Pandemic to worsen Brazil’s troubling school dropout rates

Over 38 billion dollars: that is the estimated cost of school dropouts in Brazil in the year 2020 alone. Researchers from business and economics school Insper, in conjunction with the Roberto Marinho Foundation, concluded that some 575,000 young Brazilians will end this year having not completed basic education — a number that exceeds the total population of some of the country’s state capitals. 

In their study, entitled “Consequences of the Violation of the Right to Education,” the researchers estimated a lifetime loss of BRL 372,000 (USD 66,700) per student, accounting for factors such as lower employment prospects, decreased wage expectations, losses due to a reduced contribution to economic activity, decreased quality of life, and a higher probability of being involved in crime.[restricted]

Furthermore, the study did not even account for the knock-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, meaning the number of dropouts and future losses could be even higher. 

Another study, carried out by the National Youth Council (Conjuve), found that 28 percent of students aged between 15 and 29 are considering not returning to school once pandemic-related restrictions are fully lifted. Half said they are unlikely to apply for next year’s National University Entrance Exam (Enem).

The Insper study assessed young people born in 2002 who would now be expected to complete high school education. According to their research, an average teenager who completes basic schooling should be expected to accumulate an income of BRL 427,600 throughout their lifetime — for those who do not complete high school, this average drops to just BRL 268,500.

Indeed, wealth was not the only factor assessed, with Insper researcher Laura Müller Machado pointing out that those who do not complete high school are expected to have a lower quality of life and poorer health conditions. Society as a whole also stands to lose.

“Young people who complete basic education tend to encourage more constructive environments wherever they go, they have a greater capacity to generate innovation, inspire, and transmit knowledge. Besides, young people who don’t finish basic education are more likely to be involved in episodes of violence, whether as victims or perpetrators, as they usually live in more vulnerable places and are more exposed to conflict. This has a considerable cost for society”, she explains.

School dropouts: a neglected population

According to the National Household Sample Survey (Pnad), carried out by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), 20.2 percent of the 50 million Brazilians aged between 14 and 29 have not finished a single stage of basic education. Among the reasons cited for this are disinterest in studying and a pressing need to leave school in order to work.

According to Roberto Rafael Dias da Silva, a Ph.D. in Education and professor at the School of Humanities at the University of Vale do Rio dos Sinos (Unisinos), the data reflects a lack of investment — both in Brazil and Latin America as a whole — in diagnostic research and proposing viable alternatives for keeping kids in school.

“Cultural issues, the need to enter the labor market prematurely, and changes in the economy, for example, can explain the high rates of school dropouts. Most of the time, dropping out of school is not a matter of choice”, he says, adding that education systems, publishers, professional associations, and educational institutions themselves need to create permanent study centers on child and teenage education in Brazil.

Mr. da Silva also asserts that the outlook demands action from the government, such as a collective re-examination of educational purposes, programs for monitoring learning, and long-term policies. Meanwhile, Ms. Machado suggests that the government should be examining the good educational practices being deployed in Brazil — as the issue of school dropouts is not universal around the country. 

Congresswoman Tabata Amaral, a leading voice in the public discourse on education, claims that Brazil’s Education Ministry has been “adrift” for almost two years. “What do we as a society expect from Education Ministers? That they would take their place as the coordinators of national educational efforts, as supporters of the most vulnerable education networks. But the Ministry decided to fold its arms instead. Of course, there are good examples from some states and municipalities, many inspiring teachers, but we know it takes more than that”, she says.

Civil society’s role in change

While it has become clear that the government holds significant responsibility in solving the problem of school dropouts in Brazil, that does not mean that civil society initiatives are not welcome. One example of a successful program is the NGO Instituto Futebol de Rua (Street Football Institute), which since 2006 has used sport, education, and culture as tools for social development in the southern city of Curitiba and other urban centers.

Jurema Christen, one of the organization’s teachers, says one of the goals of the initiative is to dissuade its young participants from leaving school,

“We believe in transformative, effective, and integral education. This is only possible if we have a strong partnership with the families and schools where our youths study. In such a delicate moment as the Covid-19 pandemic, we must take a closer look at our students. We are in constant communication with families, to encourage these young people to continue studying, even in remote settings”, she says.

The institute also developed a completely free program for monitoring studies. Each week, families enrolled in the initiative receive phone calls from the NGO’s education professionals to assist students with any issues they may be having with schoolwork. “Our goal is to reduce school dropouts as much as possible,” says Ms. Christen.[/restricted]


São Paulo postpones decision to return to in-person classes

The city of São Paulo postponed its decision to return to in-person classes on November 3. Mayor Bruno Covas wants to wait for the results of an epidemiological census in the city, which will offer a better glimpse into how the pandemic is progressing in São Paulo.

The result of the survey is expected to be released by October 22 — and only then will the local government decide when municipal schools should return to in-person classes. Starting next week, however, 15 schools will be allowed to hold extra-curricular activities on their premises.

Last week, state authorities placed Greater São Paulo in the second-to-last phase of its reopening plan. If the region doesn’t experience an uptick in cases within 14 days, schools will be allowed to hold in-person classes at 70 percent capacity.

According to a serological survey of children in the city of São Paulo, about 17.6 percent of students of municipal schools have developed Covid-19 antibodies — against 12.6 percent among students of private schools.

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Latin America

The history of Nobel Prize winners across Latin America

The 2020 Nobel Prize season came to a close on Monday, as the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced American economists Paul Milgrom and Robert Wilson as the laureats for Economic Science.

No Latin Americans made the cut this year — though only two had outside chances: Mexican poet Homero Aridjis (33-1 odds), for the Literature Prize, and indigenous leader Raoni, for the Peace Prize. They were pipped by American poet Louise Glück and the United Nations World Food Program, respectively.

