7. 10 Steps to a Stronger Education System

As shown in this report, Brazil has achieved much in the field of education in the last few decades, dramatically enhancing the participation of children and young people, and closing the gap, at least in some respects, with high-performing countries. Early childhood education and care (ECEC) has been expanded, enrolment in primary education is close to universal, and around 80%of the cohort participate in lower secondary education (see Chapter 2), with well over half now progressing to upper secondary school. Evidence from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows that growth in secondary participation has been realised alongside some improvements in learning outcomes (see Chapter 3). This is an achievement given that many of the students now progressing through the different phases of secondary education are children from disadvantaged backgrounds who are often the first in their family to advance beyond primary school. Tertiary participation has also grown sharply, and access enhanced for the most disadvantaged.

These gains have been driven by a range of policy initiatives, which have not only promoted positive changes in Brazil, but also served as an inspiration for reforms in other emerging economies. First, over the last two decades a set of measures have supported the most disadvantaged individuals and regions. These measures, including Bolsa Família, the Basic Education Maintenance and Development Fund (Fundo de Desenvolvimento da Educação Básica, FUNDEB) and quotas in tertiary education have expanded access to all levels of education and helped reduce disparities. Second, a long history of investing in indicators and monitoring systems, including the Basic Education Assessment System (Sistema de Avaliação da Educação Básica, SAEB) and the national education quality index (Índice de Desenvolvimento da Educação Básica, IDEB), have provided valuable measures of learning outcomes, supporting evaluation of the effectiveness of schooling and informing better policies and practices (see Chapter 3). These data and monitoring systems compare well with those of many developed OECD countries. Such national measures have been augmented by many related initiatives at state and municipality level.

Despite these advances, many challenges remain, especially in raising the quality of education to match its quantitative growth, in developing the teacher profession, strengthening the school learning environment, and reducing inequalities of opportunities. Moreover, in the last decade, Brazil’s economy has faltered, weakening the tax base that provides for education, limiting household resources available to support the education of children, and posing challenges to a long-held constitutional commitment to protect government spending on education.

The COVID-19 crisis has administered a further shock, both badly disrupting education directly because of institution closures, and through its economic impact on individual families and on the resources available to government at all levels. Brazil’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell by 4.1% in 2020 (IBGE, n.d.[1]) and poverty rates are expected to increase (see Chapter 1) (OECD, 2020[2]; OECD, 2020[3]). School and university closures, and the move to hybrid models of teaching relying in part on online provision, have increased inequity, as students from disadvantaged homes have fewer of the family, technical and cultural resources that support distance learning. The crisis is therefore both reducing the capacity of families to support the education of children and young people, and challenging the ability of government to resource education. The collective risk is not only that further progress might not take place but also that recent achievements could be reversed.

Despite the challenges, the crisis also presents opportunities. In a context fraught with risk, bold reforms become less risky relative to inaction. All the reforms suggested in this report have the potential to yield significant gains for Brazil’s children and the nation’s economy. Some present political difficulties. Yet a time of crisis, when it is generally recognised that hard choices are inevitable, may make it easier to take necessary decisions, and for them to be accepted. This chapter advances ten policy steps which Brazil should consider to address the key challenges identified in this report, steps which will collectively put Brazil on the path to excellence for all in education.

Looking ahead, Brazil’s future is defined by two strategic goals for its development, reflected in the related challenges of quality and equity facing its education system:

  • First, historically, much economic growth in Brazil has been driven by natural resources, but in the future, Brazil aims to join other advanced economies in relying, increasingly, on human capital, especially in the form of higher-level skills. Continued improvement in attainment and learning outcomes will be critical in supporting this shift, and strengthening civic cohesion, Brazil’s living standards and well-being (OECD, 2020[4]). At present, by international standards, Brazil’s attainment rates at upper secondary and tertiary level are not sufficient (see Chapter 2). International evidence also shows that half of the 15-year-olds in Brazilian schools lack a baseline level of proficiency in reading, compared with only about one in five in OECD countries on average (see Chapter 3). This is the quality challenge for Brazil.

