The consequences of bad education

According to Ibope, 75% of Brazilians can´t write, read and interpret a long text. That means that only 25% of Brazilian can fully understand a long text.

(Source: http://noticias.terra.com.br/brasil/noticias/0,,OI659284-EI994,00-Ibope+da+populacao+nao+sabe+ler+direito.html)

I don´t know how high this percentage is in other countries, but the lack of reading or discussion on serious subjects is very evident when you start talking to people here and this is what I meant when I posted that there is a cultural void in Brazil. I don´t know who is to blame for this obvious disadvantage Brazilians have, but I have my suspicions.

My only contact with the “academic” or “educational” world was when I taught English Text Interpretation at a federal university in Ilhéus and when I studied for my driving test. I even wrote about this in the “Driving school experience” post.

In both situations, I noticed one thing that is probably the basis for the educational problem Brazilians have, and this problem is definitely based on the Jeitinho Brasileiro. Call me a blundering lunatic, but these statistics just prove my point.

Brazilians have a lousy education because the study material and method suck. Period. When they start school, they copy texts written by the teacher on the board that they don´t understand. They copy and copy until they supposedly learn how to read and write. The method is based exclusively on memory.

When the exams comes, the students who pass are those who memorized the most. There are no interpretation or discussion questions, no thoughts or opinions, nothing. When they finish school, they are tested to enter university based on the same principle of memorization. Text interpretation is very basic and it is perfectly possible to pass the exam without understanding anything you have read or written.

Basically, education in Brazilian schools is information that must be memorized to get at least 6 and pass, enter a university, get a diploma and start a professional career.

At the university I taught for a short period, none of the students knew how to summarise. I had to teach them. The smart ones got it almost instantly. Their grades went up almost 30% (students who had previously gotten 6 later got 9). This also goes to show that it´s not an incapacity, it´s just omission.

At the driving school, I was shocked how they only taught the information that would come up in the written test and actual driving exam. We did not drive at night (the exam is during the day) although this was a requirement and we could skip the information that did not appear in the exam. We basically memorized as little as possible. No one was curious, no one really wanted to learn the rules of safe driving or even how to drive properly. They just wanted to pass the exam.

When Brazilians go to an exhibition or to the theatre, they always love everything. No matter how bad it is. They don´t digest what they have and don´t have their own opinions because they were not taught how to. Again, that is what I consider a cultural void. What is the point of having all these cultural events and great museums if you have no opinion? Brazilians get offended when I say they have no culture. They do, but not all of them understand it or feel confident enough to come to their own conclusions.

If you don´t believe me, watch programmes like Zorra Total (with the exception of a couple of comedians, the rest is…. just watch it and then we´ll talk) or Brazilian TV commercials. This problem is also reflected in problem solving. When they realized the driving test was too easy, the authorities decided to add another 15 classroom hours, but the material is still exactly the same, so the schools are forced to teach and then pretend to teach for another 15 hours (you just sign the frequency sheet and go home). Then you have the queuing system and idiotic unfounded requirements people are always inventing to supposedly solve a problem, and create a new one.

Is that normal? Does that happen in your country, too?

At school in London, we had English Language (equivalent to Lingua Portuguesa) but we also had English Literature and I think that made all the difference. In English Language, we learned how to read and write, but in English Literature we learned how to understand what others wrote, how to summarize, how to discuss, how to express our opinions. Information was digested and turned into something individual and unique. It was beautiful.

That, in my opinion, is what is lacking in Brazil. It´s not the teachers, it´s not the students with family and disciplinary problems, its the method. It´s the defective way information is presented and the lack of interaction and real contact with that information. This terrible void the Brazilian educational system has only created citizens who don´t think for themselves, who don´t understand, who don´t know what is right or wrong, good or bad. Call me a witch, but I think I am the only one who is truly mourning.

9 responses to “The consequences of bad education

  1. Hello!
    I just read this article and was so happy that finally someone got to the point describing this antiquated method of teaching. It is well known that in Brazil we still use a method that has been banished from french schools 100 years ago! I’m born and raised in Brazil and did have big problems when I started my studies in Germany because I didn’t have ANY idea of how interpret a text, building my own opinion about it. I was teached on MEMORIZING everything and even as a teenager I was often surprised how negligent the whole educational system was. So thank you Cipriana for your honest words – in my opinion you aren’t judging but describing a situation that is more than evident.

