People sometimes wonder why the work of SOLidariedade takes place in Brazil. For a long time, within the group of emerging economies, Brazil was considered a success story. High economic growth was accompanied by declining poverty and less income inequality. The country developed into the seventh economy in the world and was prominent in the ranks of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), large countries with a rapidly growing economy. However, after 2010, growth has collapsed. Recently, the country is in a recession. Moreover, despite efforts by the central bank, inflation is now at 7.7%, the highest level since 2005. The higher tax, reduced pensions and higher prices for gasoline created a strong feeling of dissatisfaction among Brazilians. Especially now it shows that several politicians seem to be involved in the major corruption scandal around state oil company Petrobras (the largest employer in the country). The dissatisfaction with the government is high. President Dilma Rousseff does not deliver what she promised in the election campaign. Her voters feel cheated and react with mass protests, which are larger than in 2013.
It is a misunderstanding to think automatically that economic growth and prosperity will improve the situation of the poor. 30 years ago, the majority of the poorest people in the world lived in the world’s poorest countries, 75% of them now are living in the so-called middle-income countries such as Brazil. Despite economic growth, Brazil has failed to reduce income inequality between the rich and the poor in a structured manner. Of the 200 million Brazilians, there are 16 million (about as much as the entire Dutch population) in extreme poverty. 43 million people live below the international poverty line, as defined by the World Bank. 25% of the Brazilian population lives in slums, called favelas. In 2013, in Brazil the average income per capita was € 11,436, – per year, which is over three times less than in the Netherlands. However, this concerns an average. The above figure shows that 66% of the Brazilian families earned less than € 678, – per month.
Income inequality is ‘only’ one aspect of the vast difference between rich and poor in Brazil, access to decent health care and education are other aspects.
The work of SOLidariedade focuses on education, in the broadest sense of the word. SOLidariedade is convinced that good education is the best path to economic self-sufficiency.
In South America, the majority of children do not receive good quality and relevant education. The result is that many young people are entering the labor market without the necessary skills and knowledge to find decent work. They are also not prepared in participating in an increasingly competitive, information-rich and global economy. On the other hand, employers cannot find enough qualified personnel. This huge gap between supply and demand on the labor market suppresses economic growth and reinforces the inequality between rich and poor. Education is a strategic investment in the development of a country. A country that invests in its education system, ultimately is investing in the overall growth of the country. The Brazilian government has invested heavily in the national education system in the recent decades. A primary purpose of the investment was to increase the number of children going to school. Mainly thanks to the government social program Bolsa Familia, the number of children attending school has increased significantly in Brazil. One can more or less say that in Brazil all children have access to education. This does not mean that all children receive good education. According to the Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum, the level of basic and higher education in Brazil remains low. Their research shows that Brazil, in a ranking of 148 countries surveyed, ends in the 129th place in terms of state primary and on the 121st place in terms of higher education. The general education in Brazil is anyway low in comparison with European countries. In addition, there is a great difference in quality between the free government schools and expensive private schools. As a result, three out of four children from the lowest social class are finishing primary school and that barely 1 in 200 students from this class follows a higher education. In South America 92% of children are starting the primary school, only 41% of the Brazilian children are completing this high school.
Government schools are often poorly maintained; sewage is often broken, heating or air conditioners are missing. There are too few classrooms, resulting in the fact that ‘chairs’ usually two or three times a day get occupied by other children (morning, afternoon, evening). The majority of students at government schools receive only four hours a day teaching. Many schools do not have library and computer facilities, and most schools have no qualified mathematics and chemistry teachers. Research shows that the quality of a teacher has a big impact on the success of a student at school and in his / her life. In Brazil, almost one third of the teachers in government schools completed high school.
For Brazilian families, with whom SOLidariedade cooperates, it is financially impossible to place their children in a private school. This means that their children will never have access to good quality secondary education. With this, their chances on paid contract work and related social services diminish greatly. This process repeats itself from generation to generation. Due to this hopeless situation, boys often start working in the “lucrative” drugs business, which provides them fast money. That this usually results in a short life expectancy is often taken for granted. Girls often become a mother at a very young age. This has nothing to do with a lack of education or contraceptives, but with a lack of perspective and role models other than their own mother.
The NOS Youth News has a story about the difference between public schools and private schools in Brazil. In the report, different children from the Centro Franciscano are speaking. The report can be seen below: