Letter from the Editor | 264

Universal and Unequal

The 2016 Continuous PNAD (Continuous National Household Sample Survey: Education), released in December, brought good news: elementary education in Brazil, which covers the 1st to the 9th year, can now be considered universal, with 99.2% of children in Brazil enrolled in school. At high school level, the rate drops to 87.9%.

Providing universal access is an important step, but more needs to be done to guarantee children receive the quality of education required to reach high school at the right age and with the desired performance levels. This issue’s cover story addresses a phenomenon associated with expanding access: growing differences in learning levels (page 18).

Studies by the Center for Research on School Inequalities (NUPEDE), based at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), indicate that the previous inequality of access is now manifested within school itself: children of the same age can be as much as three years apart in terms of educational level. According to studies, this is also linked to other inequalities: students with more than one characteristic related to social exclusion tend to perform worse. The criteria used included parents’ education and occupation, household income, race, and gender. Basic reading and mathematics levels, identified by nationwide standardized testing, indicates children are leaving school with a lack of key skills that will continue throughout their life, as well as preventing access to secondary and higher education.

The absence of high-quality English language education is seen by British geneticist Peter Pearson as a major weakness for Brazilian graduate students. In an interview with Pesquisa FAPESP, Pearson, who participated in the Human Genome Project in the USA and has worked as a professor at universities such as Oxford, UK, and Utrecht and Leiden, Netherlands, argued that improving English language skills in Brazil would help students publish higher-quality articles and acquire research funding (page 24).


Public fear surrounding the recent yellow fever outbreak in Brazil, which was the feature topic of the previous issue of this journal, caused long queues at health centers in São Paulo last month. There have been doubts among the public regarding the effectiveness of the fractional vaccine. Pesquisa FAPESP sought to contribute to the discussion by demonstrating the scientific basis behind fractional dosing (page 46). Studies show that the fractional vaccine offers protection against the virus, but there is still uncertainty about the duration of this effect, raising questions regarding the need for booster doses.

Other interesting articles in this issue include a report on the reversal of what is known as the arrow of time, with a cold particle transferring heat to a hot one, apparently contradicting the laws of thermodynamics (page 62); the description of a new ring around Saturn, visible only under certain conditions (page 64); and stars from other galaxies cannibalized by the Milky Way (page 67). The judicialization of Brazilian life is the subject of a report on page 86 that examines the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender population in Brazil, showing that their rights are guaranteed by judiciary decisions rather than the legislative process.