Federal Institutes

Image_Elyeser Szturm

Claudia Shiedeck*

To speak of Federal Institutes is to speak of the basic right to education, respect for diversity and development with freedom

“And yet, we also live in a world of staggering scarcity, misery and oppression. There are many new and old problems, including persistent poverty and the unmet need for basic needs, scenarios of famine and widespread hunger, violation of basic political freedoms as well as basic rights, widespread neglect of women's interests and representation, and the aggravation of threats to the environment and to the sustainability of our economic and social lives”.
(Amartya Kumar Sen) (SEN, 1999[I]

Reflecting on professional education is also reflecting on the Brazilian educational system as a whole, as the duality present in the so-called technical schools can also be seen at other levels and modalities.

Families of the Brazilian economic and intellectual elite are allowed to place their children in better quality schools and the most vulnerable, poor and far from large urban centers are only allowed what is left of the system: poor schools, poorly paid teachers, precarious infrastructure, among other critical issues. This means that we are talking about an excluding logic that permeates education in general in Brazil, from basic to higher education, in public or private schools (which tolerate the poor, when imbued with their altruistic spirit, and offer them a studies that allow them to have the same type of education as the rich). This rationality is built on the common sense that everyone would have the same starting point, the same incentive and financial conditions, the same stimulus and the same food, the same type of bed to have a restful sleep and the same health care and, thus, access to education would depend solely on the student's individual merit and staying in school would be the exclusive result of personal will and the desire to ascend socially.

The overcoming stories that the traditional media present every day end up doing a disservice, since they encourage the romanticized view that social mobility is exclusive to each human being and that all successes or failures are due to him. If we observe the evolution of professional education in Brazil, we can see the fallacies of reasoning like this.

From 2003 to 2016, under the Lula and Dilma governments, Professional Education has transformed and revolutionized the Brazilian educational scenario. The creation of the Federal Institutes (IFs) and the expansion of the Federal Network brought new perspectives to Brazilian society, bringing high-quality, free and technical integrated secondary education to the interior of the country, as well as the long-awaited higher education of the 'federals'. . For many of the families that today have their children in institutions like these, this is perhaps the only chance for qualification and, possibly, for social mobility, that they will have. The transformation stories are countless and exciting. And it is because of these stories and what they represent that we need to talk about Professional Education and Federal Institutes.

Professional Education in Brazil  

The debate on the Brazilian professional education system and its relationship with the world of work, as well as the discussion on the function and responsibility of other educational modalities in the country, has been permeated, throughout its history, by the argument of attributing responsibility (state versus private sector) as well as the function conferred on it (training for the world of work versus citizenship education), having historical and social roots that run parallel to the development of the country itself (MOURA, 2016; RAMOS, 2014) .

The conception of the need for specific training for work emerged in Brazil through Law 7566/1909, with the creation of the first nineteen schools for apprentices and craftsmen, with a specific function of assisting the most socially vulnerable. The duality that will mark this modality throughout its history can be seen in the initial justification of the aforementioned law.

Considering that the constant argument of the population of the cities demands that the proletarian classes be provided with the means of overcoming the ever-increasing difficulties of the struggle for existence: that for this it becomes necessary, not only to qualify the children of the disadvantaged of fortune with the indispensable technical preparation and intellectual, how to make them acquire habits of fruitful work, which would keep them away from ignorant idleness, school of vice and crime; (BRASIL, 1909)[ii]

The schools created by this law were established under the responsibility of the Federal Government to serve a public coming from social classes excluded from state aid and with the aim of preventing migration to urban centers from triggering unemployment and vagrancy. This movement of the Brazilian State expanded the possibilities of qualification for agricultural and urban establishments, although it did not necessarily show concern with social mobility, with general education or with the incentive to study, since these schools had a professional character and preparation for the do. Characterized by a school environment for 'proletarian classes', this type of training did not permeate the Brazilian educational system, since it did not have social prestige and produced a second-rate education, allowing educational segmentation between institutions that prepare for jobs with lower value social and others for professions already consecrated and of a more socially influential nature. In addition, this cleavage ensured the segregation between the children of the more affluent classes, who had opportunities for a broad and academic education, and those from the less favored, whose study opportunities were restricted to qualifying for jobs considered less noble.

