DESK REVIEWS | 01.03.08. Education system overview

DESK REVIEW | 01.03.08. Education system overview

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.

Ferreira, P. (2017). Brasil ainda tem 11,8 milhões de analfabetos, segundo IBGE.

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

INAF. (2018). INAF BRASIL 2018.ícias/ensino/brasil-tem-cerca-de-38-milhões-de-analfabetos-funcionais-1.268788


In Hong Kong, preschool education is not free and is operated by non-profit-making and private enterprises. Primary, junior secondary, and senior secondary education for a total of 12 years are universal, mandatory, and free. For post-secondary education, higher education institutions provide publicly-funded as well as self-financing programmes at or above sub-degree level (Education Bureau, 2019). Regarding the population’s education level in 2018, the total population of no schooling/pre-primary was 3.8% (243.9 thousand people), primary was 14.1% (920.3 thousand people), lower secondary was 15.0% (973.0 thousand people), upper secondary was 34.0% (2214.1 thousand people), post-secondary non-degree was 7.7% (503.2 thousand people), and post-secondary degree was 25.4% (1651.9 thousand people). Among those aged 60 and over, the distribution of educational attainment were: 12.6% no schooling/pre-primary, 37.2% primary, 18.3 % lower secondary, 21.1% upper secondary, 3.3% post-secondary non-degree, and 7.5% post-secondary degree (Census and Statistics Department, 2019i).


Census and Statistics Department. (2019i). Table E489: Land area, mid-year population and population density by District Council district. Retrieved from:

Education Bureau. (2019). Education System and Policy. Retrieved from

The overall literacy rate in India was reported to be 74.04% in 2011 (Census of India, 2011). As per the more recent National Sample Survey Household Consumption on Education in India (2017-2018) which surveyed 64,519 rural and 49,238 urban households, literacy rates in the those aged 7 years and above was reported as 77.7% in 2017-2018 (National Statistical Office, 2020b).The literacy rate was lower in rural areas (73.5%) than urban areas (87.7%) and literacy rates were found to be higher in males (84.7%) than in females (70.3%) (National Statistical Office, 2020b).


Census of India. (2011). Literacy in India. Available from

National Statistical Office. (2020b). Household Social Consumption on Education in India-NSS 75th Round. Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India.


The Indonesian system is made up of non-compulsory pre-school, compulsory primary school (Pendidikan dasar), secondary school and higher education. The compulsory primary education is made up of primary school (Sekolah Dasar) and junior secondary school. Secondary education consists of compulsory junior secondary school (Sekolah Menengah Pertama, SMP) and senior secondary school. Finally, higher education is offered at five ‘different types of institutions’. These are: universities (universitas), academies (akademi), colleges (sekolah tinggi), polytechnics (politeknik) and institutes (institute) (NUFFIC, 2017, pp.5-7).

Education for 6 years was made compulsory in 1950 and extended to 9 years in 1994 (NUFFIC, 2017, p.5). In 2016, the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs launched the Program Indonesia Pintar (Smart Indonesia Programme) to support the plan of raising this compulsory education to 12 years (an additional 3 years of senior high school) (Permendikbud No.19/2016 Tentang Program Indonesia Pintar (Ministry of Education and Culture’s Regulation No. 19/2016 on Smart Indonesia Program), 2016).

A number of ministries are involved in the organisation and management of the education system. The Ministry of the Interior carries responsibility for primary education, while the Ministry of National Education (Kementerian Pendidikan Nasional) looks after secondary and higher education. Islamic Education is managed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and agricultural schools (secondary) by the Ministry of Agriculture (NUFFIC, 2017, p.5).

Private education has a significant role, with over 66 per cent of institutions in secondary and higher education operated by the private sector. Varying tuition fees create barriers to access and lead to considerable differences in the quality of education provided (NUFFIC, 2017, p.5).

According to UNESCO (2020) the literacy rate among the population aged 15 years and older has increased between 2000 and 2018 from 81.52 (males: 88.02; females 75.02) to 95.66 (males: 97.33; females: 93.99), respectively. Among the population aged 65 and older, UNICEF estimates the literacy rate to have increased from 53.22 (males: 68.65; females: 39.76) in 2004 to 74.34 (males: 84.61; females 65,69) in 2018 (UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), 2020).


NUFFIC. (2017). Education system Indonesia described and compared with the Dutch system.

Permendikbud No.19/2016 tentang Program Indonesia Pintar (Ministry of Education and Culture’s regulation No. 19/2016 on Smart Indonesia Program), (2016) (testimony of Kementerian Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan).

UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). (2020). Indonesia.

