Brazilian Companies Offer Education To Needy Kids
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Now to Brazil and that country's troubled education system. Thousands of Brazilian companies are now stepping in to improve public education for poor students. The idea is to help Brazil and its dynamic economy stay competitive with China and South Korea, where public education is a top priority.
NPR's Juan Forero has the story of one innovative program run by a Brazilian bank.
JUAN FORERO: Flavia Witzel's classroom is filled with new toys and books for her gaggle of 5-year-olds, all 28 of them decked out in new uniforms.
Ms. FLAVIA WITZEL: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: A decade ago, Witzel was a student at this same school, run in an industrial suburb of Sao Paulo by the Bradesco Foundation, part of the Bradesco Bank.
Ms. WITZEL: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: Just as this program transformed my life, she says, I want to create opportunities for these children.
This school is big, with more than 1,600 students, and its tuition free for needy families from the neighborhood, says Denise Aguiar, director of the Bradesco Foundation.
Ms. DENISE AGUIAR (Director, Bradesco Foundation): We construct the schools, and we run the schools. Physically, it's like a private school because they are huge schools. They are constructed to be a school.
FORERO: Her grandfather, Amador Aguiar, founded the bank, and then in 1962, the first Bradesco school. Bradesco now runs 40 schools across Brazil, educating 50,000 children, a school system the size of Washington, D.C.'s.
Brazilian companies, large and small, are involved in running pilot programs or developing new teaching models or improving school management.
Andres Souza is an economist who studies education, and he says the problem is a public school system that fails to properly educate children.
Professor ANDRES SOUZA (Economist): We are faring not well and actually dramatically below many other countries. Basically, our schools don't work.
FORERO: Terezinha Simoes(ph) agrees. She managed to get her grandson, Igor, into the Bradesco school, but not her granddaughter who remains in a public school.
Ms. TEREZINHA SIMOES: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: In a Bradesco school, she says, there's more homework, more activities, more discipline. In public schools, she said, sometimes, teachers don't even show up for class.
No one suggests that the private programs are an alternative for Brazil's public education system, which educates 50 million children. But the private initiatives - particularly those developing new teaching methodologies - have been well received by government officials as they work to improve public education.
And indeed, there are improvements in public education. Enrollment has risen fast. The budget grew more than threefold since 2003. Test scores have also inched up. But education researchers say the biggest challenge will be improving classroom instruction.
Marcelo Amaral once taught in public schools.
Mr. MARCELO AMARAL (Math Teacher, Bradesco School): (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: To make ends meet, he says, I worked in the morning for a city school, in the afternoon for a state school, and at night at a private school.
Now, he's teaching math here at Bradesco, earning more and getting more time to do research and prepare for class.
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FORERO: At the Bradesco school, signs of teacher interaction with students, even in English, is everywhere. And so is the foundation's attention to detail: well-equipped classrooms, a library, even an amphitheater.
At Antonio Ghilard's science lab, students learn the difference between chemical and physical reactions. Explaining why, he helps his students light gas under beakers filled with water.
Mr. ANTONIO GHILARD (Science Teacher, Bradesco School): We can do whatever we want because we have so many resources.
FORERO: Among the students who are benefiting is Helen Confertino(ph). She's 14 and once went to a pubic school.
Ms. HELEN CONFERTINO: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: Here, it's clean, she says. It's big. There's a library, a computer room, many things.
And there are also art classes. That's got her thinking about a career in architecture.
Juan Forero, NPR News.
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