Primary and Secondary Schools
In theory, public education is free at all levels in Brazil and is compulsory for ages seven to fourteen, but coverage is incomplete and quality uneven. Private schools continue to meet a large part of the demand of those who can afford to pay. Generally speaking, the private primary and secondary schools are for the upper and middle classes, while the public schools at these levels are attended by those in the lower socioeconomic strata. During the 1990s, rising costs and economic pressures made it necessary for some of the middle class to shift from private to public schools.
The system of primary and secondary schools was restructured during the 1970s and 1980s to consist of eight years of basic ("fundamental") education and three years of secondary school. The public schools at these levels are run by municipalities and states. In 1990 the Collor government adopted a system of integrated educational centers, which included day care, school lunches, and health care, called Integrated Centers for Assistance to Children (Centros Integrados de Assistência à Criança--CIACs) and later renamed Centers for Comprehensive Attention to Children (Centros de Atenção Integrada à Criança--CAICs). These centers were based on the model developed in Rio de Janeiro State by the administration of Leonel de Moura Brizola, then governor of the state. However, because of limited funds they could not be implemented throughout the country, and the validity of concentrating resources on a small number of beneficiaries was questioned.
Between 1960 and 1990, enrollment rates for school-age children (seven to fourteen) increased from 50 percent to 90 percent for the country as a whole. They varied considerably from one region or state to another and within regions and states. Coverage was highest in the Southeast and South and lowest in the Northeast. There were also racial differences. According to 1985 data, 91.4 percent of white children ages seven to nine were in school, as compared with only 74.6 percent of black children of those ages.
One of the biggest educational problems in Brazil is school nonattendance. In wealthy states, 95 percent of children enroll from the start, while only 65 percent to 80 percent enroll in poor states. Approximately 25 percent drop out by the second year. UNICEF reported in mid-1994 that Brazil is in last place in a world ranking that compares the per capita income of each country with the rates of school nonattendance or absenteeism in the first five grades. Given Brazil's considerable economic strength, one would expect at least 80 percent of the children to complete the fifth grade, but only 39 percent finish, according to the UNICEF report. Often children from poor families start working from the age of ten in order to help their parents. Other reasons for school nonattendance include inadequate school facilities, the high examination failure rate, and malnutrition.
One of the government initiatives at the national level that has improved attendance and nutrition is the school lunch program. Some local governments, such as that of the Federal District, have experimented with providing payments to poor families of children who stay in school.
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