To date, just 17 Latin Americans have won a Nobel Prize. Today, we look back on their achievements:[restricted]


  • Carlos Saavedra Lamas (Argentina, 1936). The former Foreign Minister was Latin America’s first laureate, being recognized for his work mediating peace negotiations between Paraguay and Bolivia after the so-called “Chaco War,” which killed at least 90,000 people between 1932 and 1935. Mr. Saavedra Lamas was also pivotal in Argentina’s admission to the League of Nations in 1932, the first worldwide intergovernmental body whose principal mission was to maintain world peace.
  • Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (Argentina, 1980). Born in Buenos Aires in 1931, Mr. Esquivel was one of the leading human rights defenders in Latin America during the 1970s — a time in which nearly all of the region’s countries succumbed to far-right military dictatorships. He headed human rights organization SERPAJ and built pro-democracy networks across the region. In 1977, Mr. Esquivel was arrested and tortured by the Argentinian military regime — only to be released 14 months later.
  • Alfonso García Robles (Mexico, 1982). Born in the city of Zamora in 1911, the lawyer and diplomat played a crucial role in making Latin America a nuclear-free zone, following the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Mr. García Robles’ efforts led to a 1967 treaty signed by 14 countries in Mexico City — an effort that earned him the nickname “Mr. Disarmament.”
  • Óscar Arias Sánchez (Costa Rica, 1987). During his stint as president of Costa Rica, Mr. Sánchez championed a peace plan to end the devastating civil wars being fought in Central America. The plan was signed in August 1987 by Costa Rica and four neighboring countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua), and aimed at free elections, human rights protections, and plans to diminish foreign interference in the region.
  • Rigoberta Menchú (Guatemala, 1992). The first direct descendant of native Latin American groups to win a Nobel prize, Ms. Menchú was recognized for her work in social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for indigenous rights — amid a period of large-scale repression against native communities in Guatemala. Her work came at great personal cost, as Ms. Menchú’s father was murdered during a peaceful protest in Guatemala City, in 1980. Not long after, the Army tortured and killed her brother and mother, forcing her into exile. 
  • Juan Manuel Santos (Colombia, 2016). The former Colombian president is the last Latin American person to receive a Nobel Prize — and his win is surrounded by controversy. The Royal Swedish Academy bestowed the honor upon Mr. Santos for his work in negotiating peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), an armed guerilla group in Colombia known for deploying terrorist tactics. Though the deal officially ended more than half a century of civil conflict, it was more a comma than a full stop: violence continues in Colombia, and Mr. Santos’ peace deal was voted down by Colombians in a referendum.


Latin America’s political turmoil during the Cold War — which culminated in dozens of military dictatorships across the region — also fueled a literary boom. New, emerging voices redefined literature in the region, and became powerful and influential authors worldwide.

  • Gabriela Mistral (Chile, 1945). Born Lucila Godoy Alcayaga in 1889 in Vicuña, the educator, poet, and diplomat made history as the first female South American laureate. Besides her poetry, Ms. Mistral is praised for her work regarding education and the improvement of literary knowledge. By the time she won the award, she was living in Brazil, in the city of Petrópolis, in Rio de Janeiro state. 
  • Miguel Ángel Asturias (Guatemala, 1967). With his famous and unique work centered on the Central American imagination and cultural peculiarities, especially seen in his 1949 work “Men of Maize,” Mr. Asturias won the Nobel Prize in 1967 for his “vivid literary achievement,” in the words of the Academy, especially for bringing light to the indigenous roots and struggle in Central America. A year before his win, he had also received the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union. 
  • Pablo Neruda (Chile, 1971). One of the most famous writers in Latin America, Mr. Neruda was awarded “for poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings a continent’s destiny and dreams alive.” He died just 12 days after Augusto Pinochet deposed Chile’s democratically elected President Salvador Allende, in 1973. The official cause of death was prostate cancer, though a team of international scientists said in 2017 they were “100-percent convinced” that “a third party” was responsible for his death, following lab analysis of his remains.
  • Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia, 1982). “Gabo” was one of the creators of magical realism, a literary style born in Latin America that intertwines realistic depictions of the world and elements of fantasy. Despite being a supporter of the Cuban regime — and a personal friend of the late dictator Fidel Castro — Mr. Márquez was able to forge a friendship with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who regarded the Colombian as his favorite fiction writer
  • Octavio Paz (Mexico, 1990). A poet and a diplomat, the Mexico City-born Mr. Paz was awarded in 1990 “for impassioned writing with broad horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity.”
  • Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru, 2010). Through his books, which often contain biographical elements, Mr. Vargas Llosa offered a deep examination of how power and corruption play out in Latin America. The author’s political work, however, was not limited to his writing — he ran a failed, quixotic presidential campaign in 1990, eventually losing to Alberto Fujimori. He said the win was an important element in changing international perception around the region. “Latin America seemed to be a land where there were only dictators, revolutionaries, catastrophes. Now we know that Latin America can also produce artists, musicians, painters, thinkers and novelists,” he said in 2010.

Physiology or Medicine

  • Bernardo Alberto Houssay (Argentina, 1947). During his life, Dr. Houssay worked in almost every field of physiology and published over 500 papers and several books. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the role of pituitary hormones in sugar metabolism. The achievement was, at the time, a source of embarrassment for the Argentinian government: then-President Juan Perón had dismissed Dr. Houssay from the University of Buenos Aires School of Medicine for opposition to his education policy.
  • Baruj Benacerraf (Venezuela, 1980). The first and only Venezuelan to be awarded a Nobel Prize, Mr. Benacerraf was celebrated for discovering and improving studies in topics related to the immune system, especially in a research of the histocompatibility complex (MHC). He is often described as being Venezuelan-American, due to later obtaining U.S. citizenship.
  • César Milstein (Argentina, 1980). Considered one of the fathers of modern immunology, he went to the United Kingdom to study antibodies and how they can be used for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of several diseases. He shared the prize with Germany’s Georges J. F. Köhler. 


