Educational Quality in Brazil

Quality and Equity in Education

Quality and equity remain a crucial challenge in Brazil, as both are essential to respond to the needs of the country and for the construction of a knowledge society.

Research shows that a large proportion of students at different schooling levels have deficient learning performance in critical subject matters. The low absorption of scientific concepts hampers the inclusion of individuals into modern society.

UNESCO provides technical support and expertise to address both the issues of quality and equity in education. Besides, it promotes family participation in the students’ school lives.

The Office has published several guides and handbooks to provide tools for early childhood education management. It has also produced inputs for the early childhood education curriculum, considering international trends and experiences.

Early childhood, defined as the period from birth to eight years old, is a time of remarkable growth with brain development at its peak. During this stage, children are highly influenced by the environment and the people that surround them.

Early childhood care and education (ECCE) is more than preparation for primary school. It aims at the holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs in order to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing. ECCE has the possibility to nurture caring, capable and responsible future citizens.

In this way, ECCE is one of the best investments a country can make to promote human resource development, social equality and cohesion, and to reduce the costs for later remedial programmes. For disadvantaged children, ECCE plays an important role in compensating for the disadvantages in the family and combating educational inequalities.

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Literacy and Basic Education

Literacy empowers people, enables them to participate fully in society and contributes to improve livelihoods. Literacy is also a driver for sustainable development in that it enables greater participation in the labour market; improved child and family health and nutrition; reduces poverty and expands life opportunities.

Beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world.

UNESCO has been leading global literacy efforts since 1946, advancing the vision of a literate world for all. It views acquiring and improving literacy skills throughout life as an intrinsic part of the right to education. 

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Basic Education is the whole range of educational activities, taking place in various settings, that aim to meet basic learning needs as defined in the World Declaration on Education for All (Jomtien, Thailand, 1990). 

According to the standard of the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), basic education comprises primary education (the first stage of basic education) and lower secondary education (second stage). It also covers a wide variety of non-formal and informal public and private activities intended to meet the basic learning needs of people of all ages.

According to the IBE Curriculum Terminology, “basic education is the foundation for lifelong learning and human development on which countries may build, systematically, further levels and types of education and training. Basic education typically comprises primary and lower secondary education, and increasingly one or more years of pre-primary education. It usually encompasses compulsory schooling.” (UNESCO-IBE, 2013).

Basic education is the first level of education in Brazil. It comprises three stages: early childhood education (up to 5-year-old children), primary education (from 6 to 14-year-old students) and secondary education (from 15 to 17-year-old students).

Global poverty could be more than halved almost within a generation if all adults completed secondary school, according to the findings of UNESCO-UIS and the Global Education Monitoring Reports.

Education is key to the development of individuals, households, communities, and societies. Education provides people with knowledge and skills that increase their productivity and make them less vulnerable to risks. On average, one year of education is estimated to increase wage earnings by 10%. However, youth are more than four times as likely to be out of school as children and more than twice as likely to be out of school as adolescents.

These high out-of-school rates can be explained by poverty and a variety of other reasons: many youths never had a chance to enter school when they were younger, upper secondary education is often not compulsory, and youth have a right to employment in most countries (UNESCO-UIS and GEM Report, 2016).

UNESCO Institute for Statistics database (2017) shows that since 2000, the upper secondary out-of-school rate has fallen more steadily in the world, but this trend is flattening out. In 2000, there were 185.5 million out-of-school students in the upper secondary school age (about 15 to 17 years). In 2015, this number dropped to 141 million.

Completion rates are even lower than enrolment rates. For example, in low-income countries, while 62% of adolescents were enrolled in 2015, only 27% of the finished lower secondary education in the period 2008–2014 (UNESCO, 2016). Even when they complete an education cycle, children, adolescents, and youth frequently do not obtain the expected skills because the quality of education is low. Several studies have demonstrated that low levels of education and poor skill acquisition hamper economic growth, which in turn slows down poverty reduction.

A range of education development paths can be effective in different ways in increasing growth and reducing poverty. Together with secondary education, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) can connect education and the world of work. TVET aims to address economic, social and environmental demands by helping youth and adults develop the skills they need for employment, decent work, and entrepreneurship. In this way, TVET promotes equitable, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and supports transitions to green and digital economies.

Substantial reforms in the area of education can be the answer for the countries suffering financial constraints; UNESCO offers technical assistance in education policy analysis, the design of education sector development plans and donor mobilization in support of national educational priorities, such as curriculum reform, teacher policies, and ICTs in education. Since 1997, the UNESCO Office in Brazil has followed and supported the national actions towards the implementation of secondary education reform.

