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A Brazil that is going farther

Published in 18/02/2021

There is a direct statistically-identified relationship between a person’s years of schooling and their chances of obtaining a higher level of income in their professional life. This is one of the reasons why Education is one of the main inductors of social mobility. The good news is that, since the mid-1990s, Brazil has made remarkable progress, enabling more students to overcome obstacles and go further in their school career. The country emerged from a situation in which only 18% of students finished High School, to a much more promising level. According to data from the 2014 National Household Sample Survey (PNAD), 68.3% of those who were born in the 1980s managed to complete this stage of their studies.

It is true that the country is still far from resolving its historic educational deficit. And that educators have long since identified the positive effects of universal education, which the country has successfully managed. What is now noticeable is the effect of this on aspects related to social mobility, as noted by the CEO of IMDS, Paulo Tafner: “The level of schooling of the younger generations is higher than that of the older generations. Since the1990s, children’s schooling has increased a lot, which is quite positive. And it is very likely that this will continue. So, from the perspective of education, we have certainly had and will continue to have upward mobility.”

The benefits of this phenomenon are many. One of the most important is that the higher the level of schooling in the family, the greater the chances of their descendants prospering. Let’s look at numbers, also extracted from PNAD 2014. Among the descendants of parents with incomplete High School level, only 14.2% reach the income levels of the richest 10%. In order to have a measure of comparison, in the group whose parents completed High School, this percentage almost doubles, since 24.7% belong to the strata of families among the 10% richest. If they had had a Bachelor’s degree, they would have had a 47.9% probability of belonging to the wealthiest group.

*  Indicators produced by the Institute for Mobility and Social Development (IMDS), based on data from IBGE, in the series that highlights the correlation between the parents’ level of schooling and the results that their children attain during life. The source of the data is the 2014 National Household Sample Survey (PNAD).

The international comparison with data from the World Bank (which will be launched as a dashboard by IMDS in March) shows that the percentage of children that have at most completed High School increases more in Brazil than in other similar countries, such as Mexico. The figures indicate that, at least in the case of the High School level, substantial advances have been achieved. While children born in the 1940s in Brazil have the same proportion of people with a High School diploma as in Mexico (20% and 16%, respectively), the 1980s generation has 68%, compared to only 51% in Mexico.

It remains, however, to be made equally accessible to all. In the 1980s generation, the probability of the child of a father with no schooling achieving the dream of a diploma (35.3%) is practically the same as the chances of ending up with an incomplete Elementary and Junior High School education (34.3%). And we are talking about 22% of Brazilians born in the 1980s with this perspective (the percentage that have unschooled parents). The half-full glass is that the 1970s generation (born just ten years earlier), the chances of going to the job market with a High School diploma were much less than the chances of going with incomplete Elementary or Junior High School levels (24.8% and 40.5%, respectively). Educational mobility greatly increased in the span of those ten years.

The great obstacle to educational and income mobility is transferred to the acquisition of a higher education diploma. In aggregate terms, in the international comparison, we are surpassed by Mexico in the 1980s generation, and we are light years away from the performance of South Korea and even that of Chile.

“The dispute for places in higher education is determined by the unequal conditions in which the game is played,” notes IMDS research director, Sérgio Guimarães Ferreira: while 68.7% of the children of parents with university degrees finish college, only 39.8% of the children of fathers who have completed High School or have incomplete undergraduate level are able to achieve the same. Data refer to those born in 1980-1989.

Kelly Marques: coordinator of the Education Hub at Redes da Maré, a civil society organization of public interest.

The coordinator of the Education Hub at Redes da Maré, a civil society organization of public interest, Kelly Marques is familiar with the phenomenon. The entity operates in Complexo da Maré, a group of favelas in the northern part of the city of Rio de Janeiro with more than 100 thousand residents. One of its activities is to offer college entrance preparatory courses that have already helped over a thousand students to enter university.

A census conducted in Maré in 2013, however, revealed that the educational bottleneck in this most deprived region is prior to High School: only 37.6% of residents had completed Elementary or Junior High School, and half of them went no further. The percentage of graduates in Higher Education was around 1%. “Of those who advanced, almost all had completed High School,” says Kelly.

According to her, the need to work continues to take many teenagers out of school. Proof of this is that in 2019 the municipal schools in Maré had 56 first-year classes in Elementary or Junior High School and only 15 ninth-year classes, according to her. “Social mobility is not possible without increasing the level of schooling. The lower the level of schooling, the greater the occupation of positions with lower remuneration,” she says.

Sergio Guimarães Ferreira: director of research at IMDS