  • Second, for Brazil to fully benefit from economic growth, it needs to ensure that the fruits of growth are widely shared and poverty drastically reduced, overcoming the large inequalities that currently exist. Some long-term declines in inequality had already started to reverse even before the COVID-19 crisis, and Brazil remains a highly unequal country economically and socially (see Chapter 1). Education, managed well and in combination with wider governmental strategies, can support equity by unlocking the potential of individuals born in humble circumstances, overcoming barriers of wealth, social background, gender, and ethnic origin. But in Brazil, social and economic background, including race, has a bigger impact on participation and learning outcomes than in OECD countries (see Chapter 3). Fee-paying (often better quality) private schools, alongside the cultural advantages of many better-off homes, often allow wealthier families to use the education system to secure better life chances for their children, including through access to public universities which are free of tuition. While increased enrolment rates have served to reduce gaps in access to compulsory education, large inequities in outcomes persist. This reflects the fact that children start school with already markedly different levels of development and readiness to learn. It also reflects the way in which poor quality schooling and disadvantaged home backgrounds combine to mean that basic skills are not acquired early on, setting disadvantaged students on a trajectory that leads to weak school performance, high rates of dropout and limited life chances. This is the equity challenge for Brazil.

As a precondition for delivering both education quality and equity, Brazil will need to set clear priorities and secure the resources needed for education. The remaining part of this chapter will therefore set out 10 Steps to improve the quality of Brazilian education, first exploring the issue of priorities and resources, then the quality of teaching and learning, and finally equity.

Now more than ever, as Brazil faces a deep recession and the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s limited resources need to be carefully used on the issues that matter most. While in the short term, the crisis will and should force a reappraisal of spending priorities, it will be crucial for Brazil to sustain its efforts to improve quality and equity. This will require setting priorities, securing resources, and putting in place a more robust monitoring and accountability system.

Education is a critical long-term investment in youth and in the future of Brazil, and therefore needs to be sustained through the ups and downs of the Brazilian economy. In the immediate future, the COVID-19 crisis, superimposed on an economic slowdown, may lead to expenditure cuts at the national and sub-national levels. Unmanaged, the risk is that fragmented expenditure cuts will damage education quality and hinder the implementation of reforms underway. There are also big risks for equity: while FUNDEB should help cushion some of the pressures through transfers to poorer states and municipalities, this will still leave the large challenge of students with interrupted education, relying too heavily on variable home resources, thus exacerbating inequalities. The flight of students to the public sector also risks sudden pressures, in the form of many additional students in schools and localities ill-equipped and unprepared for the new demands.

The recent OECD economic survey of Brazil has argued that Brazil needs to move away from mandatory and earmarked public expenditure to one which, within overall expenditure limits, links expenditure to outcomes (OECD, 2020[2]). This principle could usefully be applied to education expenditure. As described in Chapter 4, there is a long history in Brazil of determining education expenditure – and sometimes its sub-components – by law. This has covered, for example, the proportion of municipality, state and federal revenues that should be spent on education, and the proportion of the taxes that should be spent on particular programmes. But whether such rules set expenditure minima or maxima, their common feature is to make education authorities accountable for what they spend, rather than for what they achieve, in terms of learning outcomes, or equity. This reduces the capacity and incentive to reallocate resources to achieve better outcomes. States, municipalities and schools should be able to use budgets in unconventional ways if they can justify it in terms of outcomes – for example by employing fewer but better qualified and better paid teachers, or by giving school leaders more discretion over parts of their budget, while holding them accountable for the results they achieve with this expenditure. Unsuccessful programmes might then be scaled back or dropped, and successful ones expanded. Such flexibility is needed particularly during the COVID-19 crisis since it allows for a reappraisal of spending priorities. It would also provide a framework in which demographic changes (e.g. declining school-age populations) could be addressed.

