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Fernando Haddad: Against fragmentation

Minister explains the Education Development Plan

SÉRGIO AMARALIn April 2007, the federal government launched the Plano de Desenvolvimento da Educação/PDE Educational Development Plan. One month later, the Minister of Education, Paulo Haddad, started to travel all over Brazil in search of support from state governors and mayors for the plan’s proposals, presented in the form of a mass of new acronyms. This was a praiseworthy initiative: it is impossible to think seriously about a consistent reform or development of the national educational system from early child education to post-graduate courses, including the absurd social anachronism referred to as illiteracy in the young and adult population, without counting on political support and commitment from government authorities at the state and local levels, which are closer to the people. Moreover, these government authorities are constitutionally obliged to provide certain levels of formal education as part of their public service duties, whether at the state or the municipal level.

Nine months after beginning his trip, the 45-year old Haddad celebrates having 25 state governors and 4,300 mayors “on board”, regarding the Plan – Brazil has 27 state governors and 5,565 mayors. Haddad has voiced the hope that the country’s current and future administrations will commit to increasing their investment in education to 7% of the GNP, or at least 6%, compared to the current figure, which is under 5%. Haddad also voices the hope that the entire Brazilian population will get the same level of quality education and that Brazilians will acknowledge good education as a social value without which it would be impossible to seriously reflect on national development. However, the Minister fully realizes that none of this is quick or easy.

Haddad has a law degree from the University of São Paulo/USP and a master’s degree in economics, also from USP. When attending the master’s program, Haddad studied the “Social and economic nature of the Soviet system.” His doctoral thesis at USP was “De Marx a Habermas: o materialismo histórico e seu paradigma adequado” (From Marx to Habermas: historical materialism and its appropriate paradigm), under the guidance of professor Paulo Arantes. In 1997, Haddad joined the USP faculty as a professor in its Political Science Department. This apparently erratic path has substance: his interest in the State and all related levels, which led him to reflect on education while he was becoming acquainted with the work of German philosopher Jürgen Habermas. His professional activities also impelled him toward this: when he went to work for former minister João Sayad at the Financial Bureau of the City Government of São Paulo, during Mayor Marta Suplicy’s administration, most of his attention was focused on education, which has the city’s highest budget.

In the following interview, Minister Fernando Haddad clarifies his views on the education policy of the Lula administration for the nation, a policy that is “systemic and not fragmented,” and explains several aspects of the Education Development Plan (EDP).

On January 17, we were informed that almost seven thousand vacancies in law schools had been eliminated; on the same day, we read a statement in the “Scientific American” website, in the middle of a long and positive article, “Brazil’s option for science education”, signed by president Lula, by neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis and by you. I would like to hear your comments on such dissimilar but simultaneous facts linked to education in our country.
– This is complementary news, the background to which is the Education Development’s Plan (EDP). The issue is as follows: how can we explain the fact that Brazil ranks 15th in terms of scientific production but 52nd in terms of the quality of basic schooling? Why do we have such an absurd disparity? Why don’t we rank among the 20 countries with the highest quality basic schooling? In our opinion, the problem is that we have committed some strategic errors. We have cultivated certain misleading contradictions, certain false oppositions, and we believed them.

The Plan’s official text mentions five of the said false oppositions.
Yes, and the most serious one, which has been cultivated for many decades, is undoubtedly the opposition between higher education and basic schooling.

First, because it’s artificial. The development of higher education depends on the quality of those who complete basic schooling, above all. And the quality of basic schooling depends on a core variable, which is the proper training of teachers. One cannot be dissociated from the other; there is no way the educational cycle can be fragmented. We have cultivated this obstacle as if it were possible for the public authorities to choose one to the detriment of the other. Now we are trying to retrieve lost unity, by creating a national evaluation system per school and increasing the level of responsibility, especially of the education authorities, in regard to the quality of education – the focus in this case is on learning. Obviously, no one can fail to take into account working conditions, the school’s infrastructure; all of this is extremely important. But for a long time we have diverted the attention of the population to that which is a phenomenon, to the detriment of what is essential in education: to guarantee the right to learn.

Whom does this criticism – voiced in several segments of the EDP against this so-called false oppositions – target? Liberal thought? And, referring to your dissertation and your doctoral thesis, I would like to know: which thinkers have inspired your ideas on education?
While writing my doctoral thesis, I became very interested in themes of education – more specifically, on historical materialism. My thesis is a dialectic criticism of historical materialism as proposed by Habermas. I relied on materialistic dialectics, from Marx to Adorno, to write a critique of the project Habermas had proposed. But in the course of my work, I discovered a facet of Habermas that was very interesting for education.

