When public education became a constitutional right in 1988, many poorer Brazilian families sent their first generation off to school. With that achievement behind them, Brazilians are now beginning to take a frank look at the quality of those schools. The sprawling education system, with 50 million students, is struggling. Its students rank between 54th and 60th out of 65 countries on international tests, and grade repetition and drop-out are common.
Many of the systemic problems here have roots in the failing education system. For example, the youth incarceration rate is among the highest in the world.
To further the emerging national conversation on education, we began a transformative scenarios process in 2014. We first conducted 71 dialogue interviews with leaders in the system. Of these leaders, 41 participated in the scenario construction process, meeting four times over 12 months. The team began their work shortly after the approval of a new national education plan whose unusually protracted negotiations both reflected and reinforced longstanding antagonisms between the diverse stakeholders.
In bringing together this group, Reos Partners “did the impossible”, said one member of the convening alliance. There was a clear shift in the relationships among key stakeholders, most of whom had previously met only in adversarial contexts—this process of dialogue and collective construction was quite different.
The resulting National Scenarios for the Future of Education in Brazil were released in August 2015 for dissemination around the country. They provide new language, an invaluable rhetoric-free focal point, and a precedent of relationship within the sector.
In 2013, during the process of constructing the Scenarios for Civil Society in Brazil, a few people from the scenario team suggested doing the same for education. We mapped the stakeholders and proposed a scenarios exercise to two key players in the field: Campanha Nacional pelo Direito à Educação and Todos Pela Educação. They agreed and suggested bringing on four others: Undime, Consed, GIFE, Ação Educativa. These six formed the convening alliance. Financial support was provided by five organizations: Instituto C&A, Fundação Telefônica Vivo, Fundação Itaú Social, Instituto Unibanco, and Ação Educativa.
Brazil’s education system faces many issues similar to those in other countries, such as scarce resources and unequal opportunity. The sheer scale of the system compounds these. Of a population of 200 million, 50 million are students; there are 200,000 schools and 2 million teachers.
High drop-out rates
Many youths failed by the system are drawn into drugs and violence. The high youth incarceration rate is just one example of the ripple effects of the failing education system in the wider system.
Although public education became a constitutional right in 1988, making it near-universal, the general public is just beginning to see it as a priority. For many poorer Brazilians, having access to education at all is relatively new; the quality of that education is only now being widely questioned.
Low teaching standards
Reflecting this lack of attention to education, standards and salaries for teachers are quite low compared to other professions. While some choose the teaching profession as a vocation, many choose it because the entry requirements are quite low—it’s an easy way into higher education.
Inequality based on class and race
There’s a high degree of inequality in the education system. The most affected populations are the poor, the black and indigenous populations, those in rural areas or in the periphery of larger cities, and those with disabilities.
What many in the field see as advances in education over the last few decades— such as gender, sexual orientation, and diversity rights—are being challenged by Brazil’s current conservative administration.
The scenarios team produced four scenarios for the future of education in Brazil, defining the horizon as 2032—the centennial of the manifesto of the “pioneers of the new education” in Brazil. Striving for neutrality, the team named the four scenarios after birds. Each one explores six themes:
Inequalities and diversities
Social participation and control
The role of the state
Pedagogy, educational purpose, role of the educator and student, quality, curriculum, and evaluation
The balance between public and private
The scenarios were launched in August 2015, with further launches planned in each region of the country.
Given deep antagonisms between the country’s diverse stakeholders, it was an achievement to convene and complete this process, but it did produce real progress in the form of relationship building among key stakeholders.
Many of the opposing actors had previously encountered each other—if they had met at all—only in forums for debate. The scenarios process enabled and stimulated real dialogue, with people sitting at the same tables, going on paired walks, brainstorming together on flip charts, and working together with Lego bricks. The resulting new relationships are building blocks for the challenges ahead.
Said one scenario team member, “We created partnerships and friendships, relationships. It was a profound learning process. The experience we had together, a group of diverse actors, was very rich.”
"The scenarios are not forecasts or desires. They express possibilities, challenges, warnings, and risks for Brazilian education."
— Convening alliance member
"The scenarios are four vectors not only related to the future. They are part of the present and were part of our past."
— Convening alliance member
"Finding convergence is one of the biggest challenges for education in Brazil. We achieved it with the national education plan and in the scenarios process."
— Scenario team member
"The most important thing is that this group is optimistic. We have different visions, but we are united in fighting for an education that is for all."
— Convening alliance member
"We created partnerships and friendships, relationships. It was a profound learning process. The experience we had together, a group of diverse actors, was very rich."