Education System in Brazil

Education in Brazil is managed and administered by the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Education (Ministerio de Educacao), which establishes the guiding principles for the development and coordination of educational programmes. Local governments are in charge of setting up state and educational programmes and plans following the guidelines and principles, and using the finance provided by the federal government.

Administration and Finance

All three levels of government-municipal, state and federal, are involved in the funding and provisions of all stages of public education. The public education  responsibility is divided as follows (not necessarily)-
  • Elementary/Primary Education: the Federal, the states and the municipalities
  • Secondary Education: the states and the Federal District for those matters that lie within their purview 
  • Technical, Technological and Higher Education: the Union and the states 
The Secretariats of Education for each state are in charge of managing and supervising the network of schools belonging to those states and to the Federal District, as well as for the administration of the private network. At the state level, standards are laid down by the State Education Councils.

Brazilian Education System- Background

The Brazilian education system is based on the 1988 Constitution, which emphasized education as a universal right that should be encouraged and safeguarded by the government. Since the sanctioning of the 1988 constitution, the Brazilian education system has witnessed major developments and enhancements in both attendance and performance and is regarded as one of the excellent systems in all of South and Latin America.

In 1996, the National Education Bases and Guidelines Law (In Portuguese: Lei de Diretrizes e Bases da Educacao) or LBD, was enacted. According to this law, the educational system in Brazil consists of a Basic Education level that comprises of preschool, elementary and secondary school, and a Higher Education level. Besides, this law established a common national curriculum in primary and secondary education, increased the duration and number of teaching days, created the National System of Higher Education Evaluation (SINAES),  established compulsory nine-year primary education, and led to the growth of extra opportunities for vocational training.

Compulsory Education in Brazil

Primary Education is compulsory for Children ages 6-14 years and is absolutely free at public institutions. Pre-Primary and Secondary Educations are not mandatory, but are accessible at no cost at public foundations. Private institutions are available at all education levels and are assessed and approved by the Ministry of Education. 

Brazil Education: Understanding the System

Education in Brazil is split into-

Basic Education (Educacao Basico)

The basic education lays down the common foundation that is needed for the development of students. It comprises of various educational activities that are performed in formal or informal settings, thereby meeting the basic learning needs of an individual. It encompasses 
  • Pre-school
  • Primary Education
  • Secondary Education
  • Vocational Secondary Education
  • Adult Education
The Brazilian government passed a law in 1971, encouraging huge reforms in the field of primary and secondary educational system of Brazil. The Primary and Secondary Education in Brazil follows a 9+3 structure.

Pre-School Education (Educacao Infantil)

Pre-school education in Brazil, is known as Educacao Infantil. This educational level is optional. It includes-
  • Day Care Nurseries- For children below 2 years of age 
  • Kindergartens: For children aged 2-3 years
  • Pre-Schools: For Children aged 4-5 years 

Primary Education (Ensino Fundamental)

The primary education in Brazil is compulsory for kids aged 6-14 and continues for 9 years. The primary education is divided into two stages-
  • Fundamental Education I (Ensino Fundamental I): For ages 6-10
  • Fundamental Education II (Ensino Fundamental II): For ages 11-14
The core curriculum includes subjects like science, arts, mathematics, history, geography, Portuguese and physical education.
Certificate:Certificado de Ensino Fundamental

Secondary Education (In Portuguese: Ensino Medio)

The final level of basic education is Secondary education and lasts for three years.   Students must have finished their Fundamental education before they enroll in Ensino Medio. It can be taken by students ages 15-17. Secondary education core curriculum comprises Portuguese, foreign languages (mostly English), Mathematics, History, Geography, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. 
Certificate:Certificado de Ensino Medio

Vocational Secondary Education (Educacao Profissional Tecnica de Nivel Medio)

After receiving ‘Certificate de Ensino Fundamental’, students may choose to attend a vocational secondary school. The core curriculum includes specialised vocational subjects.
Certificate:Tecnico de Nivel Medio’ 

Adult Education

Besides, secondary and vocational secondary education, Brazil also offers an adult education diploma for non-traditional students. Students with Adult Education Certificate – ‘Certificado de Conclusao de Ensino Medio Supletivo’ may take university entrance exams,  

Higher Education (Ensino Superior)

Brazil is a home to world-class higher education institutions. The higher education system in Brazil comprises of public and private universities.  