The principle here is to give education authorities and school stakeholders more freedom for how they use their financial resources, while monitoring and holding them accountable for their achievements in terms of education outcomes. Depending on the education authority, such accountability might be exercised in different ways, but very often in terms of democratic accountability to electors in their state or municipality and of user-friendly tools that increase transparency.

The flexibilities proposed here (in Step 1) underpin the reallocation of resources proposed in Step 2.

The COVID-19 crisis and its economic fallout are placing increased pressure on budgets at every level. Building on the increased budgetary flexibility proposed in Step 1, this creates the need and opportunity for a reassessment of priorities for education spending, so that key objectives are protected, savings realised where possible, and spending reconfigured to sustain and deliver priority goals. While an effective response to the COVID-19 crisis is an urgent requirement, the strategic priorities of quality and equity will require sustained efforts and commitment of resources over the coming years, so that despite short-term pressures on budgets, Brazil’s education system continues to make progress towards its goals. The substance of such efforts, and where resources might be most fruitfully directed, is discussed in sections 0 and 0 which follow.

In two parts of the education system there is scope to reallocate resources for the priority objectives identified above:

  • As argued in Chapter 2, the practice of repeating grades has few benefits for student learning, and is very costly to the education system, even though the schools concerned rarely bear the costs directly. Estimates suggest that around 5% of the costs of primary and secondary education could be saved by progressively reducing grade repetition. Usually the cost to the system of educating that student for an additional year falls on the public purse. In addition, the individual and the Brazilian economy lose out because of delayed entry to the labour force. Brazil would therefore benefit from adopting the practice in many high-performing OECD countries, where repetition is a rare event. This would need to be backed by much more systematic use of early intervention and diagnosis tools to support students’ progression, and training to help teachers adapt to a more diverse classroom, including techniques of adaptive instruction and formative assessment. In some cases, it will also require additional resources for schools so that they can give extra time, or offer study rooms to students falling behind. Efforts to improve the learning environment in schools and classrooms (see Step 6) can also support students’ engagement and progression.

  • Tertiary education is important, and attainment rates need to increase in Brazil to meet the needs of the economy and aspirations of individuals. But, as shown in Chapter 4, despite efforts to widen participation through the quota system and financial support for students attending private universities, over half of public expenditure on tertiary education goes to benefit students from the wealthiest quintile in the population. These students have families that could readily afford to contribute to the costs of their education. Taking advantage of this option, through cost-sharing models, would free up resources that could be devoted to education objectives that have a much stronger equity return, such as expanding ECEC.

The closure of many schools and tertiary institutions for extended periods has held back the learning of students, particularly the most disadvantaged who often have less family support, fewer practical resources for continued learning at home, and face increasing risks of hunger and malnutrition. In some parts of Brazil, during periods of school closure, schools and local education authorities have developed innovative ways of maintaining teaching online (Dellagnelo and Reimers, 2020[6]). However, many students cannot benefit from such arrangements: half of the poorest students have no Internet access (see Chapter 6). Moreover, those completing their education face the additional challenge of a difficult labour market. The whole youth cohort is therefore vulnerable, but particularly the most disadvantaged.

In addition, as Chapter 1 has indicated, one impact of the crisis could be a sudden migration of students from private schools into the public school system, given evidence that many parents are withdrawing their children from the private sector for financial reasons. This will place an additional strain on the public system and may mean some schools become overcrowded.

In light of this, an immediate priority will be to provide the support needed by education institutions and students so that they can recover from disruption, with particular attention given to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Some adjustments to the school calendar and examination timetables will also be necessary. International guidance is available, drawing on the shared experience of countries around the world facing very similar challenges. Moreover, civil society organisations have played an important role in documenting best practices from around the world, as well as within Brazil. Moreover, the National Council of Education (Conselho Nacional de Educação, CNE) has also established specific requirements and provided guidelines for schools’ closures and re-opening (MEC, CNE, 2020[7]). However, uncertainties remain over whether the current measures in place will be sufficient to allow students to catch up and successfully complete their programmes, and how to find the financial resources to support such efforts at a time when budgets is already strained.

Brazil’s strong progress in increasing education participation has not yet been matched by commensurate improvements in completions and learning outcomes. So, while increased participation has been realised without lowering standards, according to PISA evidence, learning outcomes remain behind comparator countries (see Chapter 3). Quality challenges therefore mean that the education system is not delivering the learning outcomes that will support both individual life chances and Brazil’s economic development. Brazil is addressing these challenges, for example through its work to develop the National Common Curricular Base, to reform upper secondary education and offer more choice to students, to strengthen initial teacher education and the way in which school leaders are selected. But many gaps remain. Currently, the teaching profession is insufficiently attractive to young Brazilians, and in particular to the top-performing and advantaged students. The initial teacher education, induction processes and continuous professional development of teachers are inadequate, and more attention is needed to teachers’ pedagogical skills, including the capacity to teach in more diverse classrooms. School leaders are too rarely well-qualified and trained, and are seen as administrators rather than as instructional leaders who can support teachers and teaching. The school climate is often challenging for both students and teachers. These issues are addressed in this section.

As discussed in Chapter 5, teachers are a central element in education. Effective teaching can engage and motivate students, and convey knowledge, skills and critical thinking. It should also help build the resilience of students and their learning, even in the face of crises such as the impact of COVID-19. In recent decades, Brazil has put in place some of the core elements of a teaching career, such as minimum requirements for entry and a probation period for entrants. However, some dimensions of a true profession remain lacking in Brazil. Less than one-quarter of lower secondary teachers reported having received induction support, teachers are paid less than tertiary-educated peers, and there are few opportunities for career advancement (see Chapter 5).

Central to any long-term improvement in the quality of school education in Brazil will be measures to attract and retain high calibre teachers in the profession, and provide them with the support and professional development that will enable excellent teaching. Incentives to enter teaching will also need to be sensitive to supply and demand factors in different parts of the country, and in different subject areas of teaching.

The development of higher education accreditation processes will be critical to improve the quality of Brazil’s initial teacher education programmes. Given the large share of teacher candidates coming from private institutions offering distance education programmes, the government should consider the OECD recommendations from the Rethinking Quality Assurance for Higher Education in Brazil report to strengthen the rules governing distance education providers, while taking the specificities of initial teacher education into account.

Across the OECD and partner countries, high-performing education systems give much attention to the teaching profession. Salary levels tend to be purposefully competitive. In many cases, entry into initial teacher education is highly selective and programmes are demanding, often requiring postgraduate degrees, and with extensive practical experience in schools. Novice teachers receive systematic induction support from experienced peers, which provides key guidance and support through their first years in the profession. A developed teacher career structure allows experienced teachers avenues for development as instructional leaders, or as administrators. An ethos of continuous improvement, based on evidence and continuous feedback, is pervasive. The overall impact is to raise the status and attractiveness of the profession, and therefore the calibre of entrants.

Data from PISA and the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) suggest that Brazilian teachers rarely use the teaching approaches that, according to research evidence, most enable student learning. Relative to OECD countries, Brazilian teachers show much enthusiasm and support for their students, but less emphasis on adaptive instruction and formative feedback (see Chapter 5).

Moreover, in Brazil, few teachers participate in job-embedded, collaborative forms of learning; in fact, three-quarters of secondary teachers never observe the classes of other teachers to provide feedback (see Chapter 5). However, there is much evidence that these forms of collaborative forms of professional development can be very valuable, not least because they tend to improve the self-efficacy of the teachers involved and can help support the adoption of new, more effective methods of instruction.

If successfully rolled out, the new National Common Guidelines for Teacher Training and the modernisation of the Institutional Teaching Initiation Scholarship (Programa Institucional de Bolsas de Iniciação à Docência, PIBID), discussed in Chapter 5, have the potential to strengthen teacher candidates’ and novice teachers’ knowledge and skills and ground learning in practice. While essential, reforms to initial teacher education will be a slow vehicle for introducing new teaching techniques. High-performing education systems also rely on high-quality continuous feedback and training to develop and introduce innovative teaching strategies, as well as to hone and strengthen existing strategies. In countries with strong teaching professions, teachers benefit from feedback from their peers, including through classroom observation, and through professional networking opportunities, as well as through specific professional development programmes throughout their careers. This framework of continuous development supports the introduction and dissemination of new and effective strategies such as adaptive instruction.

