01.03.08. Education system overview | Brazil

01.03.08. Education system overview | Brazil

30 Mar 2022

Education is a constitutional right in Brazil and is offered freely through state schools, from nursery to post-graduate levels (Fortuna, 2018). From nursery to high school, education can be either full time or part time and includes free meals. State schools/universities are funded through the Federal, State or Municipal governments. However, given the low quality of education up to the end of high school in most areas of the country, many Brazilian citizens with the available means end up paying for private education. Around 21.7% of all schools in the country are private. Whilst state-funded schools represent the majority, only 36% of all students attending state schools end up going to university, whereas this rate reaches 79.2% in the private sector (self-funded). Whilst 51% of white students went to university in 2017, only 33.4% of black and mixed-race minority groups had the opportunity. In the private sector, though black and mixed-race people continue to be disadvantaged, the difference between the two groups reduced by 10%. Those who go to university are also the richest – the largest proportion of students in higher education come from families who are among the richest twenty five per cent of the country (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, 2018a).

Brazil has a system by which people from state schools and ethnic minorities have a small advantage when applying to state universities and might be entitled to scholarships to attend private universities. The government also provides loans for those who do not fit the criteria to the latter. Data from 2016 shows that among the population aged 15 years and over, the illiteracy rate is 7.2% (11.8 million people) (Ferreira, 2017). In people aged 60+, this index is almost three times higher (20.4%). The Northeast is the area with the highest illiteracy rate in Brazil: 14.8%. The lowest index is registered in the Southern region, with an illiteracy rate of 3.6%. Again, more black people are illiterate in comparison to white people (9.9% vs. 4.5%, respectively). Males are slightly more illiterate than females (7.4% vs. 7.0%, respectively). Besides the 7.2% of illiterate people, 21% of Brazilian people are ‘functionally illiterate’ (people who are considered to be educated but who are unable to interpret day-to-day information, including the costs of products in the supermarket, for example). Altogether, there are almost 30% of people in Brazil who are unable to understand basic texts and numbers (INAF, 2018).


Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. (2018a). Escola privada coloca o dobro de alunos no ensino superior em relação à rede pública. https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/educacao/2018/12/escola-privada-coloca-o-dobro-de-alunos-no-ensino-superior-em-relacao-a-rede-publica.shtml

Ferreira, P. (2017). Brasil ainda tem 11,8 milhões de analfabetos, segundo IBGE. https://oglobo.globo.com/sociedade/educacao/brasil-ainda-tem-118-milhoes-de-analfabetos-segundo-ibge-22211755

Fortuna, D. (2018). MEC divulga dados do Censo Escolar da educação básica. Correio Web.

INAF. (2018). INAF BRASIL 2018. https://www.correiodopovo.com.br/notícias/ensino/brasil-tem-cerca-de-38-milhões-de-analfabetos-funcionais-1.268788