Brazil practices one of the most radical affirmative action laws in South America. It reserves 50 percent of spots in public universities for public high school students who are also economically underprivileged minorities. However, public high school students are usually rejected from public universities not because they are being discriminated against, but because public schools offer unbelievably poor and defective education that does not prepare students for higher academic learning.
Although public universities are considered the best and most competitive higher-education institutions in Brazil, the rest of Brazil’s public education system has blatantly failed over the years. An astounding degree of government corruption often impedes investments in education, leaving public schools’ infrastructure degraded, teachers’ salaries too low or even delayed, and students’ resources limited. As a consequence, many schools decide to strike against the government to protest against unfair working conditions, leaving students with long and unexpected school breaks.
Because of the inadequate investment in public education at the elementary and high school levels, public school students do not attain the same level of knowledge that private school students do, which impedes public school students from performing as well in higher education. A study done by the Brazilian Ministry of Education (MEC) has calculated students’ learning knowledge of specific subjects on a grading scale from 0 to 500. Junior high students from private schools scored 298.42 in mathematics, while high school students from public schools scored 265.38. High school students from private institutions scored a much higher 332.89.
Admitting unprepared applicants into public universities is therefore not the wisest approach to Brazil’s educational gap between public and private schools. The government must invest in education, starting with elementary grades, instead of promoting ways to shovel students with serious learning faults into public universities.
Brazil suffers much more from economic inequalities than from racism. Socioeconomic backgrounds should be considered in order to level the competition between privileged students from private academic institutions and underprivileged students from public schools who have not been given as many opportunities to sharpen their academic skills.
Different from the newly implemented quota, better approaches, like that of the University of São Paulo (USP) should be implemented. The university offers bonus points on the entrance exams of students from the public education system, but does not reserve spots based on socioeconomic or racial backgrounds. The goal is to admit students only by merit, while acknowledging the disparities between private education privileges and public education deficiencies.
In the long run, this new affirmative action law will impact Brazilian higher education more negatively than positively, possibly lowering the institutions’ education quality, by not basing admissions to underprivileged students on their academic abilities.
With these new laws, private school students will likely also be discouraged from attending public universities, and will slowly shift to attending private universities, thus perpetuating the economic separation between lower-income students and higher-income students. Public school students may once again end up isolated from more qualified students. The most effective solution to these inequalities is to improve public education, not to offer alternative ways to get into college primarily other than merit.
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