  • Luis Federico Leloir (Argentina, 1970). Born in Paris of Argentinian parents, he was raised in Buenos Aires from the age of two. Despite dealing with a lack of financial support and second-rate equipment throughout his career, Mr. Leloir developed a world-renowned study into sugar nucleotides, carbohydrate metabolism, and renal hypertension — which led to significant progress in understanding, diagnosing and treating congenital disease galactosemia.
  • Mario J. Molina (Mexico, 1995). Mr. Molina’s work on climate change was crucial toward enacting the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1987, and it made him one of the most important scientists of the past 50 years. He died just last week — and was hailed by Science Magazine as the “Nobel laureate who helped save the ozone layer.”[/restricted]

Eight Brazilian states set a date for school reopenings

According to a survey conducted by news website G1, eight of Brazil’s 27 states have already set a return date for their public schools — with most of them ready to allow in-person classes before the end of October.

In ten states, the government has no idea when schools will be allowed to host students again — in four, decrees on school shutdowns are set to expire, but a return date has yet to be established.

Meanwhile, three states do not intend to reopen public schools this year.

With little scientific information available on the effect of opening schools on the Covid-19 contagion curve — and the proximity of municipal elections in Brazil — the debate around a return to in-person classes is defined by the fear of families, opposition from teachers, and political calculations from politicians.

Schools in Brazil have a different calendar

Unlike countries in the Northern hemisphere, the school year in Brazil follows the calendar year, with classes running from February until December. The pandemic has created uncertainty among schools about how to deal with the 2020 school year — as classes have been shut down in most of the country for the past six months. 

While many schools have held classes remotely, the school year has been hugely compromised, with educators debating on whether to force all students to repeat their current grades, or to attempt to squeeze two years into one in 2021.

Widening inequality

The Covid-19 pandemic has widened the education inequality gap between rich and poor students in Brazil.

While private institutions have been able to partner with online services such as Microsoft Teams to keep up with coursework, public schools have had to adapt to the socio-economic challenges of many of their students, whose parents may have lost their income and often do not have access to computers or internet at home.

Moreover, private schools have already returned in several Brazilian states.

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Open bars and closed schools: Brazil and Argentina go six months without classes

Six months after schools were closed due to Covid-19 isolation measures around South America, the continent’s two largest economies have yet to resume in-person classes, bar some sporadic experiments.

In the last three months, major cities in Brazil and Argentina have gradually resumed activities that may cause public gatherings. Bars in Buenos Aires reopened in early September, while shopping malls in São Paulo have been operating since as early as July — albeit with strict security protocols. In Rio de Janeiro, beaches have been busy since August, where mask use has been low. The city’s idyllic sands were packed on the national September 7 holiday.

Meanwhile, with this tentative return of leisure, neither country has made any significant progress on establishing specific protocols for educational facilities [restricted]to resume their in-person activities without jeopardizing the safety of students and their families. With little scientific information available on the effect of opening schools on the Covid-19 contagion curve — and the proximity of municipal elections in Brazil — the debate on opening schools is defined by the fear of families, opposition from teachers, and political calculations from politicians.

While they appear to be in the same boat, the neighboring countries have approached the issue in different ways, with a sudden change to distance learning.

Like in Brazil, the public education system in Argentina is mostly provincial, depending on local governments. But while Argentina’s Ministry of Education took the lead in putting forward guidelines to continue the school year, its counterparts in Brazil washed their hands of the problem, placing all of the responsibility on individual state administrations to work out their own rules.

Brazil: four Education Ministers in two years

Ivan Gontijo, project coordinator at NGO Todos pela Educação, points out that political instability in the field of education has also played an important role in the Brazilian Education Ministry’s lack of centralization in adopting schooling guidelines during the pandemic.

In less than two years of Jair Bolsonaro’s administration, Brazil has already had four Education Ministers — three of them during the pandemic. Another problem with the department, according to Mr. Gontijo, is the “very low technical capacity of execution” among occupants of high-level positions. “These are people who do not know the educational policy in-depth,” he says.

For Mr. Gontijo, an example of the Education Minister’s lack of interest in its own field of jurisdiction was the recent approval of the Basic Education Fund (Fundeb) in Congress — a process in which the department had practically no participation.

“The Education Ministry could have played a much more relevant role during the pandemic, with the provision of structured materials and increased connectivity for students who do not have internet access,” laments Mr. Gontijo. “We can’t say it would change the scenario, but it would certainly help  municipal and state networks to go through this period in a more structured way.”

According to data from Inep, a research institute linked to the Education Ministry, in 2019, almost 80 percent of students in urban schools were enrolled in institutions of the Brazilian public basic education system — which ranges from early childhood education to high school.

The ICT Education survey of the same year, conducted by the Regional Center of Studies for the Development of the Information Society (, showed that among students in urban public schools, 31 percent had a desktop computer at home, 35% had a laptop, and 26% had a tablet. Among students in private schools, these rates jumped to 54% with a desktop computer, 71% with a laptop, and 44% with a tablet.

Inequality in access to tools for remote education is only the tip of the iceberg of a slow process of universalization of education that was only completed at the beginning of the 21st century. “Our difficulty was quality. We had universalized education, but we still couldn’t deliver quality education. In the pandemic, we regressed in terms of access to education. The poorest children didn’t have access to school activities this year,” laments Mr. Gontijo.

Argentina: federal government takes the lead

Indeed, federal involvement is one of the major education differences between Brazil and its neighbors south of the River Plate. In Argentina, the universalization of education took place almost a century earlier. Pablo Pineau, a Ph.D. in education from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and a university and high school teacher, believes that the long duration of widespread access to Argentinian education has played an important role in responding to the challenges of the pandemic. However, he says it is not the only factor he sees as a successful response in reducing the impact on education in the country.

“The pandemic is a biological and also a social fact. It was inevitable that something we knew only through science fiction would cause profound impacts on society as a whole and increase the distance in access to education,” Mr. Pineau analyzes. “There is an enormous force of expulsion and a not so great force of retention. If educational systems hadn’t responded so quickly, the distance would have been even greater.”

In July, the Argentinian Education Ministry published a report in which it analyzed the continuity of lessons for students from the country’s public and private systems. In evaluating factors such as the frequency of completing school tasks, communication between schools and families, and technologies used to carry out tasks, the department concluded that at the primary level, continuity in learning hit 97 and 98 percent in the public and private networks, respectively.