As described in Chapter 6, the climate in many of Brazil’s schools provides inadequate support for learning. School bullying is common, frequent student misbehaviour interrupts teaching, and there are poor relationships between teachers and students, and among students. There is good evidence that these problems of school climate not only damage student well-being, but also affect learning, promoting disengagement and dropout as well as poor learning. A challenging school climate also discourages entry to the teaching profession, and encourages departures. A poor school climate is particularly damaging in the context of extended school closures due to the COVID-19 crisis. This is partly because weak school connectedness may discourage some students from returning to school, and partly because difficult relationships among stakeholders will make it harder to manage the range of adjustments necessary for schools to facilitate school re-opening and learning recovery (described above under Step 3).

Many countries are sharply increasing the attention they give to well-being in schools, in recognition of its pervasive role in underpinning both developmental and education goals. This means adopting measures to target specific problems (e.g. school bullying, violence, mental health and drugs) that may be affecting individual students or groups of students, and other school stakeholders. It also means introducing a whole-of-school approach to well-being, focusing on creating a positive and safe school environment and strengthening the collaboration with parents and the wider community.

The school leadership role is particularly under-developed in Brazil, relative to OECD and high-performing countries. The quality of school leadership is not only linked to improvements in learning outcomes, but will be key to the development of improved teaching and learning practices (Step 5) and bettering the school climate (Step 6). Relative to other countries, where most school leaders have postgraduate qualifications, Brazil’s school leaders rarely do so. While Brazil’s National Education Plan (Plano Nacional de Educação, PNE) now sets the goal of more transparent and objective selection processes for school leaders, at present they remain unstructured and often political. School leaders themselves have identified many professional development needs, but report barriers to pursuing them. Training is often limited to online courses and formal qualifications, with less emphasis on professional networking and collaboration as a means of development.

In recent years, many high-performing countries have given increased attention to the role of the school leader in delivering quality education, sometimes associated with increased school autonomy and, consequently, increased powers for school leaders. This may involve the establishment of clear professional standards for school leaders, linked to instructional leadership as well as administrative and financial skills. Specialised training programmes for school leaders have been developed to cover these aspects, and these are sometimes mandatory. Continuous professional development, including measures to help school leaders to learn from one another, is also widely encouraged. In recognition of the demanding role of school leaders, salaries are commensurate.

As described in Chapter 1, Brazil has embarked on a restructuring of upper secondary education, which has increased the number of pathways available to students and the offer of practical training and vocational options at this level. This is an important change, given that unlike the majority of OECD countries, Brazil’s vocational education and training (VET) has traditionally been mainly academically-oriented and reserved for a limited number of high-performing students, offering limited options for those interested in practical training.

Behind reforms to upper secondary education is an attempt to enhance the relevance of education to students, by ensuring that they can choose topics of interest to them. It is also intended to increase relevance to the labour market, by strengthening the linkage between curricular options and real-world subsequent academic and professional career options. Where students have distinct career goals, these two objectives coalesce. So this reform has the potential both to increase student engagement and reduce dropout, and improve labour market outcomes.

However, depending on their design, the proposed reforms do not only have advantages, but also potential downsides, observed in OECD reviews of vocational education and training across the globe (OECD, 2020[8]). Vocational pathways at upper secondary level need to be well-resourced, avoiding the risk that they become stigmatised as programmes into which students who do not perform well are directed. Such stigmatisation is a particular risk if they undermine university entrance or future studies. Vocational programmes also need to be designed so as to reflect the skills requirements of local employers, recognising that sometimes this will call for extra resources, since programmes that are easy and cheap to teach may not be those needed by the labour market.

