not seek financial returns, are more likely to invest in the formation of professors and in expensive structures, needed for courses such as Medicine and Engineering. The majority of private faculties offer courses of Human Sciences, such as Laws (the course with biggest growth over the recent years), Administration, Accounts.
This disparity between public and private universities was even bigger just a decade ago. In his term as President, Fernando Henrique Cardoso created the Provão, a set of tests which were applied to all students of selected courses upong graduation. The results of such tests were made public, and so future students could gauge the quality of all faculties. Private institution started to hire better professors and invest in better infrastructure, so as to improve their results in the Provão.
Post graduation in Brazil is also concentrated in public universities.
Education during the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso
Several improvements were observed
Ministry of Education
Official website of the Ministry of Education
Task Brazil Trust
London based charity aiming to help the Street Kids of Brazil by providing shelters and care
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