By: Lucy Hoffman `12
Brazil is one of the fastest growing, as well as rapidly urbanizing and economically booming nations in the developing world. However, despite the astounding developments Brazil has made in recent decades, this growth has not been accompanied by an increasingly equal distribution of educational opportunity. The inequities of student achievement based on socioeconomic status are staggering. A significant share of the urban population now live in favelas, shantytowns that border Brazilian cities, where the educational opportunities are scarce due to a variety of social, economic, and cultural factors. Twenty percent of Rio’s population live in favelas, although favela settlements are technically illegal and thus the more than one million people that live there are not actually citizens. As a result, favela residents are denied many opportunities that are intrinsic for wealthier families. Student achievement in favelas has been the center of my research, and I have been studying the disparities in enrollment (years of schooling) and attainment (how students do in school) between students from favelas versus students from wealthier families.
I landed on this topic as the focus of my Global Thesis research because after reading Raising Student Learning in Latin America, a World Bank analysis on the education systems in Latin American countries, I was struck by how far behind Brazil was in terms of scores on standardized tests. Every country has their eyes on Brazil, as its economy continues to grow and it rises to becoming a dominant world power. I didn’t understand, then, how Brazil was enjoying so much economic and political growth when nearly 50% of students that took an international standardized test didn’t score high enough to be qualified as literate. These overarching questions have guided my research: what is the current condition of educational inequity in Rio de Janeiro and what are the causes? To what extent to students from favelas have access to high quality education, and what can the government do to increase that access?
I have really enjoyed this experience so far and I’ve become really passionate about my topic. Brazil has shown they have endless promise to be a global power, but they risk not reaching their full potential by failing to provide high quality education regardless of socioeconomic background.