Much progress in reducing education inequality has been realised through expanded participation in primary and secondary education (see Chapter 3). These developments have been underpinned by measures designed to alleviate poverty – notably Bolsa Familia – and by redistribution measures such as FUNDEB. Aspects of inequity in tertiary education have been addressed through the quota scheme for federal universities.

Despite these advances, far too many young people still fail to complete their education, and too often they come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Not only are there large performance gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students, but PISA results suggest that they have widened between 2012 and 2018. There are equity concerns on three main fronts. First, there is too much emphasis on measures such as grade repetition, rather than on early, preventive interventions that might address challenges in school performance before they become serious. Early interventions take the form of early childhood education directed to the most disadvantaged, and targeted and individualised support for students struggling at school. Second, too many gaps in performance remain between well-resourced and badly-resourced schools. Brazil is addressing some of the financial aspects of this challenge through the new and more redistributive FUNDEB and other current reforms. However, there are also issues in relation to the allocation of teachers, the way in which states and municipalities allocate resources to schools, and whether they grant sufficient support to the neediest schools and those in the most remote locations. The large resource differences between private and public schools are also a challenge, particularly when private sector school education is leveraged by the more affluent parents to gain access for their children to the best universities, which are often public and free of charge. Third, as the world becomes more digitalised, the divide between those who are able to benefit from technological developments and those who are not is growing. Overcoming digital exclusion – in terms of access, skills, use and motivation - is a major and complex challenge Brazil will need to tackle in the years to come. On top of this, the COVID-19 crisis has now amplified equity challenges, as the most disadvantaged schools and students face the greatest challenges of re-opening and ensuring learning recovery.

As discussed in Chapter 1, race distinctions remain a huge challenge to equity and social inclusion in Brazil. In the poorest decile of the Brazilian population, three-quarters are black and mixed-race. In the field of education, tertiary participation rates among black and mixed population are half those of whites (see Chapter 2). This issue has only featured in a limited way in this report because race categories are not easy to compare internationally. In Brazil, as in many countries, self-reported race is included in national PISA datasets according to national classifications. This potentially allows comparing the performance of racial subgroups not only with national averages, but also with the average performance of other countries. However, disaggregated results from Brazil’s PISA national dataset have not been made publicly available. Chapter 3 reports results from national assessments that demonstrate significant disparities across racial groups. This issue is of profound importance to Brazil and deserves further investigation.

The most effective way to ensure equity is to invest in early intervention, targeted at those who need most support. This means investment in early childhood education (see Step 2), and high-quality primary education in which minimum standards are sustained and improved, and in which experienced teachers are encouraged to work in the most challenging schools (see Step 10). Teachers themselves will need to be equipped with the skills to address individual student weaknesses through adaptive instruction (Step 5). In all these respects, other steps outlined in this report provide essential supports to equity in education.

While Brazil has made progress in reducing dropout, large challenges remain. Tackling dropout requires a package of measures at different levels, recognising that dropout has many causes, and many actors within the education system have a role to play. Internationally, countries have pursued measures of the following types:

  • Supporting learning. Practical guidance, in the form of initial training and professional development, is needed to provide teachers with the pedagogical tools necessary to identify and support the students most at risk of grade repetition and dropout, including through differentiated teaching skills and formative assessment. Measures to help students catch up after school closures, or to support the return of dropouts to school, will be extremely important in Brazil’s immediate future.

  • Strengthening financial and practical incentives and support systems for students at risk. Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis, there is a major risk of dropout in the short-term, in part because some students will have taken on work and care responsibilities because of the socio-economic consequences of the crisis. In response, targeted outreach measures will be needed to ensure that vulnerable students remain in school, and if they do drop out, contacting them at home and encouraging their return. Measures to support vulnerable students need to take into account the diverse causes of dropout. Girls are more often at risk of dropping out because of care responsibilities that may arise either because of their own early pregnancy, or because of the need to care for a parent or other children in the family. For boys, dropout is more often caused by economic pressures and challenges at home. Financial measures to support families in poverty, such as more generous conditional cash transfers, and expanding the offer of early childhood education and care, should help children stay in school to completion.

