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La Educación
Número: (122) III
Año: 1995

The Ten-Year Plan and Civil Society

By reaching the school level the Ten-Year Plan has achieved one of its most important goals. However, in order to carry out their educational function, schools must make primary education a national priority. As mentioned earlier, primary education has historically not been a priority in Brazil, a fact that is further confirmed by comparing the structure of Brazilian educational spending with that of other countries. Oftentimes, the minimum expenditures by the Constitution for primary education are not respected.

In the light of such a situation, the Ten-Year Plan includes a strategy of improving the demand, i.e., discussing the problem of primary education with all of civil society, demonstrating the reasons for urgency. It is important to stress that this discussion is not merely about the number of schools, as generally has been the case over recent years, but rather it is about high-quality schools. The political component of the Ten-Year Plan is the establishment of a process of enhancing public demand for quality. Brazil has already surpassed the 90 percent rate of attendance for the compulsory school-age bracket (7 to 14 years). In terms of quality, however, much remains to be done.

Quality costs money. It is important, therefore, not only to comply with the provisions of the Constitution, but also to apply the resources available in a competent and ethical manner. One of the goals of the Ten-Year Plan is to raise the percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) spent on education from 3.7 to 5.5 percent. The Constitution established a minimum spending limit of 18 percent of the tax revenues and budget funds for the Federal Union and the states and municipalities to be spent on education. What must now be discussed with society is whether these minimum percentages are sufficient to ensure, for the country as a whole and for the individual states and municipalities in particular, high quality schooling for all children, adolescents and adults. Since the funds fall short, it becomes necessary to discuss how, in political terms, to raise the budget for primary education. The basic argument for raising the minimum percentages allocoated for education is that is essential to ensure success in school and provide high-quality elementary education to all who demand it.

It is not acceptable for any level of the public administration to claim that it is in compliance with the Constitution simply because the minimum percentages are being applied. As long as there are children unable to attend school, schools that do not conform to minimum educational standards, and teachers whose salaries are so low that they put the teaching profession into disrepute, none of the public authorities can claim that the Constitution is being observed.

These issues, which traditionally have been discussed only within the schools and universities and at special forums, must now be placed on the agenda for public discussion among the leaders of society.

In agreement with this strategy, the Ministry of Education and Sport sent the Ten-Year Plan to various segments of civil society for critical appraisal and support. The Plan was sent to universities, teacher-training institutions, federal senators and deputies, state and municipal legislatures, businessmen and an array of non-government organizations, all of whom made observations and commentaries, which were in turn submitted to the Executive Group for use in the ongoing process of reformulation and adjustment.

The debates among these various institutions and organizations are of great strategic significance since they mold public opinion and play a decisive role in placing primary education as the highest priority on the national agenda. If the debate is restricted only to the schools, such a level of priority will never be attained.

A vast number of businessmen have responded to the call of the Ministry, often going far beyond the bounds of policy. There is a rational explanation for this. The new paradigms of production increasingly require that all citizens have access to primary education. The labor market can no longer be satisfied with workers who possess manual skills alone. It demands that the modern worker have a general overview of the production process, and that he be capable of acquiring new skills that can only be achieved by means of a high-quality primary education. In general terms, the response of the businessmen has suggested the existence of an area of potential which, with due negotiation, could be used to strengthen educational policy.

It is worth clarifying that this does not imply privatization or substitution of the role of the State. Rather it means seeking, by means of opening a new avenue of dialogue, alternatives for cooperation to strengthen the action and powers of the public authorities. In this regard, the view of one of the representatives of a business group who was present at a meeting on the Plan is significant. He stated that the business sector ought to reinvest some of its profits into the educational sector.