In the process of defining regional and national development agendas linked to world dialogue on the post-2015 sustainable development goals, the vision of curriculum as an instrument for forging learning opportunities throughout life places it (or should do so) at the centre of discussions on cohesion, inclusion, equity, and development. In this progress, the Organization supports the development of public policies that can effectively contribute to the improvement of the educational system in this level through studies, publications, promotion of discussions, and technical cooperation agreements.

Lifelong Education

In the framework of lifelong learning, ‘literacy is part of the right to education and the public good. It is at the core of basic education and an indispensable foundation of independent learning. The benefits of literacy, in particular for women, are well documented. They include greater participation in the labour market, delayed marriage, and improved child and family health and nutrition; these, in turn, help reduce poverty and expand life opportunities. Numeracy is a key skill: manipulating numbers, accounts, measurements, ratios and quantities is a basic skill to life and required everywhere.’ (Incheon Declaration).

However, there are still about 758 million adults, including 115 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, who are not able to read or write a single sentence. Most countries did not meet the Education for All goal of achieving a 50% improvement in adult literacy levels by 2015.

Women's education

‘Inequity in the way women’s education and qualifications are supported and valued remains a dominant issue. The majority of those excluded from school are girls, with 9.7% of the world’s girls out of school, compared to 8.3% of boys. Likewise, the majority (63%) of adults with low literacy skills are women. Nevertheless, there are some hopeful signs: in 44% of participating countries, women participated more in ALE than men.’ (GRALE III).

In Brazil, the lack of gender equality is imbalanced in higher education, which increases in favour of women. Access to public higher education institutions needs to be expanded to a larger proportion of young people aged 18-24, particularly those coming from the lower social stratum. Evaluations indicate the existence of major quality disparities among educational institutions, especially among private organizations.

     Download the GRALE III Report:

    Action in Brazil

    Through the development of research and studies, UNESCO offers subsidies for the elaboration of public policies, collaborating with the advancement of indicators related to lifelong education quality, learning and literacy in formal, non-formal and informal environments, as well as contributing to the promotion of lifelong learning.

    UNESCO in Brazil has been in permanent dialogue with public higher education institutions, with universities and other higher education and research institutions. The Organization has tried to promote teacher education and mobility, higher educational quality, educational changes and innovations that have become essential due to emerging challenges faced by today’s knowledge society. In this direction, UNESCO:

    • articulates international and regional information and knowledge networks (UNESCO Chairs/UNITWIN Networks)
    • gathers decision-makers and researchers
    • promotes studies and discussions
    • promotes international exchanging programmes between higher education institutions 
    • sponsors innovative programmes in higher education both in partnership with public institutions, such as programmes with the Ministry of Education, as well as with private institutions and entities of civil society
    • makes available to higher education institutions and universities the reference documents considered indispensable for changing or innovating processes in the area of higher education

    Technical and Vocational Education

    There is a need to promote Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in Brazil to prepare youth for employment, to enhance the economic growth, and to reduce poverty.

    TVET can link education to the job market. It deals with economic, social and environmental issues by helping young and adult students to develop their necessary skills to get jobs, decent employment, as well as to develop entrepreneurship. Thus, TVET promotes equal, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth besides providing assistance to the transitions to green and digital economies.

    The integration of upper secondary education in TVET can make the bridge between education and the job market. It is important to highlight that integration between secondary education and professional and technical education have recently begun in 20 of 27 Brazilian federative units, particularly in the Northern and North-eastern regions of the country.

    UNESCO supports actions related to the development of competencies of educational managers and technical teams responsible for educational planning and for actions to improve access to education and permanence of students in schools, in order to improve efficiency and efficacy of technical and vocational education offered to the Brazilian population.

    Since 1997, TVET has been one of the basic axes in the actions of UNESCO Brasilia Office. Its focus has been in actions to disseminate ideas, to promote discussions, and to offer subsidies to define public policies that can effectively answer to social needs and that can contribute to the Brazilian educational system's improvement.


    • Educação profissional: pontos de partida: the series Educação profissional: pontos de partida (Technical and Vocational Education: starting points) was published from 2003 to 2005 with the objective of turning available to professionals that work in this area some documents produced from technical cooperation agreement of UNESCO in partnership with Brazilian State Governments. The intention was to offer instruments that may assist educational management and policies particularly in Technical and Vocational Education.