  • Tackling school failure by introducing incentives and support for schools and teachers to encourage retention of students. This implies engaging with the multiple in-school and out-of-school factors associated with dropout, from violence and bullying and the poor quality of infrastructure, to weak community engagement. One option is for states and municipalities to offer holistic support programmes to schools in tackling dropout. At tertiary level too, dropout is a major challenge, with only one-third of students completing their bachelor’s programmes in the expected time (see Chapter 2). While issues at tertiary level are different, the same principles apply. Tertiary institutions need to have incentives to reduce dropout rates and encourage timely completion, as well as practical guidance on how to achieve this. At all levels practical guidance may often include the sharing of good practice between institutions, as well as centralised expertise.

  • Engaging key stakeholders in local communities. International evidence suggests that the most successful measures involve action both within and outside school. Measures connecting schools to the world of work or to community service action, for example, can have a particularly beneficial effect (Lyche, 2010[9]). These approaches can be helpful in reaching students who have already dropped out of education.

One of the key steps necessary to support equity is ensuring the redistribution of resources to schools and regions that are most in need. While this is a challenge faced by all OECD and partner countries, it is particularly prominent in Brazil, where disparities are extremely wide across the country, and where each municipality and state has its own approach to resource allocation.

At the national level, FUNDEB has played a valuable role in redistributing federal resources to states and municipalities. Current reforms to FUNDEB should further improve this mechanism (see Chapter 4). Still, inequalities remain large, in particular between municipalities and between schools, and hinder teaching and learning. Improving the distribution of resources will require states and municipalities to rethink their own allocation mechanisms to ensure that their systems recognise and address different needs across different schools and student groups.

OECD and partner countries have taken different approaches to this challenge. Measures include directing extra resources to particular schools through funding formulas that give weight to measures of disadvantage; and/or providing targeted funding to offset disadvantage through grants outside the main allocation mechanism. A mix of such mechanisms is found in many funding systems. However, each approach comes with challenges and trade-offs, and the OECD’s work on school resources has highlighted the importance in striking a balance between simplicity and transparency on the one hand, and accuracy and fairness on the other (OECD, 2017[10]). Whatever the approach, access to high-quality data is critical. While Brazil has already developed strong education data systems, there is scope for improving the quality of the financial data.

The 10 Steps set out in this chapter not only imply ambitious reforms at all levels, but would also need to be implemented by multiple actors in the education system, with a timetable for action backed by data and evidence. Four key elements are therefore required for effective policy implementation:

  • First, governance. Implementation will require strong co-ordination and co-operation across and within government, to fully involve the federal government, states, municipalities, and learning institutions, including universities, schools, and teachers. Brazil already has many of the key elements that are required, including a national education plan laying out common goals and a framework for performance monitoring, and a high-quality data collection system that supports co-ordination, transparency and accountability. Where Brazil might go further is in clarifying and co-ordinating the respective roles of different federative entities, recognising not only that these overlap and duplicate more than in other federal systems — for example where both states and municipalities run schools at the same level of education side by side – but also that policies are highly fragmented both from a vertical and horizontal perspective (OECD, 2020[5]). The development of a National Education System (Sistema Nacional de Educação, SNE) – a target of the PNE – would be a key step forward (see Chapter 1). Governmental bodies such as the National Council of Education Secretariats (Conselho Nacional de Secretários de Educação, CONSED) and the National Union of Municipal Education Managers (União Nacional dos Dirigentes Municipais de Educação, UNDIME), already play an important role in supporting cross-jurisdictional co-ordination. However, there is still scope for enhancing and systematising co-operation and regular communication across different levels of government to ensure that all entities are working together to strengthen Brazil’s education system.