In secondary schooling, the difference was slightly greater, with 93 percent for students from the public network and 96 percent for private students.

This situation of relative parity has occurred even though access to tools for remote education remains unequal in Argentina. According to the same report, during the country’s isolation measures, 36 percent of primary public school students had access to a stable internet connection at home, compared to 65 percent of private school students. 

“There is inequality in access to devices and connections. Then there is a second inequality, which is the use of technology. Finally, there is a third inequality in the educational use of technology. Whereas today everything is on the internet, before everything was in the library. But it is necessary to learn how to research and organize. What is clear is that technology and teaching are not the same things. Teaching is something more complex.”

Mr. Pineau points out that Argentina has seen precisely what Ivan Gontijo laments has not been possible in Brazil: a leading role of the federal government in the formulation of educational policies, with the production of radio and television programs and distribution of textbooks, but also “enormous creativity among teachers.”

“We are federal countries, but there is a national state. The provinces are not autonomous entities and the national state cannot respond as if the provinces were another country,” he argued. “It is necessary to guarantee the right to education of all students in the country. In Argentina, the federal government has taken on this responsibility.”[/restricted]


São Paulo will move towards school reopening in 2020

Unlike many countries in the Northern Hemisphere, Brazil’s school year coincides with the calendar year. Classes begin in February and end in early December (with a one-month break in July). Schools have been shut in the country’s largest city of São Paulo for six months now. Many São Paulo residents have been wondering if there would be any in-person classes at all this year. The topic remains hotly contested in Brazil.

According to São Paulo Mayor Bruno Covas, the answer is yes. The decision, however, concerns only the municipality of São Paulo — and does not interfere with plans adopted by other municipalities in the Greater São Paulo Area. Sources say the mayor will officially announce his decision today. 

Mr. Covas is expected to allow schools to hold first extra-curricular activities in October, with a full return still under evaluation. In the best-case scenario, in-person classes could possibly return as soon as November.

School reopenings in Latin America

In other countries in the region, classes have resumed in a controlled manner. In Argentina, only the San Juan province — which has recorded only 22 confirmed coronavirus deaths so far — has allowed in-person classes, a decision that affects less than 10,000 students.

Haiti and Cuba have both greenlit school reopenings — although these countries have tackled the pandemic very differently. Haiti has been a “black hole” of data, with little reliable information of the pandemic’s progression. Meanwhile, Cuba has excelled in containing the spread.

Both countries, however, imposed strict sanitary measures, such as the mandatory use of facemasks and social distancing inside classrooms. 

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Courts greenlight school reopenings in Rio de Janeiro

A labor court has sided with the state government of Rio de Janeiro in authorizing school reopenings. The decision, issued on Sunday, struck down an injunction against in-person classes in Rio’s private schools following a lawsuit filed by teachers’ unions against reopenings.

With the green light from the courts, some schools started to welcome students back today — while others plan to do so within the next couple of weeks. 

How to safely reopen schools has become a central question worldwide, as over a billion students have been affected by quarantines, according to the United Nations. In Brazil’s case, the stark inequality of the country has created two parallel realities for children in private schools — who could access e-learning tools while forced to stay home — and those in public schools — who often don’t even have access to the internet at home.

So far, seven states have greenlit private schools’ reopenings. But only the state of Amazonas (the first to experience a healthcare collapse in Brazil) has returned to in-person classes in public schools. In three weeks, 8 percent of school workers in Amazonas tested positive for the coronavirus. The spike in infections has worried teachers and parents alike, and unions are calling for remote-only classes.

How to safely proceed with school reopenings

According to the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil’s flagship biomedical research institution, schools should only welcome students in areas where the daily number of new cases is below 1 per 100,000 inhabitants.

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Business Coronavirus

Covid-19 makes life even harder for Brazilian interns

Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit Brazil, the situation for young professionals joining the job market was already far from ideal. After emerging from what was then the worst recession in Brazil’s history, the country was grappling with double-digit unemployment levels and a growing amount of unregistered informal labor. The coronavirus crisis has come along to make this outlook even worse, while also dismantling one of the most common entryways into professional careers: paid internships.

The São Paulo Company-School Integration Center (CIEE São Paulo), a non-profit organization focused on student internships, noted a [restricted]fall of nearly 36 percent in internship vacancies for the first half of 2020. When analyzing the data through a regional lens, the plunge in opportunities hit 42 percent in Brazil’s Center-West region.

A tentative recuperation has been underway since, but results for August are set to remain 40 percent below pre-pandemic levels, according to CIEE’s national operations superintendent, Marcelo Gallo. “We are seeing a recovery since June, but it’s not going to be V-shaped,” says Mr. Gallo. 

As we have explained on The Brazilian Report, these figures corroborate the hypothesis that the Covid-19 is creating a lost generation in Brazil

Implications for the job market

While being first and foremost an important early step on the career ladder, internships also serve as teaching and networking opportunities for young professionals, meaning that the loss of these positions may result in stunted career growth across the job market. Mr. Gallo also points out that a lack of availability of internships may delay graduations, with students temporarily dropping out of education until positions become available.

For education companies, this can be a big deal. Kroton, one of the biggest private higher education firms in Brazil, the dropout ratio jumped from 6.8 percent in Q2 2019 to 8.1 percent a year later. Cogna group, Kroton’s holding, ended the second quarter with losses of BRL 140 million, a 152 percent drop versus 2019 results.

Furthermore, these programs in Brazil work as crucial sources of income. A recent CIEE study with over 17,000 Brazilian students found that two-thirds contribute to their household income using their remuneration from internships, which average at around BRL 700 (USD 130) a month — roughly two-thirds the national minimum wage. Students use this money to help pay for tuition fees, transport, and meals.

