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Exclusive Interview: Brazilian Congressman Gabriel Chalita on Reforms for São Paulo

March 21, 2012

“The world recognizes Brazil as an economic leader, but people have to recognize that we still have serious education problems, and that’s our challenge.”
 
While the state of São Paulo has one of the highest literacy rates in Brazil, the country as a whole struggles to compete internationally, ranking among the lowest globally in math, reading, and science. AS/COA Editorial Associate Rachel Glickhouse spoke to Gabriel Chalita, congressman for the state of São Paulo and mayoral candidate for the city of São Paulo, about his ideas to improve education by expanding access to nursery school and making primary schools run for a full day. He explained that education is the core of overall policymaking, in that improved schools can lead to a more qualified workforce and better security.


 
AS/COA Online: Can you describe your plans for education reform in São Paulo?
 
Gabriel Chalita: I believe that education is the paramount public policy because it aids other public policies. When you manage to develop a good education project, you can improve the workforce and have more qualified employees. So I think that one of the great challenges that we have today is to improve our education system. Brazil is now an economic power: the world recognizes Brazil as an economic leader, but people have to recognize that we still have serious education problems, and that’s our challenge—to make primary education high-quality education, to train our teachers better, to financially value our teachers, to involve the parents more in the process, and to make sure children spend the entire day in school. For me, this is an obstinacy. I think that if a child doesn’t study for a full day, he won’t have the ability to compete with other children who are better off financially.
 
AS/COA Online: What is your plan to expand nursery schools?
 
Chalita: The city of São Paulo has nearly 200,000 children that need to go to nursery school but don’t have a spot. I think that there are some public policies we hope can resolve this issue. Over time, more schools need to be built and expanded. It won’t happen overnight to get all schools going full-time, because we need to construct more schools and to adapt these schools. But in the case of nursery schools, it’s a matter of urgency to resolve the problem. So what would I do as mayor of São Paulo? I’d take both the private and public universities that we have in São Paulo and I’d pay a per capita for these universities so that every university would have a nursery school on site. This way, we’d resolve this issue for families that have nowhere to send their children. Children from ages zero to three must be cared for; this is fundamental. I believe that in less than two years we could manage to get all of these children out of homes, or the streets, or wherever, and put them in a place where they can be cared for with dignity.
 
AS/COA Online: During your presentation at AS/COA, you spoke about the police pacification units in Rio de Janeiro. Are you thinking of creating a similar plan in São Paulo?
 
Chalita: The police pacification units ended up being a very smart alternative that the government of Rio de Janeiro used. I think security in Rio is a bit different from security in São Paulo, because Rio had the problem of favelas where the police didn’t operate. In São Paulo, our biggest security problem isn’t in these areas; it’s spread out throughout the city.
 
So what do I think? There needs to be a strong partnership between the municipal, state, and federal governments. In Brazil, unlike here in New York where the police are the responsibility of the municipality, they’re part of the state government. This is the branch responsible for policing. So the police have an important role, as well as the federal police at the national level. The city government also needs to improve the city, to illuminate the city with better lighting. Even just providing better lighting for the city is a road to minimizing problems of violence. So we’re studying these alternatives, of how to monitor areas of São Paulo where there are a large number of robberies, to help the police to have better intelligence to tackle these issues. But I believe that the reduction of violence requires two policies: a security policy and a preventative policy. Preventative policy is also very important and, for me, means education and social policy.
 
AS/COA Online: What are your plans for the São Paulo metro?
 
Chalita: The metro always had a high approval rate in São Paulo. Today, people don’t approve of it in the same way, since it’s very crowded. They need to construct new lines. The state government is responsible for the metro, and in a single administration it could construct a new metro line.
 
My idea is to create four new metro lines and have the city government help the state government, and even bring in the federal government to help. This is the vision I have for the mayor: he’s the leader of the city that brings together political and government forces to act together to solve the city’s problems. I think the buses are also an important policy for public transportation, though the metro is the most essential. Since buses occupy the same space as cars, opening up more bus lanes means diminishing the space for cars, so buses and cars will always be at odds. But not in the case of the metro: it occupies its own space, so we need to invest more in the metro as well as improving the buses.
 
AS/COA Online: What’s your plan to help children who have gone through the public school system to enter the public university system, given the difficult entry exams?
 
Chalita: Public schools must be improved, because you can’t worsen the university system to allow students to enter who aren’t able to compete. Here I return to the theory about full-time schooling to better trained teachers, to involving the parents. In the United States, this concept of involving families in school is common. We need to expand this in Brazil. The family should participate in school because it can improve the school. We have some excellent public schools, but very few in relation to the total number of public schools that we have. For example, the University of São Paulo is one of the most important universities, and 12 to 15 percent of the students that get in come from good public schools, but 85 percent come from private schools. So I don’t think the answer is to worsen the private schools or the universities, but rather to improve the public schools so that these students have equal opportunities to get into a public university.
 
ProUni is a federal government program that originated from one of our programs in São Paulo called School for Family, which helps public school students to enter private universities. I think it’s appealing since it opens up more opportunities for people to study. If we expand the number of spots in ProUni, it takes pressure off the state to open more public universities. It’s not that the state shouldn’t have more public universities, but the state’s prime responsibility is to first deal with primary education. I think that while we don’t address the problem of primary education, there can’t be good education, because the problem is at the base.
 
AS/COA Online: What’s your dream for the city of São Paulo?
 
Chalita: To unite the two São Paulos. The haves with the have-nots. The wealthy São Paulo with the poor São Paulo. The São Paulo that has opportunities. The São Paulo that has good health care. The São Paulo that’s known all over the world, that has the best hospitals, the best doctors, the best restaurants with the São Paulo that still lacks this type of development. I think my dream is to unite these two cities, to build a bridge between these two São Paulos.