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La Educación
Número: (114) I
Año: 1993


The analysis of educational reforms raises several issues in Brazil, as well as in other Latin American countries. In Brazil, the educational reforms have had more global approaches reflecting major political, social, and economic conflict and change at the national and international levels rather than being founded on structural-functionalist assumptions focusing on particular problems or issues such as enhancing teaching quality, updating of curricula, or the reorganization of the school setting.

The rationale for the current reform proposal in Brazil is based on:

(i) the need to provide equity in educational opportunities;
(ii) the concerns of improving internal and external efficiency and quality of the educational system; and
(iii) the need for changing the role of the central government in education so as to start a process of an increasing relocation of power and responsibility from the central government to the regional or local administration in the delivery of education in the different levels, with priority given to pre-school and primary education.

This selection of problems to be addressed by the ongoing educational reform is consistent with the major education problems faced by the country in the 1980s and the pressure placed on education as a tool for development. However, in a context of development, schools are not isolated entities. To be able to function as a tool for development, school and out-of-school education systems should not be regarded as mutually exclusive alternatives. Examining the Mexico City Declarations, Gimeno (1983) states that “uninterrupted development and progress in all fields of knowledge, and especially in science and technology, and economic and social transformations require that education systems be designed and operated within the context of lifelong education, that a close relationship be established between school and out-of-school education,” and between the education system and the major social changes. Brembeck’s study, also mentioned by Gimeno (1983), argues that changing the design and implementation of the changes are two different activities which call for applications of different measures. This means to say that designing educational reforms and implementing the changes will require different methods and plans of actions. However, these two steps in a reform process should be planned concurrently; otherwise, the implementation will not be able to attain the goals proposed by the design. Unfortunately, reforms do not appear to be based on the pre-conditions listed by Guthrie and Koppich, as mentioned in Ward’s article (Ward, 1988). Several factors are pointed out as being necessary, although not sufficient, conditions for reform; such factors as:

(i) an acceptable economic base on which to build reform;
(ii) a period of stability preceding reform;
(iii) a set of precursor ideas upon which to build reform;
(iv) a set of proponents to champion reform;
(v) a catalytic event to ignite reform.

Those are conditions not easily valued in the educational reforms in the region. It is well known that achieving educational changes is difficult under any circumstances, as has been expressed by many international developmental agency reports, and even more so when no political and economical stable environment exists, as is frequently the case in Latin America. In Brazil, the economic turmoil of the past decades, and of the first years of the 1990s, does not suggest an environment for successful changes in education. Thus, the Brazilian government’s efforts to reach effective educational reforms will depend, to a large extent, on the educational authorities’ and educators’ abilities of assessing the administrative structures, and on an adequate set of means suitable for each particular activity in the process of designing and implementing educational reforms and putting them to work to benefit education. Despite the increasing funds for education established by the 1988 Brazilian Constitution—which will be fully implemented by 1993—the analysis of the financial and management capability of each of the municipalities is crucial for effective results of the proposed reform, particularly when the division of power is at stake.

The central point of achieving the goals of decentralization at the municipal level will depend on: (i) the capability of states and municipalities to carry out changes in the educational system; and (ii) the willingness of the central government to offer technical and financial support for those changes. Additionally, it will be necessary to clearly define levels of responsibility between the states and the municipalities regarding provision of pre-school and primary education to avoid the current overlapping of activities and the waste of financial resources. The current existence of both state and municipal school systems in the same geographic region, competing with each other for financial and technical resources from the federal government, does not present a situation conducive to educational reform success. The lack of clearly expressed definitions of responsibilities for each level of government with regard to the provision of education does not facilitate or strengthen the municipal school system, nor does it prepare the states to develop their legal role as policy makers. These are some of the major elements that must soon be considered by Brazilian policy makers in accomplishing the objective of effective universal education in the nation.