Interview: Adult education and lifelong learning can be important tools to reduce inequalities in Brazil


© Claudia Costin
9 December 2020

Ms Cláudia Costin, Director of the Center for Excellence and Innovation of Education Policies in Brazil, joined the Governing Board of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) in November 2020. Read our interview with her and learn about the challenges Brazil faces in making lifelong learning in Brazil a reality – and the support UIL can offer.

What is the state of lifelong learning in Brazil?

Unfortunately, we still have 11 million illiterate adults, which represents 6.6 per cent of people aged 15 or older. Most of the adults who cannot read or write live in the north east of the country, are African-Brazilian and are over 60 years old.

This relates to the fact that Brazil was late in ensuring access to primary and lower-secondary education for all. Thus, older people have not benefitted from the recent effort to increase school enrolment.

Yet, despite these efforts, we are still struggling to fight functional illiteracy. Thirty per cent of Brazilians aged between 15 and 64 are unfortunately incapable of understanding and interpreting a short text.

Most of Brazil’s efforts to promote adult education in Brazil are organized in the formal education system through the Programme of Youth and Adult Education (PEJA), offered by municipalities and states in regular schools by certified teachers, normally in the evening. This official initiative covers not only literacy, but also primary and secondary education. Some philanthropic and communitarian organizations also provide classes for adults, with funding from government or donors.

We have a sad situation in which young people abandon school before concluding lower secondary or during upper secondary. Thus, second chance programmes are an important intervention. More recently, we have started connecting these programmes with technical and vocational education and training (TVET).

What are the main challenges in implementing lifelong learning in Brazil?

Many of those who left school in Brazil were frustrated by the experience and still resent the harsh treatment they have received. Making them return to education when they face different challenges connected to work, home and childcare responsibilities is not easy and demands flexible approaches.

In addition, adult education is not a priority for government due to Brazil’s demographic ‘bonus’; the high proportion of people of working-age in the population compared to the dependent population. With limited resources, ministers prefer to limit their actions to ensuring that every child and adolescent has access to school.

Companies in some sectors, such as construction, have established adult literacy programmes, but the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has extinguished many of these programmes.

The main challenge remains retaining adult pupils on their courses and ensuring completion. Although some efforts connected with free transport to schools and meals to adult students have been established, many still drop out before finishing their courses.

How can UIL help to tackle these challenges?

UIL could help these initiatives through technical assistance and guidance on how to advance from where we stand as a country – and a region – since Brazil has some influence on what happens in Latin America.

There is a growing perception that the 4th Industrial Revolution will demand different and more sophisticated skills from the labour force, and might exclude many from work opportunities and even citizenship, thus increasing inequality, which is already huge in the country. Adult education and lifelong learning may be important tools to reverse this terrible trend.