Higher Education Degree Structure

Higher education in Brazil is split in two levels: Undergraduate (graduacao) and Graduate (pos-graduacao)

Undergraduate (Graduacao)

The undergraduate in Brazil consists of-
  • Bachelor degree (Bacharelado): A bachelor’s degree lasts for 4-6 years. 
  • Licentiate (licenciatura): Lasts for 3 to 4 years 
  • Technology (tecnologia): Lasts for 2 to 3 years 
 Graduate (Pos-Graduacao)

The graduate in Brazil consists of a Master’s Degree (Mestrado) and a Doctoral Degree (Doutorado).
Graduate degrees - in Brazil, these degrees are known as "postgraduate" degrees (Pos-Graduacao)- 

"Lato sensu postgraduate" degree: This degree represents a specialization in a certain field, and takes about 1 to 2 years to finish. 

"Stricto sensu postgraduate" degree: This degree allows an individual to take on an academic vocation. In chronological order:
  • Master's degree (mestrado): Lasts for 1 to 2 years of full time studies. 
  • Doctoral degree / PhD (doutorado): Lasts for 3 to 4 years 

Higher Education Institutions: Snapshot

  • Universities (Universidades): Universities are state managed, or federally managed, Catholic, municipal or private and provide many undergraduate and postgraduate programs.
  • University Centres (Centro Universitarios): University Centres are private university level institutions which focus on undergraduate teaching and research. 
  • Isolated Colleges (Faculdades Isoladas): Isolated Colleges are private educational institutions that emphasize on specific knowledge areas and offer courses at undergraduate and post-graduate levels.
  • Integrated Schools and faculties of Higher Education (Faculdades Integradas): The Integrated Schools and faculties of Higher Education are consortium of independent education providers and offer courses at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels.
  • Centres for Technology Education (Centros de Educacao Tecnologica):  These are public technological institutions regarded as centres of excellence in technology education. 

Admission Requirements

In order to gain admittance to both public and private universities, students are required to sit an entrance examination called the ‘Vestibular’ in addition to holding a secondary school diploma. The admission requirements vary depending upon the field of study and the institution to which you are applying. If your chosen course of study is not taught in English, you will need to submit a Portuguese Language Proficiency certificate.

Teaching Education in Brazil

Teaching education in Brazil is imparted at the secondary level and post-secondary level. At secondary level, elementary school teachers are trained. The programme lasts for 3 years and is for teachers who wish to teach Grades 1-4 of elementary education. 
  • Certificate awarded:  Diploma of Elementary School Teacher, grades 1 through 4 (Diploma de Professor de Ensino de 1 Grau, 1a a 4a series ) 
In order to teach the 5th and 6th grades of preschool, elementary and special education schools, secondary school training is needed for about 3 to 4 years of coursework and to teach the 7th and 8th grades University training is needed.  The secondary school teachers are trained at the post-secondary level in Baccalaureate (Bacharelado) or Licenciate (Licenciatura) courses of studies. 

Brazil Educational Facts and Figures

  • Brazil has increased public spending on education from 10.5% of total public expenditure in 2000, to 14.5% in 2005, and to 16.8% in 2009. (Source: OECD 2012)
  • In Brazil, there are about 50,972.61 students enrolled in basic education of whom 43,053,942 are in the public school and 7,918,677 are in the private school system. (Source: Bunge Fundacao 2012)
  • In Brazil, 10. 187,760 students are enrolled in graduate studies. (Source: Bunge Fundacao 2012)

Standardised Tests

Students who wish to study at a private or a public university in Brazil must sit for an entrance examination. As each University runs its own exam, students are first required to choose the university and degree programme they wish to go for. Depending on the university chosen, students will need to take the “Vestibular” exam, the ENEM exam or both.

Undergraduate Studies

Vestibular exam:  The Vestibular is an entrance examination used by Brazilian universities in their admission process. The Vestibular exam encompasses many subjects that are covered in high school such as science, mathematics, history, literature, geography, Portuguese and a foreign language(you can choose between English, Spanish and French). 

ENEM examination:  High School National Exam (Exame Nacional do Ensino Medio) is a standardized Brazilian national exam that is used in place of Vestibular by many Universities in Brazil for the selection of students. 

Postgraduate Studies

For admittance to postgraduate studies, some Universities have entry tests. The Universities set their own admission tests like-
  • Admission Test for Postgraduate Studies in Economics (ANPEC)
  • Admission Test for Postgraduate Studies in Business Administration (ANPAD) 
  • Admission Test for Postgraduate Studies in Computer Science (POSCOMP) 
These tests are not needed by all universities, so contact the respective Universities to know about their postgraduate admission tests

Proficiency in Portuguese

Certificate of Proficiency in Portuguese for Foreigner, or CELPE-Bras (Certificado de Proficiencia em Lingua Portuguesa para Estrangeiros)

International students who wish to study in Brazil are required to take the Celpe-Bras exam in order to prove their Portuguese language proficiency. The Celpe-Bras exam is offered in Brazil and many other countries, such as the United States, Chile, Germany, Japan, and Colombia with the support of the Brazilian Ministry of International Relations (MRE).
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