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LatAm in Focus: What's behind Brazil's Education Debate 

Students in Brazil

Students in Brazil (AP)

May 22, 2019

On May 15, Brazil's new government saw its first national protests since Jair Bolsonaro took office. Tens of thousands of students took to the streets across the country to oppose the Ministry of Education's freeze in discretionary spending, which cuts nearly $420 million from federal universities 2019 budgetThese and other cuts to k-12 education transformed education into a political battleground that goes beyond the cultural war taking place during the first 100 days of the presidency. The hashtags #TsunamidaEducação and #TodospelaEducação trended nationally on Twitter as students marched. While that happened, Congress summoned the new Minister of Education Abraham Weintraub to explain the cuts.

But Brazil’s education budgetary complications are not the only part of the story. The country’s education system covers 40 million youth. “That’s equivalent to the population of Argentina as a whole,” explains Leandro Beguoci, director of content and product at Nova Escola, a publication covering the education sector. In this interview with AS/COA Online’s Luisa Leme, he explains that K-12 education became a constitutional right in Brazil in 1988 and that, while Brazil’s federal universities are well evaluated, the gaps in access and quality begin to widen in the final years of k-12 grades. Brazil’s 2015 PISA scores show that the country scored below the OECD average in math, science, and reading.

Still, says Beguoci, a recession doesn’t necessarily have to spell budget cuts in the education sector. He takes a historical look at how other countries opted to invest in the sector during downturns and times of crises, and that doing so can later result in economic growth. “A time of economic problems, political problems, is a time when we must decide as a country if education is important for us or if Brazil is going to repeat a formula that is no longer working.”

This episode was produced by Luisa Leme. The music in this podcast was performed at Americas Society in New York. Learn more about upcoming concerts at