Without a Revolution in Education Brazil Will Never Go to the Moon

    zzz We commemorated two anniversaries on the same day, July 16. In the United States, it was the 40th anniversary of the departure of the first humans bound for the moon; in Brazil, the first anniversary of the sanction of the Law of the National Salary Floor for teachers. When he stepped on the lunar surface, the first astronaut said that he was taking one step for himself but a giant leap for mankind. In fact, in order for that step to be taken, centuries of education and science and technology research were necessary.

    North American science and technology carried the first men to the moon, a consequence of centuries of investments in education. While the USA has invested in education since the first colonizers arrived, Brazil went the opposite direction.

    Forty years after the conquest of the moon and the space voyages beyond the solar system, Brazil still does not have its children in schools of the necessary quality. Consequently, it has not achieved a scientific and technological level capable of competing internationally.

    Only in 2008, decades after the conquest of the moon, did the Brazilian government create a salary floor for the teachers. Even so, that floor has not yet been reached because five governors have petitioned the Justice Department to declare it unconstitutional.

    Little has been done by education in the country since colonization. Enrollment has increased – but not attendance. Funds like Fundef and Fundeb were created, but the annual investment in public school continues to be 1,500 reais (US$ 816) per student.

    The salary floor was created a year ago, set at 950 reais (US$ 517) per month when it should have been between 3,000 and 4,000 reais (US$ 1,630 and US$ 2,170 thousand). Schools were constructed but they were not equipped – 20 thousand of them even lack electricity or running water.

    In these 40 years, the Brazilian economy leaped from that of a poor country to that of a potency with national revenue of 2.889 trillion reais (US$ 1.571 trillion). Brazil, nevertheless, continues to occupy one of the world’s last places in education.

    At this rate, we will be commemorating the 100th anniversary of man’s arrival on the moon before we have all our children in schools that are attractive and well equipped, schools that operate in full-days sessions with teachers among the most well paid and respected professional categories.

    Without a satisfactory floor, a decent salary and good preparation for the professors, the schools with quality will not be possible. And, without this, we will not have a good university system and, consequently, we will not have the science and technology that the country needs to achieve its development.

    Thirty years ago, India and China occupied a position inferior to Brazil’s in terms of economic potential and possibilities for scientific and technological development. Today, China has already placed men in space and India has now sent an unmanned spaceship into lunar orbit.

    This July we are also commemorating 15 years of the Plan Real. In 1994, few people believed that the country was going to halt the inflation that had persisted for decades. With a good plan and the involvement of the population, nonetheless, Brazil defeated inflation.

    In 2010, Brazil will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brasília. Other countries, including the USA, created capital cities, but no other country succeeded in constructing the capital so far from the population centers or in making it grow at the speed that Brazil has achieved.

    When the North Americans placed the first men on the moon, Brasília was nine years old and still a work in progress. In those forty years, we left behind a village with an urbanist design and we constructed a metropolis.

    From the point of view of the physical and economic effort, the consolidation of Brasília is not an achievement any less than that of sending a man to the moon, but, from the point of view of intellectual effort, there is no comparison between the two achievements.

    Like Turkey, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, any country with the collective will can create a new capital in a few decades. For the scientific and technological development needed to send a manned spaceship to the moon, however, what is necessary is the intellectual effort that begins with quality education for all children. Brazil has still refused to make this leap.

    We are lagging behind because we have still not vigorously shown the will to make a revolution in elementary and secondary education and to make the necessary investments in science and technology. At this rate, we will continue only witnessing, from a distance, the commemorations of other countries that, having invested in education, have conquered the moon.

    Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website – www.cristovam.org.br – and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br.

    Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome LinJerome@cs.com.

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