Brazil faces more than just World Cup construction pressure

Most public school students in Brazil are in class for about four hours each day. In an effort to get more kids studying full-days, cities like Rio are rushing to build more schools.

Sergio Moraes/Reuters/File
A boy holds up an official 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer ball as children sit at what is meant to represent a public school classroom, during a protest against the 2014 World Cup, organized by non-governmental organization (NGO) Rio de Paz (Rio of Peace) at the Jacarezinho slum in Rio de Janeiro May 14, 2014.

Just as Brazil scrambles to finish preparations for the World Cup soccer tournament, construction crews in Rio de Janeiro are under pressure to meet another tight deadline: building 177 new public schools by 2015.

The project targets two shortcomings in Brazil’s education system: short school days and a severe lack of space. Most students go to school for a four-hour shift, either in the morning or in the afternoon, and teachers often scramble from one school to another in order to pick up a full-time paycheck. But for educators who want to provide a longer day, the facilities have been lacking.

The short school days are a “huge issue,” says Barbara Bruns, a World Bank economist who wrote a book on education in Brazil. “It makes you think, ‘This is going to prepare this country for competition in the global economy?’ No way.”

Rio de Janeiro aims to have 35 percent of its students in eight-hour schools by 2016, and all students in full-day classes by 2020.

The Bolivar municipal school, situated in a run-down neighborhood far from the city’s famous beaches, has been on an eight-hour schedule for the past three years.

It was an adjustment for students and teachers: Staff realized the kids were exhausted by lunchtime and had a hard time sitting for long periods. In response, the school implemented recess and an afternoon snack.

The longer day is better for both students and teachers, says principal Jacira Fontes Cerqueira.

“The part-time student goes to the street [after school],” says Ms. Cerqueira. “Everything they have learned is diluted.” Kids here say they used to go home and watch TV, play sports, or try to learn English.

“Almost no one has what we have,” says ninth-grader Raquel Cristina de Almeida, referring to the longer school schedule.

Parents like it, too. Last year the school received more than 200 applications for nine open slots at Bolivar. Some mothers would come to the school crying, begging for a spot for their child.

“For the moms, it gives them certainty that [their] kids are not on the street doing foolish things,” Cerqueira says.

José Ulisses da Silva Carvalho, a math and science teacher who used to split his time between two public schools, says the educational benefits are impossible to miss. Because he isn’t running out the door at the end of class to make it to his next job, kids are able to spend extra time with him.

“They can speak to any teacher,” Mr. Carvalho says. “They don’t have to wait until next week.” r
– Taylor Barnes contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro.

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