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    • Thank you for your comment. I think that Brazilians truly realize the extent of the problem when they have to study abroad. The first step to changing the faulty system is to recognize the problem exists. You seem to be the only Brazilian-born reader who agrees with me. On the other hand, the people who disagree have never provided another option. Investments were very high in education in Brazil these last years, teacher just follow the system so they are not to blame, and students are all victims of this system, so they cannot be blamed either. I realized it was the actual teaching system when I started to pay extra attention to my daughter´s school material. I asked around and read about it as much as possible. Many mothers realize there is something wrong, but they were taught in the same way so they can never pinpoint it. A classic example is Portuguese. Students learn grammatical definitions, they memorize long complex explanations of structures, but never actually use them when they write or speak. Practical use of what they learn, interpretation and discussion is definitely missing.

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  2. Hi Cipriana!

    I ended up on your blog because I was researching about ways to send money to Brasil. Then, I read a little more about yourself and was really surprised that you lived/live in Bebedouro because I also have family there. I’m glad you like our country. I was born and raised in Sao Paulo but currently live in the US. I am just extremely disappointed on how you described our educational system. Yes, I surely know that we lack in this area, but to say that the whole country has a system based on memorization represents a shallow and innaccurate pont of view. Also, the jeitinho brasileiro is definitely far from being the main point here. I come from a family of educators and just couldn’t let this go, even though I never comment on blogs. I really enjoyed some of your postings, but please be careful when judging something so important as a country’s education.

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    • Flavia,
      Thanks for your comment. Different points of view are always welcome if they are coherent, obviously. Brazil is currently going through serious problems due to education. University students have adhered to the teacher´s strike (who want better salaries) to demand better education. They leave university and don´t find jobs. Companies are importing executives and foreigners are now widely sought after for just about any job. If you feel differently, maybe you could shed some light on the reasons for the 25% full literacy rate in Brazil? The jeitinho brasileiro fits in nicely here because I have personally seen how people try to go around education and learn as little as possible to pass exams. That is the basis of the jeitinho, finding an advantage or easy way out of almost everything, even if the consequences are bad. The jeitinho is EVERYWHERE in Brazil, but only foreigners seem to see it as clearly. Brazilians don´t see it because it´s part of their DNA.
      I look forward to your answer.

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      • Hello Cipriana.

        I just loved the blog, and couldnt stop reading till i got here, i think this post gets extremely close of the main problem…

        Since the chieldhood, brazilian kids learn not to judge, question or understand anything, AT ALL, most people dont even notice it, but often you can hear words like: “indecente”, “teimoso”, “implicante” when kids start to question the world or when someone try to argue about something, when anyone try to question anything here, its just not something that we do, i mean, discussing the government policies and attitudes before things like mensalão happens, or discussing the educational system before the “analfabetismo funcional”, or the famous “inflação” so present in our history and yet almost no one understan what it is…

        Its so deep in our culture that i clearly remember how my sociology classes (with a communist teacher) were just before the geography ones (with teacher that just loved neoliberalism), and yet no one ever reacted to the knowledge throwed on us!

        Realy liked the blog, hope to start a good discussion with you.

        P.S. (awfully sorry about the bad english)

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        • Please don´t apologise for your English, it´s fine. I appreciate the effort of writing a comment in English and the detailed explanation. I realized what you mentioned when my daughter started secondary school and know this is the reason why most intellectuals drop out of university, because they must accept the views of the teacher and cannot question. There is no true discussion. Maybe because the teacher´s knowledge is limited, but that should encourage teacher´s to know more. I remember my biology teacher at school used to get angry at us when we passively listened to her lectures, and demand we ask questions and debate so she could run home and study more about our queries. That was a life lesson to me. Her attitude.

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          • Now there’s a almost impossible thing to see in Brazil, this generation was raised in the times of the millitary dictatorship, when there was always a soldier in the door of the class and teachers were tortured inside the school for “ensinar indecencias” (teaching how to question and argue),
            This generation and the one after have a huge collective passivity, and we are just starting to notice it, it’ll take years to change (if we change), but if you can read a little of portuguese take a look at this article: http://revistaepoca.globo.com/Revista/Epoca/0,,EDG79639-6014-492,00.html

            Sorry again for the bad english;

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            • True, but that was also the case of Argentina, and students are taught to think for themselves, are very critical and society is individualistic. A dictatorship can do lots of things to a society, but it can never change people to such an extent. The lack of individual thought is because Brazil, like Mexico, China and Italy, for example, is collectivist. It´s more deep rooted than the dictatorship. But you know what? Brazilians do not always know why they are passive (non-confrontational, as sociologists claim), but they are starting to realize it´s not good and are trying to change.

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