An uninspired thinker, from the point of view of economics and politics, but not from the point of view of education.
I wouldn’t say he’s bad; I think that the Habermas project loses its critical potential, acknowledging materialism by disregarding concepts and variables that would allow a sharper criticism of contemporary capitalism. However, as regards education, I think that Habermas is a great thinker. Because he mobilizes classic authors such as George Herbert Meadow, [Émile] Durkheim, [Jean] Piaget and [Lawrence] Kohlberg, who have highly original formulas on the process of the symbolic reproduction of society; therefore, one cannot deny that this literature is essential for those who want to reflect on education. This is at the core of the best that has been produced in this field in Brazil.

Thinking back as far as Anísio Teixeira…
Above all, thinking about Anísio Teixeira, who, in my opinion, is the best reference on education in Brazil and who mobilized all the aforementioned authors. He mobilized American pragmatism from very early on – [John] Dewey, [George Herbert] Mead, already articulating, back in those times, and in a totally connected manner, the literature that is found in Habermas. Long before the fifties, he mobilized this literature to focus on a totally progressive view of public schools; what we nowadays refer to as the systemic view of education as opposed to the so-called fragmented view which was very clear to him.

Is retrieving a systemic view – focusing on Anísio Teixeira – equivalent to launching a bridge over the liberal experience attempted in the last decades?
Allow me to clarify: I do not look upon this fragmented view of education as a reflection of liberal thought, given that the rationale with which Anísio conducts a dialogue is also liberal. What happened here was a sort of acclimatization of these thoughts in the light of the international division of work. In other words, the task of a semi-peripheral country like Brazil would be to look after fractions of the educational cycle, and not of this cycle as a whole. Therefore, it would befit us to have postgraduate studies at an excellent level and universal basic schooling, but the other links of the chain might become more fragile. For example, middle school, early infant education, undergraduate courses – which are not structured in the manner of postgraduate studies.

Indeed, the decision to invest in postgraduate studies was made, and ever since the military governments were in power, this has been done seriously and systematically…
… and continuously, by the way. It was a successful project.

But how can one explain the gaps in the system?
I think of it as a political project. I believe that this was only imposed on Brazil for so long because we accept society as being divided, as being split. In my opinion, we never took the idea of a truly equal society very seriously, with all the prices that this imposes upon the wealthier segments of society, to the benefit of a socially cohesive integration project. We assimilated the idea of a divided society very deeply.

So this was also the predominant view in the field of education.
Yes, this is why I go back to Anísio Teixeira, who always rejected the idea that there should be one kind of education for the elite and another kind of education for the masses. And it is no coincidence that as far back as the thirties the best known Brazilian educators had signed the Manifesto dos Pioneiros [the Pioneers’ Manifest], a document whose core idea was to oppose this view. This is what the manifest stated against the fragmentation of education: “We cannot accept one kind of education for one segment of society and another kind for another segment.”

Your academic background includes a law degree, a master’s degree in economics and a PhD in philosophy. But where did the discovery of education lead you during your doctoral studies?
First of all, a comment is appropriate: this apparently disconnected journey has a link, which is the concern I have had since my undergraduate days about this State issue. I studied law, economics and philosophy, reflecting on the State: what is the State? What is its use? What are the elements that comprise it? These reflections resulted in a passion for politics, in the sense of reflecting on public administration, on the community dimension that the State must organize. This training led naturally to competing for entry into the Political Sciences Department at the University of São Paulo/USP, in 1997. Years later, I was invited to join the administration of Mayor Marta Suplicy, in the city of São Paulo. I accepted the invitation of the Secretary of Finance, former minister João Sayad. The Office of the Secretary of Finance is somewhat panoptic, a place from where one sees the entire administration, and at that time my interest in education increased.

For functional reasons.
Yes, my office had the highest funding allocated to it and, within the general issue of the State, the issue of public education gradually became the main focus of my concerns.

I’m going to take this opportunity to ask you: what is the meaning of the statement found at the beginning of the EDP document: “It is only possible to ensure the nation’s development if education is elevated to the condition of being the backbone of State action, in such a way as to leverage its effects”?
If we look at the history of Brazil, we’ll see that we have experienced periods of strong economic growth rates that were not preceded by heavy investments in education. Especially in the thirties, the fifties and the seventies, we went through such periods, with GDP growth higher than 10%, even though no investments had been made in education. This growth happened because our nation has the natural resources, our people are creative and Brazil is a continental-sized country with enormous potential. But if we compare our history to that of other countries that also experienced economic booms, we realize that the biggest difference is that we didn’t make the necessary investment in education, which would have led the country to move from being a semi-peripheral nation to a developed nation. So, evidently, education is the touchstone to our national project.

Which countries are you thinking of?
All those that moved quickly from one level to the next. Starting with Japan in the fifties, then South Korea in the sixties and Ireland in the seventies. And today there are countries that are investing significantly in education, taking advantage of their high growth rates.

India, China…
… and Vietnam, to mention one country that will certainly appear in the headlines. We had the illusion that our investment target should be at the average international level, and our economists were happy with the fact that Brazil invested 4% of its GDP in education. But this would have been reasonable only if our education-related liabilities were not so massive and if our per capita GDP were significant. The upgrading is not going to happen with such a small investment. It is evident that the critics who are against investments of this kind are right when they say that first we must improve the management of the system as a whole. However, one must emphasize that even though funds are not the sole condition, they are nevertheless a necessary element to move up from one level to the next. These are issues that concern the structure of the system, such as the way in which the Ministry of Education (MEC) is dealing with the education allowance – we have almost doubled the collection of funds for this over four years, from R$ 3.7 billion to R$ 7 billion a year. Thus, we have incorporated R$ 3.3 billion, money allocated to basic schooling. As a result, Fundeb, the Fund for Basic Schooling, multiplied by a factor of ten the supplement allocated by the Federal Government to smooth out the regional inequalities of basic schooling; this used to be covered by the former Fundef, the Fund for the Maintenance and Development of Basic Schooling and Support of the Teaching Profession. From an average R$ 500 million a year that we had during the 10 years in which Fundef was in effect, we’ll get up to R$ 5 billion from 2009 onward. We’ve already got R$ 3.2 billion.

The regional inequalities are being viewed as the key issue addressed by the EDP and the document mentions a specific number of schools that require special attention.
We have some seven thousand schools in 1,242 municipal regions. I would like to explain the paradox that the Ministry of Education had to face: the ministry issued resolutions, the projects were forwarded by the local governments and the technical staff on duty would choose the best ones. With this system, the funds never reached the neediest regions, because they lacked the technical expertise to design the best projects. We inverted this reasoning: we took a nationwide X-ray of the quality of education; we did this school by school, network by network, and then allocated technical and financial aid on a priority basis to the municipalities with the worst indicators.

Indicators that rank them with a little over 1 point…
We created a scale called the Index of Basic Education Development or IDEB, which ranges from 0 to 10, to make it easier for needy families to understand the concept; using this scale, there were municipalities that were graded as 1. The point is that Brazil’s goal for 2021 is to achieve the grade of 6; therefore, these municipalities will be lagging behind by one century if we fail to take any action in connection with this. And some schools got a grade lower than 1. This kind of X-ray had never been taken before. Today, all the students from the fourth to the eight grades take a nationwide exam in Portuguese and Math every two years. This means five million tests every two years. This is the set of data that makes up the IDEB index, which is attributed to each public school and to each public school network. This allows us to manage the educational system, and to establish the collaboration regime provided for in the 1988 Constitution, a provision that had never been put into practice because nobody had understood what it entailed.

What does it entail?
This regime, which is gaining shape and will continue to improve, addresses three core issues. The first issue is related to the national evaluation system. We have to have national quality standards; we can no longer deal with our enormous disparities. The second issue is that we have to break down the barrier between the opposing elements basic schooling and higher education; the Federal Government has to become responsible for training qualified teachers. We have a network of federal universities in the country and we cannot abdicate the responsibility which, strictly speaking, should always have been the Federal Government’s. Hence the need to create a national teachers training system, with the aid of federal universities, of the technical learning centers, called Cefets, which will become Ifets, meaning Federal Education, Science and Technology Institutes, part of the Open University program, which is continuing education at long distance, and Pibid, the Institutional Program for Grants for Beginning Teachers, which is crucial if we wish to have highly trained physics, chemistry and math teachers, in sufficient numbers to redress our debt to the basic schooling system. Therefore, I want to mention four programs of this kind: Reuni, which increases the number of students enrolled at federal universities, up from 124 thousand in the entering class of 2002 to 229 thousand by 2010; in other words, the size of the entering classes will nearly double in eight years; the plan for the professional education units, expected to increase from the current 140 universities to 354 universities also in eight years; Pibid, which will offer 20 thousand grants for teacher training, and the Open University, which already comprises 291 active centers, with another 271 centers to be added by 2009.

