Certain levels of education are compulsory for all children living in Brazil, while others, such as pre-school and upper secondary school, remain optional.
Pre-school education (Educação Infantil) is entirely optional and for pre-school children there is a choice between:
The Maternal is basically a playgroup, whereas Jardim has a more academic focus for small children. The school meets with the parents and child before enrollment and, depending on the academic and social skills of the child, the school will advise parents on where it feels the child will best fit in. All state pre-schools and nurseries are free of charge.
In Brazil it is mandatory for children to go to school from age 6 to 14. Children under the age of six may be enrolled as long as they turn six in the first semester.
These compulsory nine years of education are known as Fundamental Education (Ensino Fundamental) and are divided into two levels:
A core curriculum is set by the Education Council.
During the Ensino Fundamental I, children study mathematics, Portuguese, science, arts, history, geography and physical education. During Ensino Fundamental II, pupils also study at least one other compulsory language.
The normal practice in Brazilian schools, both public and private, is to mix all academic levels together in the same class.
Under the state system, an exam is given to all pupils at the end of each academic year to determine whether the child will move on to the next year, or whether they will be held back to repeat a year. It's not unusual to hold a child back, which means that the age mixture of classes is often quite varied.
Depending upon the pedagogic philosophy of the private school, children may be required to return and repeat a year, although this is not a very common practice these days. If it becomes obvious that a child is not managing to keep up with the advance in learning levels of their classmates, the school will speak to the parents about options involving other academic systems.
There are some privately-run schools, which divide a year into levels of academic ability for classes, in line with the British state model, for instance. This is, however, becoming less common as the private schools adopt more tightly controlled pedagogic models.
Upper secondary education (Ensino Médio) is for young people aged 15 to 18. On top of the core curriculum subjects studied during Ensino Fundamental, students will also study philosophy and sociology.
The courses provided during this period are essentially designed to allow a young person to enter into a (usually public) university. The courses can be conducted either at the private school the child has been attending up until this point, or at specific colleges which train youngsters to take the specific entrance exam set by a specific university. Students can also choose to take professional training at the same time.
Once a student has successfully completed secondary education, they may continue their studies at a public or private university. To enter a public university, students must sit an entrance exam, known as vestibular. Entrance exams to a private university are often little more than a formality and, as a consequence, public university degrees are valued much more highly than those from private institutions.
Brazilian law demands that a child start their compulsory education at six years old. Should the parents feel that the schooling options available where they live are insufficient for their child’s needs, they may apply to the government for the right to provide their own education at home. This is a lengthy process, involving the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Education.
Within the private school system, numerous pedagogies can be found from which to choose a child’s educational direction. These systems are largely based on existing European models and essentially focus on the degree of attention placed on the arts and humanities versus the scientific and technical subjects, while attitudes towards disciplinary measures and the rigidity of teaching methods also varies.
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