Promoting quality education for all.

Brazil: A New Epicenter for COVID-19

Shruti Nallappa, Fellow at GCE-US, 

As COVID-19 continues to ravage parts of the world, including the United States, Brazil has now become the epicenter for this deadly infection since late May. As of July 7, 2020, Brazil has over 65,000 cases. Additionally, leadership is lacking on all fronts as President Jair Bolsonaro continues to dismiss the danger posed by the virus and has sabotaged quarantine measures at state levels. Brazilians have been forced to work to keep the economy from collapsing. With these concerning actions, at GCE-US we would like to bring attention to how the education sector is running as the cases in Brazil continue to rise.  

Our colleagues from the Brazilian Campaign for the Right to Education have kindly provided us information on the education response: 

What measures is Brazil taking in terms of education? 

  • Because of the Coronavirus pandemic and consequently social isolation, classes were suspended and the school year was paralyzed in several education systems.  
  • The suspension of classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a debate about the advantages and disadvantages of using technology for Distance Learning. This disagreement resulted in some municipal and state secretaries deciding to implement distance education while others did not.  
  • The lack of guidance from the Ministry of Education has worsened the already chaotic situation. Currently, there is no Minister of Education. The Bolsonaro administration has had three ministers of educations already. The most recent one resigned on July 1, 2020 once fraudulent activity was discovered in their academic curriculum.  
  • In addition to the complex pedagogical, infrastructure and socioeconomic issues revolving around the use of technology to continue schooling, it is necessary to consider the deepening of inequalities and other risks that the misuse of this modality can and has already caused for the deepening of inequalities in the country. 

How has this pandemic impacted school attendance rates? 

  • The 2017 Continuous Household Sample Survey (PnadC) shows that the internet access rate is below 80% in most states. A no federated unit reaches 80% access with broadband connection and more than half of Brazilian students have access to 60% of this type of connection. 
  • Having internet access at home does not mean carrying out activities even for those with the adequate broadband. If the situation of the homes is taken into account, most students in public schools in addition to access to the internet would need to have more than one computer available. 
  • In public schools, only 31% of elementary school students and 42% of high school students have the appropriate conditions (computer/tablet and broadband internet access at home), while private school students have 77% and 83% respectively. 
  • Even in São Paulo - the most economically developed Brazilian state, less than half of the students have access to online classes. According to the São Paulo State Department of Education, only 1.5 million out of 3.7 million students in the public-school system can access the online class platform. 
  • Additionally, in Brazil, 40 million students who have access to school meals are now experiencing food shortages. Many families are single parents where usually only the mother takes care of the children. In such family dynamics, the online classes have made single mothers and fathers more stressed. Many families also live in single-room houses with more than one child, making distance education almost impossible.  

What are some possible solutions that would be beneficial and helpful?  

If it is not possible to offer distance education on an equal basis to all students, it would preferable to suspend classes and not count the complementary activities as official school days. By not taking such actions, this would widen the gap between students. Thousands of students would be left behind without access to food, learning, have homes in precarious situations, and/or lack of family support to learn. However, it is also necessary to create mechanisms to maintain the links between school, students, and families. These situations highlight the need to create a school calendar that is more flexible as well as proposals of activities that involve families and communities.  

As advocates for inclusive, quality, and equitable education, we must raise our voices and not only help Brazil recover from COVID-19, but shed light on the education sector. This pandemic has allowed education to suffer and students continue to fall behind. It is likely that many will be unable to return to school. In the wise words of the late Nelson Mandela, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” We must ensure that all children everywhere have the basic right to an education. We urge Brazilians everywhere and Brazilian leaders to raise your voices on this issue.  






Sign reading "Classes Suspended" on school gate in Brazil. (Credit: Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil) 

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