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La Educación
Número: (122) III
Año: 1995


To explain the basic methodological approaches adopted by the Ministry of Education and Sport in drawing up the Ten-Year Plan of Education for All, it will first be necessary to explain, even if only very briefly, some of the drawbacks encountered in the history of primary education in Brazil.

Strictly speaking, elementary education has never received serious attention following the earliest attempts to implement education in Brazil. The Jesuits, though they did not totally ignore primary education, placed greater emphasis on secondary education. Nevertheless, they managed to establish schools that provided the first steps in reading and writing in even the most remote regions. The expulsion of the Jesuit educators by the Marquis of Pombal in 1759, left a vacuum which remained unfilled for decades.

English historian Robert Southey, an impartial witness who relates this phase of our educational history in his book The History of Brazil, deplores this extraordinary lost heritage. Indeed, the rich experience of the Jesuit teaching methods, forged in the most adverse conditions of the early colonization of Brazil, was totally left aside (Southey 301).

The arrival of the Portuguese Royal Family in 1808 gave a great impetus to higher learning and the arts. This was in response to an immediate demand on the part of the Portuguese Court, which had temporarily been moved to the Colony. With the Proclamation of Independence in 1822, it was hoped that the gap left by the Jesuits would be filled, and that certain gains would result. After all, the ideals of the French Revolution had spread throughout the Western world. All of Europe was concerned with the theme of universal primary education and by 1810, Germany embarked upon a substantive reform of the universities.

The Constituent Assembly of 1832, however, was predominantly concerned with creating a university; however, this aspiration was frustrated when the Constituent Assembly was dissolved. Shortly after, however, in 1827, Academies of Law were established in Olinda and Sao Paulo, and these were in subsequent decades to play a major role in the formation of the elite in Brazil.

It is also true that the Constitution of 1824 stated that primary education was to be free for all citizens. Shortly after, however, the publication of an Additional Act in 1834 gave the responsibility for legislative action on public primary education to the provincial assemblies, thus making the provision of the first Constitution totally ineffective. What was to come next, as Valnir Chagas emphasizes in his book Brazilian Education: Primary and Secondary Teaching Before, Now and Later? “was to be a consequence of this indifferent washing of hands.”

Thus the Brazilian State officially turned its back on primary education. All later attempts at reform in the Imperial and Republican periods left primary education aside. Nothing was to come of the denunciations of critics such as Gonçalves Dias, who gave a report on the provinces of the North; Rui Barbosa, who delivered a well-known opinion on the state of primary education; or that of Manoel Bonfim (458) who, in an essay on the root of malaise afflicting Latin America, stressed the importance of primary education and stated that no nation can progress without schooling, and that schooling must begin at the beginning (i.e. with primary education).

Primary education continued to be neglected under the Republic, even after the 1930 Revolution. The dream of the Pioneers—among them Anísio Teixeira, Fernando de Azevedo, Lourenço Filho, Almeida Junior—did not endure; neither was it fully reawakened until after the New State (of Getúlio Vargas). The expansion that was to take place in the following decades was in terms of places and not in terms of quality. The Brazilian elite demanded more of university education than it did of primary education. After all, why bother when Brazil’s economy attained eighth position in world ranking, using cheap, semi-illiterate labor.

With the exhaustion of this model in the face of greater demands from the world market for higher quality in all phases of production, certain segments of the Brazilian elite began to concern themselves with primary education. They realized that the continued negligence of primary schooling represented a threat to the future of the Nation, and that the responsibility rested with the elite. In the past the complaints had come from intellectuals; they were now coming from businessmen, professionals, and leaders of civil society, which was interpreted as an encouraging sign for change.

As a result of this long-term neglect, a vast cultural deficit had accumulated—the most difficult type of deficit to correct. Awareness of this fact was an important element in helping to avoid use of quick-fix solutions, such as those used during the period of the Lancaster method. The accumulated deficit was vast, even greater than what was revealed in the statistics on basic education, as mere numbers cannot express the dimensions of this cultural gap.

This deficit cannnot be corrected without: bringing together all social forces and energies; consistent and deeply-rooted political will on the part of all segments of society; and effectively uniting the forces of government and civil society.