Federal Institutes

Image: Riccardo Fraccarollo


We don't need a New High School, we need more Federal Institutes

Brazil faces major challenges in terms of student performance in the educational system's quality indicators and targets. However, in recent decades, we have made progress in some areas, especially when compared to the country's recent past. For example, according to the IBGE, in the 1940s, the illiteracy rate was 56%, that is, after 450 years of history, in the middle of the XNUMXth century, half of Brazil's adult population was illiterate!

Reflection of a centuries-old process whose economic dynamics were guided by an exporting agrarian matrix, concentrating wealth and without the slightest interest in the education and qualification of the population. From the second half of the XNUMXth century onwards, the country industrialized (belatedly), urbanized, modernized, went through “economic miracles” (with all its contradictions, including in education) and reached the second decade of the XNUMXst century being able to celebrate many advances in the educational field (especially in relation to universalization), but there are still some persistent bottlenecks, especially in secondary education, whose main challenge is to reduce school dropout among young people.

There are two central ideas in the national debate that attempt to explain, in a simplistic way, the problems of education in the country: (i) that the causes of poor quality of education are related to curricular issues, therefore, it would be enough to “reform” the education system based on a new configuration of workload, content and textbooks – as proposed by the New Secondary Education (NEM); and (ii) the problem of education would not be related to financing, that is, education is precarious not because of underfunding, but rather because of management issues.

In this way, it would be enough to “professionalize” the “management” of education departments and schools as if they were companies for a better allocation of resources and advances in the quality of education will come. It is worth highlighting the role of the large corporate media and educational foundations (for example, Fundação Leman, Todos pela Educação, B3 Social, Itaú Educação e Trabalho, etc.) in disseminating and consolidating these ideas to create popular support and legitimize the influence of these sectors in decisions at the legislative and executive level.

Not that the curriculum issue and the issue of public spending efficiency are minor issues. However, by focusing on these two pillars we run the risk of distorting priorities in facing the challenges of improving the country's education. On the one hand, focusing on curricular changes feeds the moralistic discourse that comes in the wake of the growth of the extreme right in recent years, materialized in conspiracy theories such as the “school without party movement”, ideological indoctrination, gender identity, communism, etc., blaming teachers for the problems in education.

On the other hand, the discourse of inefficiency in resource management reflects the dominance of the neoliberal agenda of the minimum State and fiscal austerity which, at the same time as scrapping public education due to the contraction in investments, attributes this scrapping as being just a problem of an “inefficient management” of financial resources.

This is the ideal scenario for the advancement of private educational foundations that sell their services for developing curricula, producing teaching materials and management. It is no surprise that we have seen a significant increase in the participation of large national and foreign investment funds in the acquisition and merger of private education networks (from kindergarten to higher education). Brazil already has the largest paid education corporations in the world. Evidently, the financial power of these corporations is reflected in the political power of private capital, which exerts influence within the executive and legislative powers.

Well, it turns out that due to misinformation or bad faith, little is said about the two factors that determine the quality of education: (i) investment in infrastructure and, (ii) teaching career. In this sense, from 2008 onwards, Brazil went through a true revolution (to a certain extent silent) in the education system with the creation of the Federal Institutes of Education, Science and Technology (IFs). The proposal of the Federal Institutes is to offer professional and technological education – free and of quality – from integrated technical secondary education, undergraduate to postgraduate studies.

When we analyze the performance of students at Federal Institutes in exams such as ENEM and PISA, we see that the performance of students in the areas of Science, Reading and Mathematics is similar to students in the USA and above the average for OECD and Latin American countries. We reached a level of academic performance very close to students from South Korea and Finland. You didn't read it wrong. In Brazil, we have a public education network that delivers quality of education at the same level as developed countries.

It turns out that, within the scope of secondary education, the Federal network is responsible for only 3% of enrollments. But anyway, what is the secret of IFs? Without a shadow of a doubt, investment in infrastructure – court, library, internet and laboratories – and a career plan for teachers that encourages qualification (most teachers have masters or doctors) and working conditions that allow teachers to teach and develop research and extension projects.

From the point of view of remuneration, the teaching career is equivalent to the Higher Education career at Universities, and entry is through a public competition for tests and titles that promotes a selection of the best teaching staff. In contrast, we see a continuous precariousness in the working conditions of teachers in private networks, and timid actions to value teachers in public networks, with a lot of resistance from the executive powers in complying with constitutional minimums and payment of the minimum salary for the category.

But not everything is perfect. Federal Institutes have been suffering continuous budget cuts in investment and funding since the government of Dilma Rousseff with minister Joaquim Levy (2014), followed by the tragic governments of Michel Temer with minister Henrique Meireles and Jair Bolsonaro with minister Paulo Guedes . The current center-left government has timidly sought to make up for the budgetary and salary losses of civil servants, but is facing great practical and ideological resistance when presenting and approving a Fiscal Framework proposal that, in practice, will strangle public spending in the coming years. Furthermore, to meet the goals established by the Fiscal Framework and eliminate the fiscal deficit, members of the government itself have raised the possibility of sending constitutional amendment projects to deconstitutionalize the constitutional minimums for the areas of health and education.

This is exactly where the debate on education falls, as we are in the middle of a crossfire between the historical demands of the population and the interests of the private sector. You see, the 1988 Constitution (in the words of Ulysses Guimarães, Citizen Constitution) brought a historic advance by establishing mandatory minimum values ​​for the execution of federative entities. It turns out that the 1988 Constitution was born at the same historical moment of the rise of neoliberalism, which became hegemonic with the end of the USSR in the 1990s. This economic current establishes the idea of ​​continuous reduction of the role of the State through budget cuts and privatizations.

In this sense, since its inception, the 1988 Constitution has been subject to continuous attacks with the aim of dismantling any possibility of building a welfare state. There is enormous pressure from private capital to appropriate public services and exploit these services as commodities, operating under the logic of the financial market, that is, maximizing profits in the short term and maximizing returns to shareholders. We see this pressure on this government through the declarations about the end of the minimum wage for health and education (in the reluctance to revoke the New Secondary Education) and the adoption of the PPP model (public-private partnership) for the management of public services, daycare centers, prisons and hospitals.

This should be the big national debate. What model of society do we want? In a country with abysmal economic and social inequalities, should we abandon the idea of ​​building a free and universal public education system and entrust the challenge of educating future generations to the private sector? We don't need a New High School, we need more Federal Institutes.

*Bruno Resck, geographer, is a professor at the Federal Institute of Minas Gerais (IFMG) – Advanced Campus Ponte Nova.

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