Throughout the 2006th century, Brazil underwent economic and social transformations that ended up having repercussions on the structure of its professional education. In this context, professional education schools linked to the productive sector (currently known as the S System) appear, as well as federal and state public professional education, although still with the separation between the public served by this educational modality ( KUENZER, 2014; RAMOS, XNUMX). However, privatization also affects this segment and, little by little, private vocational schools emerge, which together with the S System, dominate enrollment in this modality.

Underlying the configuration and nature of each country's educational system is the structuring of the economic and social relations that sustain it. The more technological or developed a country's production is, the more professional skills must be improved. Brazil was, throughout its historical trajectory, a slave-owning, agrarian-exporting and capitalist country, committed to the primary sector and to the necessary exploitation of slave labor to sustain its development model. Thus, when the bureaucratic state was installed in the country, after the arrival of the royal family in 1808, the bases for differentiating between first-class jobs, linked to the modernization of that state, and second-class jobs, the result of the progressive formal de-enslavement of Brazilian society, are given. This is how the wealthier families expanded the practice, already carried out throughout the colonial period, of sending their children abroad for an educational training that would allow them to obtain better professional placements in society, while those who did not have these conditions, only a lower qualification remained and, therefore, access to less profitable jobs that allowed little social mobility. This discrepancy in opportunities accompanies the industrial development of Brazil during the 2017th century, thus contributing to maintain Brazilian social inequality (SOUZA, XNUMX). In this way, economic, political and, therefore, power relations, shaped by institutions (formal or informal), governments, workers and students, established their structures of action and change or maintenance of the Brazilian societal structure.

And so, regardless of the form (concurrent, subsequent, integrated), the level (basic or higher), the providers (public or private), professional education in Brazil has always been categorized as a second-rate offer, without quality and aimed at those who couldn't make it to university.

While in Brazil the discussion about the importance of universalizing education arrives late and through trade agreements and the implementation of standardized international exams from the perspective of managerialism and accountability (ENEM, PISA, SAEB, SINAES), in the so-called civilized world , the debate is already moving in another direction when evaluating economic models and the evolution of educational systems. It is in this scope that the mediating role of professional education and propaedeutics with the world of work are discussed, as well as the dual character established at the beginning of this article. On the one hand, professional education seen as a guarantee of employability and merely instructional. On the other hand, the academy, which exempts itself from the discussion about the professional placement of its graduates and the role played by it in maintaining the social and structural inequalities of the countries. And it is in this scenario that the first discussions on the change in the panorama of post-secondary education (higher and professional education) also arise, driven by the high incidence of demand and gross enrollment in higher education in developed and developing countries and which was decisive for the emergence of a new non-university, multidisciplinary, multicurricular educational sector, involved in research, which tends to integrate professional education institutions in the creation of new institutions and which has been expanding in the world at a rate of approximately one percent per year. This is what Cantwell, Marginson and Smolentseva (2018) call High Participation Systems (High Participation Systems).

In Brazil it was no different. The exponential growth of the gross enrollment rate in tertiary education in recent decades (Figure 1), the social mobility produced by the governments of Luís Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, between 2003 and 2016, the repressed demand for improvement in professional qualification and the need of democratization of access to the university created the social and economic conditions for the emergence of the Federal Institutes of Education, Science and Technology.

Figure 1 – Evolution of the gross enrollment rate in the tertiary sector (%) – Brazil, 2003 to 2017. Source: author based on data from the World Bank, 2019

The graph above shows the evolution of the enrollment rate in the tertiary sector, which more than doubled during the Lula and Dilma governments, when various social policies were put into practice. The educational agenda in these governments was associated with other mechanisms that made it possible for less favored sectors to perceive an opportunity for social mobility. That is, millions of people could have access to a vacancy in higher education, either through the increase in public vacancies, either through PROUNI or FIES, in addition, of course, to other programs that reached Basic Education and allowed these people to place themselves on another level in its relationship with the State. For this, it was necessary to change the governmental orientation that investment in education was prioritized in large cities and in the private sector, reversing the expectations of the neoliberal agenda. It was necessary to internalize basic, higher and professional education. And so, on the grounds that access to education is a basic right of citizens and that this cannot be seen as an expense but as an investment, the Federal Institutes of Education, Science and Technology emerged, one of the best public policies evaluation of the Lula and Dilma governments and which, even so, had little visibility, although it revealed an impact that has not yet been subject to evaluation.