In the recent past, Kenya’s enrollment numbers for primary education was 100% due to free primary education (Hall, 2017). In 2012, the gross enrolment ratio (total enrolment in secondary education, regardless of age, expressed as a percentage of the population of official secondary education age) in secondary schools was 67.6% which increased at an average annual rate of 4.67% since 1981 (29.3%) (Knoema, 2019b). However, only 3.3% of women and 4.7% of men enrolled in tertiary education but sometimes the education obtained does not provide the necessary skillsets for the job market  (Samuel Hall, 2017), contributing to an average of 10.48% unemployment rate (CEIC, 2019). It is worthy to note that the literacy rate in Kenya increased by 5.57% between 2007 and 2014. By 2014, the adult literacy rate was 78.73% (83.78% for females and 74.01% for males). The literacy rate for those aged 15 to 24 was 86.53% (86.14 for females and 86.94% for males) (Country Economy, 2019). In 2018, the adult literacy rate increased to 81.5% (Knoema, 2019a).

A major barrier to achieving higher levels of education are the high levels of poverty. Despite the fact that the government provides free secondary school education, most are boarding schools and parents still bear the cost of paying for meals in schools, boarding fees, buying uniform and examination fees. This results in children dropping out of school in cases where parents cannot afford these costs (James, Simiyu, & Riechi, 2016; Khamati & Nyongesa, 2013). Another contributing factor is the delay in disbursement of funds or treasury underfunding for secondary school fees and inconsistency in increasing the government’s contribution despite inflation, which makes the actual cost of secondary school education higher (Republic of Kenya, 2016a; Shiundu, 2017).

Other factors contributing to reduced school retention include peer pressure related to minimal interest in schooling, early marriages, pregnancies, domestic duties and negligence by parents (James et al., 2016). The few students who are able to withstand such pressures and stay in school are affected by (Khamati & Nyongesa, 2013):

  1. Delay in successful implementation of free secondary schools due to factors such as poor management (accountability, preparing budgets and general management of resources).
  2. Initial increase in enrollment in secondary schools leading to overstretching of the available resources including laboratories hence compromising the quality of education. This affects enrollment in tertiary education and results in more than 60% of the youth (aged 18 to 35) working in the informal sector, contributing to a high degree of income inequality.

CEIC. (2019). Kenya Unemployment Rate.

Country Economy. (2019). Kenya – Literacy rate.

Hall, S. (2017). Youth Employment in Kenya Literature Review. Nairobi.

James, A. M., Simiyu, A. M., & Riechi, A. (2016). Factors Affecting Subsidized Free Day Secondary Education in Enhancing Learners Retention in Secondary Schools in Kenya. Journal of Education and Practice, 7(20), 49–55.

Khamati, M. J., & Nyongesa, W. J. (2013). Factors Influencing the Implementation of Free Secondary Education in Mumias District, Kenya. Journal of Social Science for Policy Implications, 1(1), 32–47.

Knoema. (2019a). Kenya – Adult (15+) literacy rate.

Knoema. (2019b). Kenya – Gross enrolment ratio in secondary education.

Republic of Kenya. (2016a). Education Sector Report, 2017/18 – 2019/20.

Shiundu, A. (2017). FACTSHEET: Cost of providing ‘truly’ free secondary education in Kenya.


The educational system in Mexico is shared between central and regional authorities. Each of the 32 federal entities (31 states and Mexico City) operates their own education services and administrative norms that have not guaranteed equal success in the implementation of recent policy reforms or granted increased quality of education (Education Policy Outlook – OECD, n.d.). The National Union of Education Workers[1], with leaders in each state, has a strong lobby power and plays an important role in defining primary education policy issues, while most decisions in lower secondary education are taken by the central or state governments. Expenditure on education institutions as a percentage of GDP (for all educational levels combined) is above the OECD average, with a higher share of private funding than the OECD average (OECD, 2013). Mexico made upper secondary education compulsory in 2012 (aiming for universal coverage by 2022), extending compulsory education from early childhood and education and care (ECEC) starting at age 4-5 to around age 15.

According to the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA, Mexico is among the few countries with improvements in both equity and quality of education. Although its performance remains below the OECD average in mathematics, science, and reading, Mexico has achieved improvements in mathematics and reading, but remains unchanged with respect to their performance in science across assessment cycles. However, grade repetition is high, and there is a gap with other OECD countries in upper secondary and tertiary attainment, enrolment, graduation, and performance (OECD, 2013).

