Brazil fights inequality with better education

A community health worker in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. (Mia Malan, M&G)

A community health worker in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. (Mia Malan, M&G)

Expanding nursery provision, improving educational standards and providing more vocational training to adults will be at the heart of Brazil’s efforts to fight poverty and inequality over the next few years, according to the country’s social development minister.

  While she trumpeted the successes of the bolsa familia poverty-relief programme – the cash handout given to almost a quarter of Brazilian families on condition that their children go to school and get vaccinated – Tereza Campello insisted that the country still had a long way to go in creating a fairer and more prosperous society.

  Introduced in 2003 by the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the bolsa familia is estimated to have kept 36-million families out of extreme poverty and to have been responsible for a dramatic drop in infant mortality.

But, said Campello, the programme was not solely responsible for the country’s socioeconomic progress: between 2002 and 2013, the poorest 20% of Brazilians saw their incomes rise by 6.2%, whereas those in the top 20% saw a rise of only 2.6%.

  “Everybody thinks it’s because of bolsa familia, but that’s not the case,” said Campello. “We’ve also had a 72% growth in the minimum wage – above the rate of inflation – and an increase in employment of 20.8-million formal jobs.”

The minister, whose Workers’ Party squeaked to victory in October’s elections, stressed that education would remain the primary focus of President Dilma Rousseff’s antipoverty strategies.

“Our poor children don’t have sufficient access to preschool education,” she said. “We want to ensure that, by 2016, all children from four to six go to school, and we are starting to expand nursery provision.”

Integral school day
Of equal importance, said Campello, was raising educational standards by improving teacher training, building libraries and laboratories – and by ensuring that children spend a full day in school.

“We’ve made great efforts to have a full and integral school day,” she said.
“Getting poorer children to stay at school all day is vital: not only do they get free meals, it also means they can be kept away from violence and criminality. We need to expand school provision, but we have a physical limitation as there are 260 000 schools in Brazil.”

Campello rejected suggestions that the close election result reflected a lack of confidence in her party and its efforts to reduce inequality.

“We’re not taking it easy or saying that everything has been done: we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” she said. “Brazil was one of the most unequal countries in the world and you can’t end 500 years of exclusion in 12 years. We’ve made far more progress than at any other point in our history, but we still have a lot to do.” – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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