The Federal Institutes were created based on the assumptions of the need to increase admission to higher education courses, to serve the population excluded from access to education, the integration of existing institutions, giving rise to a new institutional framework and the possibility of social mobility. It is not possible to discuss the evolution of Professional Education in Brazil without this passing through the creation of this new institutionality and also other movements that marked its emergence, such as the National Catalogs of Technical and Technological Courses (applicable to the Federal Network and the S System ), the expansion of the Federal Network, which went from 144 schools in 2003 to 653 in 2019, reaching all the mesoregions of the country, Decree 5.154/04, under the management of Minister Tarso Genro, which allowed the implementation of Integrated High School to the Technical, the equalization of IFs to universities, which provided the implementation of new courses and pedagogical autonomy, in addition to the democratization of management, which established the parameters for direct elections in the institutions.

The transformation conceived for the federal Professional Education appears in the center of changes introduced by globalization. In the 1990s, with the need to insert itself in a globally competitive market and in the knowledge society and being subject to a process that excludes the circles that think, conceive and determine the world economic regulatory frameworks, the Latin American continent is faced with the urgency to transform itself in order to improve its productivity and competitiveness. This transformation necessarily involves the effort to improve educational indices and levels of technological knowledge, with the concepts of “quality” and “collaboration” in the network standing out as protagonists (MELLO, 2010). At the beginning of the 2019st century, Brazil goes against the grain of the neoliberal agenda and chooses the changes that led to the creation of Federal Institutes and a new conception of Professional Education, which focuses on inclusion and the right to quality basic education, on scientific research as a structuring axis of teaching and in extension as its form of relationship with society, its main pillars (SCHIEDECK, XNUMX).


Professional Education in Brazil has historically been linked to the training of labor to sustain the hegemony of the capitalist world. Seen as a second-rate modality, where those who lacked the intellect, 'will' or even financial conditions were sent. All over the world this movement was quite similar. 

The great revolution carried out in the interior of the country with the creation of the Federal Institutes shows us that it is possible to recover the prestige of technical and professional education. Investing in the qualification of teachers, in the internalization of institutions, guaranteeing that teaching, research and extension go hand in hand in serving local productive, social and cultural arrangements, are basic issues to guarantee the right to education of all Brazilian men and women and not just those who live in big cities or who can afford higher quality education.

Indicators show us that this model can be an alternative to traditional high school and higher education: the best grades in ENEM and PISA, evaluations of exceptional courses and institutions, making us on an equal footing with universities, research and state-of-the-art technological development for solving real problems. In ten years of creation, all this is already visible and concrete.

The Federal Network of Professional Education, however, is experiencing a moment of deep insecurity, perhaps unparalleled in its history. Budget cuts and scrapping of institutions, restricted governmental view on the role of Federal Institutes, dismantling of other public policies that supported the creation of IFs, administrative reform that threatens the rights of professors and administrative technicians, all this in one of the most brutal governments in recent history of the country. It has already been possible to resist before, but the level of attack by the MEC and other governments has reached another level.

Strategically, there is only one way to continue resisting: talking and talking about the Federal Institutes. Use all possible spaces so that the educational revolution that took over the country's corners through the Federal Institutes' campuses is constantly reverberated. Therefore, it is necessary to talk about Federal Institutes. Therefore, it is necessary to tell the stories that were impacted by this public policy of the Lula and Dilma governments. Why talking about FIs is talking about the basic right to education, respect for diversity and development with freedom.

*Claudia Shiedeck PhD in Education and former Dean of the Federal Institute Rio Grande Sul

Article originally published on the website Fundamental rights.

[I] Author's translation.

[ii] Original spelling of legislation.

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