Literacy in Mexico is defined as those 15 years and older who cannot read or write a short message. Literacy rates among the population 15 years and older in 2015 was 95.3 with slight difference between men (96.2) and women (94.6). Among adults aged 65 years and older, gender differences are larger with rates of 84.5 and 77.4 for men and women, respectively (80.7 total) (UNESCO, n.d.). In addition, by 2015, large differences prevail among states with respect to their total literacy with rates of 84 in more deprived states such as Oaxaca and Chiapas and Mexico City and 98 in the State of Mexico and Mexico City (INEGI, n.d.-b).

[1] Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, SNTE.


Education Policy Outlook – OECD. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2019, from

INEGI. (n.d.-b). Directorio Estadístico Nacional de Unidades Económicas. DENUE. Retrieved March 16, 2020, from

OECD. (2013). Education Policy Outlook Mexico.

UNESCO. (n.d.). Education and Literacy data by country. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from

Two national departments are responsible for education in South Africa, namely (1) the Department of Basic Education (primary and secondary schooling) (DBE), and (2) Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) (post-schooling education and training) (South African Government, 2018a). Education in South Africa is compulsory from grade 1 to 9 (age 7 to 15), and optional from grade 10-12 (Expatica, 2018). Public schools are funded by government and are run at provincial level. As a result, educational quality and standards vary between provinces and tend to be higher in bigger cities than in less developed areas (Expatica, 2018).

According to the General Household Survey of 2018, almost half of South African children aged 0-4 years remained home with parents/guardians (49.2%) with 38.4% attending grade R/day-care/educational facility outside of their home (StatsSA, 2019a). Attendance at ECD facilities was most common in major cities, such as Gauteng (49.8%), Free State (48.3%), and the Western Cape (43.7%).

In 2018, 32.2% of children and youth 5 years and older attended an educational institution of some kind, with 87.7% of this age range being in school and 4.5% in higher education institutions (StatsSA, 2019a). There is a noticeable delay in educational attainment whereby 11.4% of school-attending individuals are still attending secondary school by the age of 24, with very few entering tertiary levels of education (StatsSA, 2019a).

Women within this age range (5-24) who were not attending an education institution listed the following as their main reasons: (1) having no money for fees (25.2%), (2) poor academic performance (19%), and (3) family commitments (18.1%). Their male counterparts listed (1) poor academic performance (21.7%), (2) no money for fees (19.7%), and (3) education is useless (14%) as their main reasons (StatsSA, 2016).

According to the General Household Survey of 2015 (StatsSA, 2016), literacy was measured in terms of functional literacy (irrespective of a Grade 7 education) whereby respondents should (with reference to at least one language) indicate whether they have ‘no difficulty’, ‘some difficulty’, ‘a lot of difficulty’ or are ‘unable to’ read newspapers, magazines and books, or write a letter (StatsSA, 2016). Using this measure, literacy for persons over the age of 20 increased from 91.9% in 2010 to 93.7% in 2015 (StatsSA, 2016). The highest adult literacy rates for persons aged 20 and over were evident in the Western Cape Province (97.8%), followed closely by Gauteng (97.7%) and the Free State (94.5%).

More recently, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has released a report on the status of education for partnering countries: “Education at a Glance 2018” (OECD, 2018), summarising the following for South Africa:

  • The younger generations (25–34-year-olds) are increasing their representation at higher education levels (i.e., 76% attaining secondary education);
  • Only 6% of adults are attaining tertiary level education;
  • 16% of children (5-14 years old) are not enrolled in any form of education (South Africa rating lowest across all partner countries);
  • For children under 5 years old, few are enrolled in pre-primary education (i.e., any form of Early Childhood Education and Care services) (17%), and less than 40% enrolled in school. School enrolment increases for 6-year-olds (75%) whereas at this age it’s universal at 98% for partner countries;
  • Many learners in secondary education are over-age (21%) and 16% in upper secondary general programmes are repeaters (rating highest across partner countries for both over-age and repeaters); and
  • Compared to partner OECD countries, South Africa also has the highest rate of persons 20–24-year-olds who are unemployed or not in any form of education or training.

Tertiary education in South Africa is very expensive. Since 2015, a student-led movement termed the “FeesMustFall” led a series of protests across South African universities to stop the increase of student fees and increase state expenditure for universities (see This movement succeeded in 2015 in preventing the increase of fees for 2016. However, protests flared up again in 2016 after it was announced that fees will increase in 2017 but will be capped at 8% (universities would decide by how much they would increase). This movement therefore reflects the limitations South Africans experience in accessing tertiary education.


Expatica. (2018). Education in South Africa.

OECD. (2018). Education at a Glance: Country Note for South Africa.

StatsSA. (2016). General Household Survey. Available from:

StatsSA. (2019a). General Household Survey 2018. Available from:

South African Government. (2018a). Education. South African Government. Available from: