Thursday, March 15, 2012

In Brazil, teachers struggle for recognition

By Tina Kuehne
Edited and Produced by Taylor Pool

“Most teachers in Brazil have two jobs. We need to work overtime to have a good salary,” said Amelia Enrietti, who has been teaching English in private and public schools in Brazil for 25 years. She also works with Teachers Without Borders, a non-profit organization which connects and supports teachers internationally through different projects.

“Only one teacher’s salary would not be enough to support a family,” she said.
In the past couple of years, the Brazilian government has been steadily increasing the minimum wage for teachers. At the end of February, the Ministry of Education announced an increase of 22 percent for 2012. 

“The new minimum salary is still very low,” said Priscila Cruz, executive director of “Todos Pela Educação” (Everyone For Education), a movement financed by private initiatives. It wants to reinforce the importance of public education in the country.

“We cannot have a healthy society with this huge gap between our economic growth and our education,“ Cruz said.

Brazil is now the sixth-largest economy in the world and one of the fastest growing.

Brazil works toward change

In 2011, Todos Pela Educação started an advertising campaign in the media with the slogan “A good teacher is a good start”, promoting the idea that teachers lay the groundwork for success in life.

“Teachers earn 60% of the average of other professions that have graduated in higher education,” Cruz said. Her solutions to improve education in Brazil are salary increases, better career opportunities and better teacher training.

Aloizio Mercadante
Photo from
The Brazilian Minister of Education, Aloizio Mercadante, recognized during a presentation of the new minimum salary that teachers should be valued and well paid.

Not all of the Brazilian states have the budget to pay this minimum monthly salary of 1,451 Brazilian Reais (R$), which is about 820 US$. In Brazil, states and municipalities are responsible for the schools and pay teachers. According to media reports, teachers in some states have gone on strike to demand the national minimum wage from their state governments.

But low salaries are not the only problem teachers face. Enrietti wishes there was more respect for teachers in the country.

Teaching is not an attractive profession in Brazil. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conducted a survey among teachers in different countries. The “Teaching and Learning International Survey” (TALIS) 2008 showed that job satisfaction in Brazil was below average.

“Only 15 % of teachers felt they would be rewarded for improving the quality of their work or for being innovative in their teaching. That’s quite a shocking statistic and well below the average,” said Michael Davidson from the Directorate for Education in the OECD. In 2008, 24 countries took part in TALIS.

The United States was not one of them.

 “There seems to be something missing in the incentives and rewards aspect in teacher policy in Brazil,” Davidson said.

The poor standing of teachers in society and few career opportunities have an impact on the recruitment of new teachers. 

“The good students in high school want to be doctors, lawyers or engineers but not public school teachers,” Cruz said.

Enrietti has a similar experience. She decided to be an English teacher when she was 15 because her teacher encouraged her to learn. But her own students tell her they would never want to follow her footsteps, partly because of the conditions they see in the classroom.

Enrietti, who teaches in the state of São Paulo, said she had about 35 students in one class, but only because the classrooms are not big enough for more. She said there were schools with 40 to 45 students in a class. This high number of students affects the quality of teaching. Enrietti speaks Portuguese during English class.

“If I had 20 students in a class we would speak English in the classroom because I would have time to listen to all of them, but with 35 it is almost impossible.”

She has problems with her voice and has to visit a therapist twice a month because trying to keep the students quiet strains her vocal chords. She said the tropical climate makes the students especially agitated.

Many decide against teaching

With grim prospects like this, many decide against pursuing a career in education. There are fewer and fewer applicants for university courses to become a teacher in Brazil, said Vinicius Nobre, teacher trainer, coursebook writer and president of BRAZ-TESOL, which claims to be Brazil's largest association of English teachers.

“I’m afraid the government has been doing very little to encourage students to become teachers at all,” he said. 

Nobre added some schools had to hire people who were not qualified as English teachers because there was a lack of teachers. 

 “The biggest challenge that we have in the country nowadays is finding the people who have the qualifications both in terms of methodology and proficiency in the language to actually teach,” he said. 

English is a requirement in Brazil’s schools. With the growing economy and two upcoming international events, the Soccer World Cup 2014 and the 2016 Summer Olympics, the importance for young Brazilians to be able to speak the language is increasing.

English is not the only field where Brazil needs to improve the quality of education.

The OECD is evaluating the scholastic performance of 15-year-olds in different countries in the “Programme for International Student Assessment” (PISA).

It has been testing students’ abilities in reading, math and science every three years since 2000. The latest results from 2009 show that Brazil was below average in all three fields.

The United States is within the OECD average.

Brazil has set goals to achieve the educational level of developed countries by 2022 and has introduced new standards for student assessment. It has also increased the money spent on students’ education by 120 percent between 2000 and 2008.

But these measures don’t necessarily help the teachers. Nobre thinks the country should be focusing more on those who teach.

Enrietti said she had been very demotivated because of many decisions made in the education system in Brazil in the past decades. 

“At some point I wished I hadn’t decided to be a teacher.”

But with new projects, for example through Teachers Without Borders, she has found new motivation.

In less than a month she will start a new project to train new teachers in modern teaching approaches and to help improve their abilities. She said now, four years before her retirement, she has the same energy as a new teacher at the beginning of their career.