Imagine a government that invests in a country’s public education system for citizens of all ages, and whose aim is to ensure that everyone becomes well educated and prepared for the job market. If the goal were to offer higher education of great quality, for example, the government would have to make sure that students received great education throughout their academic journey until they applied to college. That is, colleges and universities can only recruit good students if they have had access to education of quality up to that point. A student can hardly be accepted to the best university by having studied all his/her life in very low-quality public schools.
The Brazilian government seems to have completely missed this logic. According to the Education Ministry of Brazil, governments on the federal, state, and municipal levels spend an average of less than $3,000 reais (approximately $1,350 dollars) per elementary school student every year, versus nearly $18,000 reais (approximately $8,050 dollars) per college student every year. There is a stark discrepancy between investments for primary and higher education that ends up creating an educational gap for students of public institutions.
What usually happens is the best universities in Brazil are public and federally funded, so it would make sense that students from public high schools would be able to afford attending college. However, a great part of students in public universities come from private high schools instead, because they receive the level of education needed to ingress in the most competitive colleges. Meanwhile, students from public high schools struggle to get a spot at federal universities, and easier-to-get-in colleges are usually not the best options as they are private and financially out of reach.
The Brazilian government has tried to fix this problem many times, but always taking the wrong approach. In Portuguese, we call it “trying to hide the sun with a strainer.” The most recent “solution plan” was to create a new law that demands every public university must secure 50% of spots for students from public high schools. Instead of improving the quality of secondary public education, the government instead tries to loosen the requirements for college entrance to then create the impression that the system has improved because more public high school students are attending federal universities.
Brazil definitely needs to reverse its approach to public education funding, improving the quality of primary and secondary education institutions so that students have a fair chance at entering the best universities in the country. Although the shift in funding would probably hurt universities, it is nevertheless essential so that public institutions would provide education of quality to all and a fair chance at attending reputable colleges.
Privatizing colleges is a plausible solution, and not only would it allow the government to center its funding in primary and secondary education schools, but it would also free public universities from the limitations of always depending on government funding to run classes and research, as examples. Public universities may sound like a great idea, but is unfortunately too ambitious for a country that cannot even ensure every child’s literacy. The best way to improve education quality, then, is to work from the bottom up.