  • Second, prioritisation. The urgent requirement to respond to the COVID-19 emergency will, for understandable reasons, dominate actions taken in 2021. However, the other steps catalogued here represent challenges that will only become larger with time, so the moment to start addressing them is now. In other words: both the immediate and the longer-term structural reforms need to be considered together. In some ways, the pressures of the COVID-19 crisis can help accelerate difficult, deeper reforms, such as those connected to more effective and equitable resource allocation. It is likewise clear that the success in tackling the crisis and pursuing education reforms will be determined by policies outside the education system, such as measures to support families whose lives have been disrupted by the crisis, including the unemployed, and wider macro-economic and fiscal adjustments (OECD, 2020[2]).

  • Third, capacity. Capacity refers to the means to carry out a specific task and encompasses the elements of time, resources, governance structures and processes, and knowledge. Stakeholders require knowledge of policy goals and consequences; they need the resources and tools to implement the reform as planned while adapting policies to local circumstances within specified guidelines. Inadequate capacity for implementation leaves any policy at risk of failure (Burns, Köster and Fuster, 2016[11]). Building the necessary skills and expertise among all actors and stakeholders involved and, in particular, at the local levels will be critical to ensure that Brazilian stakeholders are able to manage their affairs – and all these reforms – successfully.

  • Fourth, data and evidence. Across all these reforms, and the institutions and stakeholders that will need to deliver them, data and evidence will be critical. Better data on funding would be particularly useful, to show variations in funding per student across the country, and the factors driving them. Brazil in some respects has world-class data systems in education. However, these data will need to be used systematically to monitor, identify and support policy developments, and effectively by stakeholders to inform school and classroom-level practices and resource allocation. Like in many countries, the capacity to analyse and interpret data remain limited and need to be developed among stakeholders. Moreover, channels to disseminate information, best practices and policies in an accessible manner to those at the frontline of education in Brazil need to be strengthened.


[11] Burns, T., F. Köster and M. Fuster (2016), Education Governance in Action: Lessons from Case Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264262829-en.

[6] Dellagnelo, L. and F. Reimers (2020), Brazil: Secretaria Estadual de Educação de São Paulo [São Paulo State Department of Education], World Bank; OECD; Harvard Global Education Innovation Initiative, HundrED, https://oecdedutoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Brazil-S%C3%A3o-Paulo-State-Department-of-Education.pdf (accessed on 6 November 2020).

[1] IBGE (n.d.), Produto Interno Bruto - PIB [Gross Domestic Product - GDP], https://www.ibge.gov.br/explica/pib.php (accessed on 12 April 2021).

[9] Lyche, C. (2010), Taking on the Completion Challenge: A Literature Review on Policies to Prevent Dropout and Early School Leaving, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/5km4m2t59cmr-en.

[7] MEC, CNE (2020), Diretrizes Nacionais para a implementação dos dispositivos da Lei nº 14.040, de 18 de agosto de 2020, que estabelece normas educacionais excepcionais a serem adotadas durante o estado de calamidade pública reconhecido pelo Decreto Legislativo nº 6, Ministério da Educação, Conselho de Educação, http://portal.mec.gov.br/index.php?option=com_docman&view=download&alias=160391-pcp015-20&category_slug=outubro-2020-pdf&Itemid=30192 (accessed on 22 December 2020).

[5] OECD (2020), Auditing Decentralised Policies in Brazil: Collaborative and Evidence-Based Approaches for Better Outcomes, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/30023307-en.

[4] OECD (2020), Back to the Future of Education: Four OECD Scenarios for Schooling, Educational Research and Innovation, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/178ef527-en.

[2] OECD (2020), OECD Economic Surveys: Brazil 2020, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/250240ad-en.

[3] OECD (2020), Turning hope into reality: OECD Economic Outlook, December 2020, http://www.oecd.org/economic-outlook/december-2020/#gdp-projections (accessed on 22 December 2020).

[8] OECD (2020), Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Adult Learning, http://www.oecd.org/education/innovation-education/vet.htm.

[10] OECD (2017), The Funding of School Education: Connecting Resources and Learning, OECD Reviews of School Resources, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264276147-en.

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