Along this line of progressive articulation with civil society, in November 1993, the Ministry held an important meeting with 25 entities representing civil society for the appraisal and critical review of the Plan. Representatives of business confederations, labor organizations, unions, civil rights organizations, parent’s associations and scientific societies attended the meeting. Important contributions were made for incorporation into the Plan. The dialogue between the Ministry and these diverse groups has been extremely enriching, and the initiative of the Ministry has met with substantial response. The participation of the diverse groups has broadened the horizons of educational policy. New territories and possibilities are being explored. In the light of this experience, the Ministry has decided to formalize these types of cooperation and partnerships. The Consultative Committee for the Plan, which in the initial phases of the Plan was composed of a small number of entities, has expanded considerably to incorporate more than 20 government and non-government entities. Furthermore, the Council is now chaired by the Minister of Education. If this experience continues to produce successful results, it has been proposed that a National Forum on Education For All be established which the government and civil society could use to make the political adjustments necessary for educational policy.

Within this context of the institutionalization of partnerships, various collegiate entities were established in more specific areas such as pre-school education, education for Indians, education for adults and young people, and education for the teaching profession. All of these groups are made up of representatives from interested parties.2 The presence of civil society within the Ministry of Education has been an important factor in strengthening the capacity of the Ministry to coordinate the formulation of educational policy. This new dimension of the Ministry’s work has taken on fundamental importance for the future of educational policy. Social inequality and regional imbalances require the State to assume a regulatory role to ensure ethics and equity. This is not to imply that the Ministry should be authoritarian, that it should centralize its actions, or that it should fail to comply with the federative pact or the pluralism of ideas which the Constitution ensures. The Ministry should instead ensure that the interests of society prevail in Brazil. The presence of civil society, representing the most diverse segments of society in the various regions of the country, is being transformed into a powerful instrument for the reform of the Ministry. This is not simply a convocation of assemblies, but rather a policy of partnerships and alliances. In short, the objective is to achieve professionalism in the Ministry, which in turn should filter down to the other levels of administration—the state, municipal secretariats of education and the schools.

Many of the universities responded to the call of the Ministry, especially in terms of their role in improving primary education. The critical review of teaching credentials is one of the priorities of the Ten-Year Plan. If it is imperative that the situation of teachers be improved, it is equally important that the training of teachers be improved. All are familiar with the problems regarding the teachers’ training courses and courses which train professional educators and education specialists, as well as with the problem with the gap which separates the training of teachers from the reality they face in the schools. It is of the utmost importance that universities accept the challenge of providing both initial teacher training and continuing education for professionals in education.

As part of its dialogue with civil society, the Ministry has sought to use the mass media, especially the Roquette Pinto Foundation and the National Radio and Television System (SINRED). This has been an important resource in the negotiation of a minimum agenda of urgent actions to be carried out in the field of primary education. The use of multimedia is intended not to promote individuals, but rather to facilitate the dialogue and debate by placing the principles and guidelines of educational and pedagogical policy under discussion and gradually expanding the areas in which social participation and commitment can be applied in a way which will reinforce the desire for change.

In an effort to further expand the field of its social engagement, the Ministry decided to send the Ten-Year Plan to all of the municipal assemblies throughout the country. The assemblies have a day-to-day influence on issues of education in the municipalities, not only in relation to the municipal school network but also to the state schools. The assemblies are the forum in which municipal problems are aired and discussed; they are capable of playing a crucial role in the implementation of the Ten-Year Plan at the municipal and state level. Generally, these assemblies have members from various political parties, which is a factor in keeping up the pressure and keeping the community mobilized to fulfill the minimum goals adopted.

Upon sending the Ten-Year Plan to the municipalities, the Minister of Education and Sport, Murílio Hingle, proposed that the municipal assemblies act as supervisors for the Plan. The next step in this strategy is to discuss the Plan within the municipal assemblies. This discussion is timely because it reinforces the importance of primary education at the state and municipal levels. The objective of this debate is to update an agenda of demands among the members of the assemblies, guided by the criteria of social needs. In other words, the intention is to make the municipal legislature participate in the process of change, and to avoid politically motivated practices that in the past have led to the arbitrary hiring and firing of teachers, and building schools in places where they were not needed.