In terms of the Pibid, physics, chemistry, biology and math are the priority fields. Is it a widely held opinion that the weakness of these subjects in the first stage of academic education hampers our scientific development?
Undoubtedly. The general perception of the scientific community, which is almost a worldwide consensus, is that one must focus more strongly on the sciences in basic schooling, from the very start. But above all, we need a robust scientific academic curriculum in high school. The Professionalized Brazil program is a step in this direction, because its concept is not only to extend the federal professional education network and aim at a virtuous combination of professional, scientific, and humanistic education, as is the case at many of the Cefets. The program also transfers funds to the states so that they can equip their high schools better. In 2007, we equipped all the schools with computer labs; the next step is to connect these labs via broad band to the country’s furthest regions. The Professionalized Brazil program will transfer resources to the state school networks in order to provide funds to build science labs – for physics, chemistry, biology – and for professional education.

Let’s focus on postgraduate studies. In December, 39 post grad courses lost their accreditation status. We now have more than two thousand post grad programs, 219 of which are considered excellent. What is your opinion about this segment of the system?
All the indicators show that our postgraduate system has an international excellence level. Brazil holds an outstanding position within the Latin American context in this respect. We probably educate more PhDs now than all the Latin American countries put together, from Mexico to Argentina, which bears witness to the system’s excellence. Our biggest challenge is to convert this scientific knowledge into applied technology, especially in the improvement of our workers’ productivity, thus adding value to our production. We can still add a lot of science to production and more value as well, given that this science exists, is available and needs to be transferred into the world of labor. Hence the importance of the law that fosters research (Law 11487), which has been passed, regulated and has an open tender. The tender is of the ongoing kind, meaning science and technology institutes, which include universities, can submit their project proposals at any time. The projects are approved by a three-party commission of members from the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Ministry of Development, Industry, and Trade. This is the major advantage in relation to the Rouanet law, although the latter is similar. In other words, firstly, there’s validation by the State.

Doesn’t this slow down the process?
No. The three Ministries are fast and pre-defined approval terms have been established. Once a project is approved, it becomes part of the Ministry’s catalogue, and any company wishing to invest in any of the listed projects can deduct taxes equal to as much as 85% of the invested amount.

Something along the lines of what was provided for in Law 8661 of 1994?
A tax incentive law for research projects is nothing new. What is new is, first of all, the percentage that can be deducted. The second important aspect is that no matter what the gap is relative to 100% (let’s say that the company deducts 50% or 80%), the company shares in the intellectual property in proportion to this gap. This means that a much more effective interactive environment is created between the research institution and the company. The more a company deducts, the lower its share of the intellectual property rights – which will be held by the university, which will, evidently, increase its own income through the patents generated. This does not happen under the Lei Rouanet law, where the funding comes from the State, but the State holds no share of the intellectual property of the project it funded.

Among other reasons, because the state can’t, in view of the laws on intellectual property and copyrights.
But this law that fosters research changes the framework of the Intellectual Property Law. The government funds which finance the said projects are offset proportionally in the form of intellectual property rights.

One of the problems is that the demand for specific research projects will probably come from the research institutions rather than directly from companies. The issue related to the source of demand was a concern that FAPESP voiced when it implemented the partnership technological innovation program in 1994. The risk that the project would remain on the shelf was perceived, unless the company were the party requiring the project from the start.
Demand may come from the company and the research institution. Not all universities, however, interact with the world of production, in which case they can propose projects. And often, you can have a university from one region with an interested company from another region, with the latter being unaware of the research projects.

Is the law that fosters research simultaneously managed by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Education?
The projects involve two other Ministries – namely, the Science and Technology Ministry and the Ministry of Development, Industry and Trade -, but Capes, the Coordinating Office for the Training of Personnel with Higher Education, will be the coordinating agency.

Capes’s functions seem to be expanding. In addition to its responsibilities regarding the training of graduates connected to the universities themselves, its activities will be extended to graduates who are expected to work in other levels of teaching and it will also be responsible for managing the Research Incentive Law. Is this correct?
Yes. Capes has a two-fold mission: to bridge the gap between higher education and basic schooling and between scientific production and material production. These are two gigantic tasks for Capes.

Doesn’t this belittle the MCT, to which Capes has been traditionally linked in the sense of networking between the scientific community and the business community?
This law that fosters research is one of the aspects of the huge multi-annual project that the Ministry of Science and Technology submitted last year and the government is learning how to work together to a greater extent. Nowadays, this involves, for example, the relationship of the Ministry of Education with the Ministry of Health regarding health issues in schools; or with the Ministry of Culture, regarding cultural issues. And its relationship with the Ministry of Communications and even with the Ministry of Mines and Energy is very strong. Many schools had no power and there had never been any concern about including these schools in the Light for Everyone power supply program. As a result, 1.5% of our students studied at schools with no electricity. This will be solved, because the Ministry of Mines and Energy, at the request of the Ministry of Education, included all public schools in the Light for Everyone program.