According to Brazilian law, students are allowed to work for up to 30 hours a week on paid internship contracts that may last for up to two years. While they are regulated by law, internships are not classified as formal employment, meaning students are not entitled to workers’ benefits typically found in registered contracts. As a result, companies do not need to pay severance to interns, nor pay social security taxes on their salaries, leading many firms to prefer internship programs as a form of cheap labor. 

Transition to a new normal

For Mr. Gallo, the offer of internships should pick up as the economy recovers, which he conditions to the distribution of an effective Covid-19 vaccine. But with the rise of remote working appearing to be a permanent trend, the model of internship programs will have to undergo adjustments.

“We believe that the best working model for interns is a hybrid one, with remote and in-person activities so they can interact with colleagues and supervisors, as this social relationship is important for their professional development,” notes Mr. Gallo. 

Lawmakers are also trying to remediate the development losses caused by Covid-19. Senators Mara Gabrilli and Rodrigo Cunha have recently proposed a bill to extend internship contracts from two to three years for as long as the public health emergency persists. 

“Many youngsters will lose nearly a year of their lives. It is only fair that the deadlines are extended so they can recover from the losses and get life back to normal,” wrote the senators.[/restricted]

Coronavirus Tech

Pandemic exposes ‘digital inequality’ in Brazilian internet access

Back in 2000, less than 3 percent of Brazilians had access to the internet. Nineteen years later, this has risen to 74 percent, according to data from the Regional Center for Information Society Studies (Cetic). That puts Brazil far ahead of the developing world (47 percent), as well as the global average (53.6 percent). However, access to the internet is by no means democratic — with coverage and quality varying greatly from area to area.

But with many Brazilians forced into confinement — and remote work — by the Covid-19 pandemic, a new form of ‘digital inequality’ became apparent.[restricted]

“In the North, entire regions depend on satellite connections, or mobile 3G and 4G. In the Southeast, on the other hand, fiber optic internet is widely available. That already separates these two regions when it comes to speed, quality, and stability of connections,” says Fábio Storino, who coordinates one of the most complete and respected technology surveys in Brazil, TIC Domicílios.

This inequality is exemplified by the household of 22-year-old Thamyres Talyne Oliveira da Silva, from the small northern town of Itaguatins. Her mother pays BRL 90 (USD 16.50) for 10 megabytes of data per month — but they have never had the opportunity to use their plan to the fullest. At most, they get around half of what they pay for. “When it rains, getting online becomes a challenge. And whenever we try to complain, we always get the same answer — ‘our engineers are performing maintenance in your region.’ Well, that ‘maintenance’ has been going on for the best part of the last two years,” Ms. Silva tells The Brazilian Report.

Purchasing power plays an important role when it comes to internet access. In Brazil’s socio-economic class structure, ranging from the wealthy class A to the impoverished class E, 99 percent of class A homes are connected to the internet; that rate falls to 43 percent for class E. 

“We have carried out our research for the past 15 years. And while we have seen an amazing evolution in Brazil, we still observe that poorer citizens are not a part of this. At least not in the same way as wealthier populations,” Mr. Storino explains.

Internet inequality: smartphones to the rescue?

The inequality of internet access would be much more profound in Brazil if it weren’t for smartphones. Of the 74 percent of Brazilians that have internet access, 58 percent go online exclusively via their cell phones. “Since 2015, smartphones are the main device used by Brazilians to connect to the internet. That rate jumps to 80-85 percent among lower-income users,” Mr. Storino explains.

At times when most schools remain closed, this disparity becomes even more harmful for lower-income students. After all, remote learning content on a smartphone screen with an inferior connection is a very different experience to consuming the same material on a desktop computer with high-speed internet.

During the pandemic, Brazil saw the rise of several initiatives aiming at providing quality access to the internet for public-school students. In many states, classes will not return until March 2021, and there is a real concern of skills being lost in the meantime.

The Education Ministry launched a public procurement process worth BRL 24 million (USD 4.3 billion) to distribute SIM cards with mobile internet data packages to 400,000 students in public universities and professional certificate courses. 

Nossa, an activist network for education initiatives, began a crowdfunding campaign to take 4G connections to low-income schools during the pandemic. Their goal was to raise BRL 100,000 (USD 18,200) for the “4G for studying” project — but they managed to raise six times that amount. “We helped 31 university preparation courses from ten states — and made sure that 4,600 students would have access to the internet for at least three months,” says Daniela Orofino, a 27-year-old student undertaking a master’s degree in information science, who spearheaded the project.

“The pandemic didn’t enhance internet inequality — it just made it visible,” says Ms. Orofino.

Besides private initiatives, there are at least two bills pending in the Senate which would give aid to vulnerable populations in order to guarantee access to the internet.

Experts believe that 5G technology would help mitigate these gaps. That is, depending on how it is regulated. However, Brazil is still lagging behind on the issue with the repeated postponement of public auctions for 5G frequencies, which are now set to be held early in 2021.[/restricted]


Brazilian states postpone reopening public and private schools

São Paulo Governor João Doria confirmed today that face-to-face classes in the state will be suspended until October 5. However, schools will be allowed to reopen on September 8 to prepare and hold student reception activities. The initial São Paulo Plan would have reopened both the state’s private and public schools in September for face-to-face classes. Schools have been closed in São Paulo since March 23.

Meanwhile, in Rio de Janeiro, state judge Peterson Barroso Simão ruled against allowing private schools to return to in-person classes in the state capital, overruling a previous decree by Mayor Marcelo Crivella, which allowed private schools to reopen. 

Yesterday, The Brazilian Report covered Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel’s decision to postpone the return of in-person classes in the state until at least August 20. However, the decision excluded private schools in the state capital, which had been cleared to return to in-person classes for students in the 6th, 7th, 11th, and 12th grades.  

Seven private schools had already returned to in-person classes in Rio de Janeiro, prompting the local Private School Teachers Union (Sinpro) to organize a strike on August 3 against unsafe working conditions amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In his decision, Mr. Simão highlighted that there were no recommendations from health authorities currently in place to justify a return to classes that is widely viewed as premature. In cases of noncompliance, Mayor Crivella will be fined BRL 10,000 (USD 1,869) per day for as long as schools remain open. 

