THE COUNTRY HAS REGISTERED AN INCREASE OF 66% IN THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE
LIVING IN EXTREME POVERTY BETWEEN 2015 AND 2020
Estimates show around 12.8% of Brazil’s population — some 27 million people — are now living below the poverty line of 246 reais a month, the most since the series began a decade ago.
The pandemic, and the health policy response to it, resulted into a sharp decline of external and domestic demand while also constraining supply. It has brought uncertainties to the macroeconomic policy framework, especially in the fiscal area, which translate into downside risks, thus calling for strong fiscal consolidation and the adoption of structural reforms in 2021, as soon as the spread of the disease is controlled.
To protect the most vulnerable people, the Government put forward a large, timely, targeted and time bound fiscal package focused on social assistance. The cost of this package was estimated at BRL 815.5 billion (US$156.8 billion), or 11.4 percent of GDP in 2020. The large fiscal stimulus limited the annual contraction in 2020 to 4.1 percent. Recovery momentum is expected to propel growth to 3.0 percent in 2021 but this is subject to large uncertainty, particularly on the impact of the new wave of the pandemic and the pace of vaccination.
COVID Impact on the Poor
As of March 2021, Brazil reached its highest peak yet in the COVID-19 pandemic, in stark contrast with other parts of the world’s downward trends. Brazil has the second world largest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases (12.7 million) and deaths (321,000, i.e., 149 per 100,000 people).
A combination of factors explains the situation. A new and more contagious COVID-19 variant (P.1) was discovered in Manaus in early 2021. The health system was not prepared to handle a large volume of cases: by end of March 2021, the majority of states have experienced over 90% of ICU occupancy rate, with shortages of critical supplies such as oxygen and sedatives (needed for administering oxygen), reflecting planning challenges and coordination issues between the federal and subnational levels. Vaccination efforts continue, albeit at slow pace, and 16.9 million people (7.9 percent of the population) received their first dose so far.
Brazil secured vaccines from Coronavac and AstraZeneca/Oxford (mostly locally produced), and recently purchased 100 million doses from Pfizer and 10 million doses of Sputnik V.
The COVID-19 pandemic is also jeopardizing years of progress in poverty reduction and human capital accumulation. While the poverty rate temporarily fell to 21 percent in 2020 (from 29 percent in 2019) thanks to generous social emergency transfers (Auxilio Emergencial) to 66 million individuals and the expansion of the Bolsa Familia Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program but it is expected to rise again this year with the end of the temporary assistance and the weak labor market recovery due to the second wave of the pandemic.
Considering international standardized learning tests, the quality of education in Brazil has been improving slowly over the past 15 years. However, despite this moderate progress, learning levels remain behind countries comparable to Brazil.
This challenge is illustrated by the fact that in 2019, in Brazil, 4 out of 10 youths by the age of 19 did not finish high school. Or additionally: a significant share of children up to 3 years old do not have access to early childhood education. Altogether, these facts impose key challenges to economic and social development.
Poverty, inequity and the potential of Brazil’s public schools
A proper education for all is key to the country’s development.
Brazil’s most valuable resource is plentiful and precious: its people
Almost 4m babies are born here each year, bringing with them hope for a better future. Yet, if the country’s public education system remains as it is today, only half of these children will be able to read before the age of eight or nine, and by the time they reach 21, just 15 per cent will be enrolled in college. If we do not invest in young Brazilians now, we will continue to fuel a woeful and ever-worsening cycle of poverty, holding back the progress and development of the entire country.
Though Brazil has made major advances in ensuring that children and young people are in school, dropout rates remain sky-high. The majority of Brazilian students who stay in school simply aren’t learning enough to have the best chance of success after graduation. This is in part because Brazilian teachers, though well-trained on theory, seldom have more than a few months of hands-on internship experience before entering the classroom.
Teachers should be given the same opportunities to practise while in college that future doctors are given. Just as no one would trust a doctor who has only read books about medicine but hasn’t worked with real patients, teachers who have never taught should not lead classrooms.
Attended by 70 per cent of Brazilian children, public schools are also affected by, and answer to, a variety of public policies, which has resulted in a lack of coherence in the curriculum from school to school. Further, schools offer four to five hours of classes per day on average, but studies have shown that much of that precious time is squandered on activities such as roll calls, handing out materials and disciplining students who fail to pay attention. This means students are spending much less than four to five hours in the classroom actually learning what they should.
"EDU will continue to work with and endorse educational and humanitarian organizations and partners who are making a positive and meaningful impact on the lives and well-being of the people of Brazil"
EDU Secretary General. H.E. Irving Levance