From the point of view Federal Government networking with the state and local governments, and considering the political differences as well, how can the practice of collaborative actions be stepped-up?
I think that this is the result of the traditional awareness of the role of education in the national development plan. It is no coincidence that 25 state governors and more than 4,300 mayors have already adhered to the EDP in eight months. And other states are in the middle of negotiations, finetuning the details required for them to join this plan.

Do you believe the population is sufficiently informed about these ideas and this innovation in the field of education?
This is ongoing work. We made a deal with Abert, the Brazilian Association of Radio and TV Stations to broadcast daily messages so that education becomes a social value. The activism of educators is crucial for this, as is the need to raise the awareness of our politicians, so that they incorporate education into their agenda as a strategic variable for development. I believe that once the indicators are broadcast on radio and TV, they will have a major effect on the political platforms voiced during election campaigns, for example. “Which networks actually were able to implement effective changes?”, “which networks didn’t?”, “why not?”… When the population becomes more familiar with good practices, then they will reflect the impact of them; examples are bound to surface in April, when we will disclose data from the second X-Ray conducted in 2007 – we did the first one in 2005. Two images almost make a film, which will reveal both the good and the bad practices. I feel that a systematic evaluation, the disclosure of results, transparency in dealing with public issues and timeframes – the population getting used to being informed every two years about what is really going on in their children’s schools and within the systems these schools belong to – and the evolution in the last few years, to find out whether schools are going in the right direction or not, all of this will generate the idea of value and accountability. That is what is implied in the concept of accountability.

Isn’t it discouraging to observe, during your travels around our country, the actual conditions of so many of our schools, especially the elementary schools?
Yes and no. Because I have visited very poor municipal regions that have a decent school system, from the point of view of both the school infrastructure and the teachers’ self-esteem. In other words, once you have a more detailed analysis of what is really going on in our country – and we were accustomed to thinking according to averages – then hopelessness increases. But when we begin to become acquainted with real experiences and we see that, although the average is low, the variance is high, we conclude that it is possible to implement changes, based on successful cases in well-organized school systems. We have a little over 200 well-organized school networks in our country. The X-Ray revealed 235 municipal regions with a quality of education that is way above the national average and approaches the quality found in developed countries.

Let’s focus on teaching practices; the impression of someone who has not followed the daily life of a public elementary or high school for many years is that the learning that goes on is far removed from the dynamics of the contemporary world. It seems to us that the message conveyed in our schools is that knowledge is something ready-made, boring, and bureaucratic. Can the EDP in some way encourage the debate on teaching methods and practices?
Undoubtedly it can, and the teacher is the main player in this debate. If you ask me what I’m going to dedicate most of my time to during my term in office, my answer will be that I will focus on the teachers. Their value must be recognized; there are two bills on this currently being examined by Congress, and they need to be approved urgently: the first one refers to a national salary base. We cannot tolerate a situation in which a teacher is paid the minimum wage, equal to R$ 380. We need to pay a higher minimum wage – R$ 950 – to teachers. The second bill refers to national guidelines for the teaching profession, the parameters that state and local government professional career plans must follow. Finally, and equally important, it is crucial to implement, based on Capes, until the end of the year and once and for all, a national teacher training system. A system whereby each teacher knows that initial and continued teacher training are the guarantees for working in the teaching profession, and that these are teachers’ rights.

So it is not so much a problem of researching new forms of teaching and motivating students?
The bases of this updating are the pedagogical changes that are going on, especially those related to the inclusion of new technologies in education. In the past, we would buy computer labs, and install them in the schools, but now the majority of these labs have been closed down because we didn’t train teachers on how to use them. If the teacher doesn’t know how to use a computer lab or the related technology, then the return on this investment will inevitably be very low.?

To conclude: is it feasible to invest 7% of GDP in education, as the EDP proposes?
The EDP was designed to achieve this level, which had been established in the national education plan. But this provision was vetoed. We believe that Brazil needs to increase investment in education. If the EDP is totally implemented in the next four years, merely with the Federal Government doing its share of this national effort, then we’re talking of more than 0.7% of the GDP. Which comes close to 5% of the total investment. But this has to be a joint national effort of the federal, state and local administrations. We have to aim for at least 6% of GDP, which is the percentage recommended by Unesco; perhaps we should try to achieve an even higher percentage so that within one generation we can significantly alter our indicators.

Are the federal resources guaranteed so that these objectives can be achieved?
They are specified in our multi-annual plan and I hope they will be maintained there, not only by our current administration, but by the future administrations as well.