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Sinovac Biotech begins Covid-19 vaccine trials in Brasília

Sinovac Biotech, a privately held Beijing-based lab, commenced phase three trials at the University of Brasília Hospital (HUB) on Wednesday. The Chinese lab initially administered the potential vaccine to five volunteer health workers.

The company is expected to administer two complimentary shots of the vaccine to a total of 850 volunteers over the next few months. Nationally, Sinovac Biotech is partnering with the São Paulo-based Butantan Biological Institute to hold trials on 9,000 volunteers in Brazil, as previously reported by The Brazilian Report in June. The city of São Paulo began its phase three trial on June 11.

The Sinovac prospective vaccine is one of six Covid-19 vaccines worldwide currently in phase three, which involves large-scale trials for efficacy and safety in humans. The signs are positive so far. During phases one and two, the vaccine induced active antibodies in 90 percent of participants, albeit on a much smaller testing scale. The vaccine is expected to be available for public use in Brazil by the first half of 2021.

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Rio de Janeiro to suspend return to classes until August 20

Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel decided on Wednesday to push back the return to in-person classes in the state for another 15 days, until August 20. The official decision, published on today’s edition of the State Gazette, says the measure was taken to “safeguard the public interest in preventing the spread of Covid-19.”

Rio de Janeiro was originally scheduled to reopen schools today, a decision that was met with heavy criticism from the outset on the behalf of education workers and health experts, who argued that a premature return to action would pose unnecessary risks to students and teachers.

Despite Mr. Witzel’s decision, private schools in the city of Rio de Janeiro were cleared to return to in-person activities on August 3, sparking a strike by 500 teachers from the Private School Teachers Union in Rio de Janeiro (Sinpro).

The debate over when to return to in-person classes is raging nationwide, with state administrations struggling to find a consensus on when would be the right time to get students back in the classroom. The Rio de Janeiro administration’s decision to backtrack on its original plans is the latest example of a reopening process that has been clouded with fear and uncertainty, as recently reported by The Brazilian Report.

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New law could revolutionize Brazilian education funding

Congress is moving to make the Basic Education Fund a permanent fixture, increasing the amount invested by the federal government by more than double. The Covid-19 pandemic thrust the Brazilian education system into disarray, with fears that for a large slice of the country’s pupils, 2020 could end up being a wasted year of learning. In-person classes have been suspended for around four months, while plans to reopen schools in September are fraught with risks, with the persistent coronavirus spread in Brazil and fears of a potential second wave of infections.[restricted] Additionally, the replacement of conventional teaching with remote learning has only served to widen the education gap between the public and private school systems, as students from poorer families often lack access to the technology required for online classes.

However, amid this albeit desperate situation, Brazil’s Congress has made progress toward approving an importing financial initiative for primary education in the country, which could see almost half of Brazilian cities lifted out of a situation of underfunding.

The Basic Education Fund (Fundeb) was introduced in 2007 as a 14-year plan to finance public education in Brazil, from preschooling all the way to college applicants. In its final form, it comprises 27 state funds, supplied by state and municipal taxes and supplements from the federal government. However, the Fundeb was set to expire at the end of this year, which would have destroyed funding for schooling in Brazil. In 2019, 40 percent of all resources used by the public basic education system came from the Fundeb.

Last week, members of Brazil’s lower house of Congress approved a landmark proposal to expand the Fundeb and make it permanent. The new fund would also drastically increase the federal government’s spending on public education. Instead of the current 10 percent supplementation from Brasilia, the new Fundeb rules would see the federal administration contribute 23 percent by 2026, more than double the current level.

A study from NGO Todos Pela Educação calculated that in 2015, 46 percent of municipal education networks spent less than BRL 4,300 (BRL 5,400 in current values, or USD 1,053) per student over the first five years of primary schooling and were unable to achieve satisfactory levels of learning among their students. The new Fundeb rules would allow the minimum spend per student to rise to BRL 5,679, bringing these underfunded municipalities the conditions required to properly educate their schoolchildren.

Though pushed through at the last minute, the lower house’s approval of the bill to make the Fundeb permanent was quite the political feat, considering the almost universal attention on the Covid-19 pandemic and the veritable revolving door of Education Ministers in Brazil since the start of the current legislature.

Brazilian students held back a generation

According to data from the National Household Survey carried out by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), the average Brazilian aged over 25 completed less than eight years of study in their lives. In the U.S., this wouldn’t even be enough time for students to complete middle school, nevermind going on to higher education.

While this scenario is progressively improving for younger generations, school performance remains desperately low. In the most recent edition of the Program for International Student Assessment (Pisa) test, organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2018, Brazil found itself in the bottom third for reading, mathematics, and science, out of 77 countries tested.

Performance in math was particularly disappointing, with Brazil scoring just 384 points, behind Lebanon, North Macedonia, Jordan, and Colombia. Leaders China recorded a score of 591 — a 207 point difference.

Here, the finger is often pointed at the lack of government investment in education, though this is only half true. While Brazil spends much less per student on average than OECD countries, the percentage of the country’s GDP spent on education is comparable to these better-performing nations, suggesting that the problem isn’t how much money is being spent, it is how that money is spent.

To illustrate this inefficiency in education spending, Brazil can be measured against two comparable nations. Indonesia, with a bigger population than Brazil’s, recorded Pisa scores almost identical to South America’s largest country in math and science. However, Indonesia spends over three times less per student on basic education for the same underwhelming results.

When looking at Mercosur colleagues Chile, Brazil’s spending per student in relation to GDP is comparable, but the latter’s Pisa scores lag way behind. In 2018, The Brazilian Report showed that the country’s education system is an entire generation behind Chile’s in terms of average years of study.

Brazilians born in 1988 reached an average of 10.1 years of formal education, while this was the level reached by Chile back in 1964. For their 1988 generation, Chileans recorded two extra years of education per person on average

Senator Paulo Paim, the chair of the Senate’s Human Rights Committee, tells The Brazilian Report that the country’s spending on education is “poorly distributed.”

