Brazil Country Report: Overview

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Brazil Country Report

We wanted to understand how the aims of the Effective Education for Employment project tallied with the views of key educational and economic stakeholders in Brazil, so we went there to meet them. This section is the fruit of that labour and provides some background on the factors which have influenced economic development within Brazil as well as a description of some of the most recent influential changes in educational policy and practice. It will help you understand the importance of some of the critical educational issues identified within the country as well as some conclusions on what changes need to be made.

The Economy

Brazil's economy is dominated by the service industry and enlarged further by strong agricultural and industrial sectors. Science and technology is also a significant strength, and this is attracting record foreign investment. According to the Brazilian government, the country's economy growth rate was running at 6.8% of gross domestic product (GDP) during 2008.

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The Workforce

The size of Brazil's workforce was estimated to be around 102 million in 2008 with unemployment running at around 7.6%. It is estimated that around 23.5% of the population still live below the poverty line.

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Education

Education system reform began to take hold during the 1960s and 1970s, with a move from education for the elite to education for all. Although this change has continued to gather pace during the last 20 years, the common criticism is that the quality of the education has dropped.

There are significant issues around primary and secondary education, and this inevitably impacts on the success and effectiveness of tertiary (third-level) education and the subsequent feed of talent into the labour market. The economy has seen a rapid growth in the demand for jobs but the popular view from business is that there are not enough applicants who are sufficiently qualified and appropriately skilled.

Over the last decade, there has been an explosion of higher education institutions - many of them run privately, and particularly in the health sector. The increase in the number of students in higher and further education is a positive improvement but focus is beginning to shift towards what is being taught and the quality and methodology of the teaching. In recent years, professional education programmes have focused specifically on health and government. There has also been a heavy investment in the 'up-skilling' of teachers.

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Professional Education

There are well-established mechanisms to encourage and support professional education in Brazil. Worker organisations participate in the Consejo Deliberativo del Fondo de Asistencia al Trabajador (CODEFAT) - Deliberative Council of the Workers' Assistance Fund. CODEFAT administers the Fondo de Asistencia al Trabajador (FAT or Workers' Assistance Fund), which is the largest public fund in the country. FAT resources come from a 1% deduction on company payrolls, and part of this money funds the policies and objectives of the national system of employment. This includes job centres, unemployment insurance vocational retraining, information on unemployment and programmes to generate employment and income.

The National Commercial Training Service (SENAC) is a vocational training institution that operates as a private institution and is funded by financial contributions from commercial enterprises. Its aim is to promote and support vocational training programmes among diversified audiences, with the aim of developing skills and creating qualified individuals for the labour market. Its activities and policies are guided by national social and economic problems. Work is focused on seven sectors (administration, communication and arts, the tourism and hotel industry, health, fashion and beauty, preservation and maintenance, and informatics) and the institution engages in defining the basic skills requirements for different occupations in each of these sectors. According to its own figures, the institution has trained more than 23 million professionals.

Adding to the work of SENAC is the Servio Nacional de Aprendizagem Industrial (SENAI), which translates as the National Service of Industrial Learning. This operates as a network of not-for-profit, secondary-level professional schools that are maintained by the Brazilian Confederation of Industry. SENAI provides formal training for specialised workers in industry - specifically in chemistry, mechanics and construction. SENAI has 744 operational units across Brazil, offering more than 1,800 courses. It was set up in the 1950s as part of an integrated social action system, founded by political leaders in collaboration with industry.

Brazil has a history of supporting apprenticeship schemes. 15-17 year olds can join a two-year programme with employers on the Young Apprentice Scheme. This widely adopted initiative is considered to be highly successful. In fact, the rate of conversion from apprenticeships to full-time employment is estimated at around 70%.

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Comment

The initiatives outlined above strongly indicate a history of commitment to professional education and a recent revitalisation of the structures and approaches that accompanied the election of President Lula da Silva in 2002. However, many argue that the successful revitalisation of the Brazilian economy has not been matched by an improvement in professional education provision. While current structures provide a basis for engagement between industry and education, and their funding is compulsory, there are still familiar criticisms towards the effectiveness of these structures.

Quality and relevance of professional education are key issues. Also, the status of vocational study is low in comparison to academic study. In general, there is a sense that professional education needs further reform in order to support the continuing growth of the economy. There is no doubt about the demand for professional training and education. In itself, professional training and education is seen as a huge growth sector within the Brazilian economy, with e-learning seeing significant expansion - reflecting Brazil's recent accelerated uptake of computer technology. Brazilians are also extremely keen to improve their English language skills to increase their level of global competitiveness and educational opportunity.

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