“The quality of education is still insufficient, teachers earn less than they should, and there are still significant inefficiencies at all levels of government,” he says.

“Being such a large country, with over 211 million inhabitants, these shortcomings in basic education impose a very high cost in terms of underdevelopment, underemployment, and social mobility,” Mr. Paim added. 

The Sobral ‘miracle’

Regardless of the national outlook, one of the particularities of Brazil’s basic education system is how much conditions vary from region to region. While this largely poses problems in terms of underfunding in disadvantaged areas, it also results in some individual states and municipalities setting themselves apart and giving positive examples of how to manage and organize their local education networks.

The most commonly cited example of this is the city of Sobral, in the northeastern state of Ceará. While being located in only the 12th richest state in the country, Sobral was able to reach the highest Basic Education Development Index out of any Brazilian municipalities back in 2017. Between 2007 and 2017, the city doubled its score, leading experts to heap plaudits on local public policies.

However, in 2018, the local and regional press began to suspect of Sobral’s astronomically high results, claiming that the city’s school grades had been inflated across the board. There has been no proof of fraud in Sobral itself, though nearby cities have seen inquiries launched into alleged doctored school reports.

According to a World Bank report, Sobral’s success was down to a combination of political leadership, clear targets — including one establishing that all students should be literate by the second grade — and results-based financing, including incentives for municipalities around Ceará that achieved literacy goals.

Now, the Lemann Foundation and its partners Associação Bem Comum and Instituto Natura are carrying out a program to scale this model to eight Brazilian states, in an attempt to bring the surrounding region up to Sobral’s high standards.[/restricted]

Coronavirus Society

Brazil’s return to classes clouded by fear and uncertainty

With the Covid-19 pandemic showing no sign of immediate improvement in Brazil, the return to in-person schooling in states across the country is accompanied by feelings of fear and uncertainty, as experts warn of the dangers of contagion and parents and teachers protest the return. After more than 130 days without classes, we have listed the plans drawn up by each of Brazil’s 27 states:

  • Acre. Initially planned to return in September, the state announced yesterday it will be postponing the return to in-person education until 2021, as reported by G1. The coming term will be exclusively online.
  • Alagoas. The state government said in-person classes will be among the last activities to return, as part of its final stage of gradual reopening. The authority did not divulge an estimated date for schools to return. 
  • Amapá. The state has no expected date to return to classes, as G1 reported on Friday. Governor Waldez Goés (PDT) said in-person education will be one of the last activities to return.
  • Amazonas. In state capital Manaus, in-person classes will restart on August 10 for older students and two weeks later for middle-school students, according to O Estado de S. Paulo. Classes will return in a hybrid system, with in-person and online activities working simultaneously. The government has yet to define a return date for schools in other regions of the state. Private schools reopened activities at the beginning of July using a rotation system, by which classes alternate between distance learning and in-person teaching.
  • Bahia. The state has not defined a date to return to in-person classes, but the government has announced that when they do restart, extra classes will take place on Saturdays and there will be no holidays in December, according to UOL. The state is also conducting tests with students in different municipalities. 
  • Ceará. Schools in Ceará, both public and private, will have mass testing for students, according to the state’s Health Secretary, in an interview to TV Globo this Tuesday. Students are set to return to schools in September, Covid-19 case numbers are satisfactory. Ceará has implemented gradual reopenings for different regions. Fortaleza, the capital, is in the final stage.
  • Federal District. On July 13, G1 reported that the education authorities in the Federal District will begin a gradual return to classes on August 31, with different grades returning to lessons on different dates. Private schools have already been authorized to return.  
  • Espírito Santo. The state government has postponed in-person classes in all educational institutions until the end of August, reported local newspaper A Gazeta
  • Goiás. Private and public school classes restarted in Goiás this week, but in an exclusively remote format. In-person lessons are planned to return in September, but the situation is being reassessed every two weeks. 
  • Maranhão. Private schools restarted classes this week in a hybrid format, alternating between in-person and online education. Attendance is not mandatory. Public schools, meanwhile, have no set date to return, after the government conducted a survey which showed that most families do not want to return to in-person classes for the time being. 
  • Mato Grosso. Schools were set to resume lessons yesterday with exclusively online classes. State authorities have begun discussions about in-person activities, but there is no established date for a return, reports G1.
  • Mato Grosso do Sul. Last week, the state government published a decree in which it extended the suspension of in-person classes in public state schools until September 7, reported G1. It also recommended private schools and municipalities do the same. 
  • Minas Gerais. The State has not yet estimated concrete dates for classes to return, reports local newspaper O Tempo. The state capital Belo Horizonte has announced that schools are not included in its reopening plan.
  • Pará. Schools in Pará still don’t have a date to return. For public state schools, the return date has been postponed and the government will make a new decision by August 15, reports G1. In the state capital Belém, the municipality has estimated in-person classes will return on September 1. 
  • Paraíba. In-person activities have been suspended for an indefinite period, according to monitoring carried out by the National Board of Education Secretaries (Consed).
  • Paraná. In-person classes are to restart sometime in September, with the government to announce a precise date in two weeks. The state will adopt a gradual return — beginning with older students — and a rotation system, alternating in-person and online activities. The government said that the course of the pandemic might result in a change of plans, reports G1
  • Pernambuco. Last week, the state government decided to extend the decree that suspended classes until August 15 for all educational institutions in the state. 
  • Piauí. Schools and universities have had activities suspended indefinitely, with no date to return. But even without a date, education authorities in state capital Teresina are elaborating a protocol for the return which includes testing teachers and students and a rotation system, according to G1. 
  • Rio de Janeiro. In Rio de Janeiro, the return to classes has become the object of a court dispute between state and the city. Mayor Marcelo Crivella had authorized private schools in the state capital to reopen, but the state government outlawed the decision, saying that schools that reopen risk being fined. The State Education Secretary told newspaper O Globo this Tuesday that a decree that prohibits schools — both public and private — from reopening is likely to be extended. 
  • Rio Grande do Norte. The state government has extended a decree that suspended classes until August 14. Private schools are making preparations to return immediately after the 14th, shows G1. The State Education Secretary acknowledged the possibility that the 2020 school year may extend into 2021.
  • Rio Grande do Sul. There is no set date for classes to restart, but in the beginning of July state authorities projected students might return sometime in August, according to local newspaper GaúchaZeroHora
  • Rondônia. The state government said that, while there are plans to restart classes, there is no established date yet, as this depends on the curve of cases in the state, reports G1.
  • Roraima. In-person activities have been suspended for an indefinite period, according to monitoring carried out by the National Board of Education Secretaries (Consed).
  • Santa Catarina. In-person classes in the state are suspended until at least September 7. A return plan announced by the government focuses on students from the age of 14 and includes a rotation system between groups, according to G1
  • São Paulo. The return to classes in the state is planned for September 8 if, by that date, all cities are within the state’s Yellow Phase of the reopening plan for at least 28 days. The return will include all school grades, but in a rotation system, alternating different groups throughout the week while keeping attendance at 35 percent. But cities around the state are deciding not to return. In state capital São Paulo, city hall announced yesterday that classes are unlikely to return on the planned date. As reported by G1, cities in Greater São Paulo have decided to postpone in-person classes to 2021. 
  • Sergipe. The state government has not announced a date to return to in-person classes, but the Education Secretary said it is structuring a return plan.
  • Tocantins. Public schools began to return to in-person classes this week, with high school students returning first. The classes will occur in a rotation-like system, where the classes are divided into two groups. Each week, one group attends in-person classes, while the other completes activities at home. At the end of a two-week period, the state will assess the efficiency of the system to decide on other students’ return.
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Latin America Covid-19 News Roundup: Jul. 30, 2020

?? Mexico. The government announces that schools will reopen for in-person classes on August 10. (AS, in Spanish)

?? Chile. The Covid-19 infection rate in Chile is below 10 percent, said the Health Ministry. (Yahoo, in Spanish)

?? Nicaragua. Around 80 Guatemalan immigrants crossed into Nicaragua through uncontrolled blindspots on the border, showing the country’s negligence against the pandemic. (Efe, in Spanish) 

?? Colombia President Iván Duque criticized for allowing drive-in theaters to open amid the pandemic: over 8,600 Covid-19 cases were recorded in the last 24 hours. (Colombia Report) 

?? Costa Rica: With the pandemic under control, the government announced the reopening of tourism and commercial flights in August. (La Prensa, in Spanish)

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Largest Amazon city Brazil’s first to reopen schools

Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon region — and the first Brazilian city to experience a full-scale collapse caused by the coronavirus — is ready to send its students back to school. The state government has announced that from August 10, pupils over 15 years old will have in-person classes. 

The capital of Amazonas state will now be the first city in the country to reopen its schools.

The process to restart classes will take place in different stages, with younger students only resuming lessons on August 24. According to news website UOL, Amazonas Governor Wilson Lima promised classrooms would respect a 50-percent occupation cap, and that classes would not be held every day.

The government also announced the provision of masks, hand sanitizers, and other personal protection equipment.

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NGO launches project to call students at home and avoid dropouts

Among the major fears of public education authorities and teachers during the Covid-19 pandemic is that the suspension of in-person classes will result in a higher dropout rate in schools. With more time away from face-to-face learning, the concern is that a significant number of pupils may avoid returning to school once their doors are reopened. 

In a bid to avoid this phenomenon, NGO Ensina Brasil — supported by the Lemann Foundation — developed the LigAção do Bem initiative, which involves teachers calling their students at home during the pandemic period, to stimulate learning and maintain pupil-professor contact, deemed crucial to avoid school dropouts.

The campaign aims to get all teachers in Brazil to make a 20-minute phone call to one of their students every day. By the NGO’s estimations, just 23 days could be enough to have all 40 million Brazilian public school students receiving a phone call from their teacher.

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Rio could see 3,000-plus deaths if schools reopen in August

The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a biological research center, estimates that the state of Rio de Janeiro could see a surge in coronavirus deaths if schools reopen in August as planned. Over 3,000 deaths could result from the move. 

Researchers say that 9.3 million Brazilians in at-risk groups would be overly exposed to infection if classes resume — as they live with schoolchildren. Over 600,000 of these at-risk potential patients live in the state of Rio.

Mayor Marcelo Crivella gave schools the option to restart classes for elementary school children from August 3 onward. Governor Wilson Witzel decreed that state-administered facilities may resume in-person classes on August 5. Teachers in private institutions threaten to go on strike as they fear for their health.

Across the country, private schools have pushed for a reopening — and asked authorities for special rules, as they claim they have better conditions (and would need less time) to implement new sanitary measures and periodic testing to reduce the risks of the coronavirus spreading between students.

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Brazil’s newly-appointed Education Minister positive for Covid-19

President Jair Bolsonaro’s new Education Minister Milton Ribeiro announced that he has tested positive for Covid-19. Mr. Ribeiro was sworn in on Thursday, June 16, as the president’s newest Education Minister after Carlos Alberto Decotelli resigned before taking office after submitting false information on his resume.

Mr. Ribeiro, a Presbyterian minister, holds a master’s degree in law and undergraduate degrees in law and theology from Mackenzie University in São Paulo.

He was appointed by Mr. Bolsonaro on July 10 to replace former Education Minister Abraham Weintraub after his tumultuous exit from the ministry, with countless inflammatory comments instigating the arrest of Supreme Court justices.

It remains unclear whether Mr. Ribeiro’s positive test has any relation to President Bolsonaro, who announced that he had contracted Covid-19 on July 7. 

Milton Ribeiro joins Citizenship Minister Onyx Lorenzoni as the second cabinet member to announce a coronavirus infection following the president’s own diagnosis. On Sunday, the president left isolation to join protesters in front of the presidential palace and once again promote the anti-malaria drug chloroquine to the public — despite any scientific evidence of its efficiency in treating Covid-19.

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