The World Cup in Brazil brought tears of joy and disappointment to fans from around the world.
Yet, while enthralled fans watched inside the stadiums, there were violent scenes outside, as riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to hold back a small group of protesters even before the World Cup officially began.
Much has been made of the protests against the Brazilian government’s spending decisions, and a new survey by the Pew Research Center has found that 72 percent of Brazilians are dissatisfied with the way things are going in their country — up from 55 percent just weeks before the demonstrations began in June 2013. Brazilians are also concerned about the negative impact that hosting the World Cup will have on their country, with 61 percent believing the event is a bad thing for Brazil because it takes money away from health care, education, and other public services.
Brazilian President Rousseff says money isn’t taking away from education
In spite of the widespread political unrest and slumping approval ratings, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has been quick to dismiss criticism of her government’s spending, labeling claims that the World Cup has taken money away from education as “absurd.” In truth, the roughly $11 billion earmarked for spending on stadiums, transportation projects, and other infrastructure projects represents just 0.7 percent of planned investment in Brazil between 2010 to 2014, according to research from Moody’s Investors Service. And although social inequality is prevalent throughout the country, Brazil has dramatically increased its level of spending on education since World Cup bidding preparations began back in 2003.
For example, between 2000 and 2010, public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP increased by 2.1 percentage points, from 3.5 percent in 2000 to 5.6 percent in 2010 (a figure still below the average for OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries of 6.3 percent). Public expenditure on education as a percentage of total public expenditure also increased from 10.5 percent in 2000 to 18.1 percent in 2010, well above the OECD average of 13 percent and the third highest among the 32 OECD countries and other G20 countries.
Adding to that, the Brazilian government last year passed a law that reserves 75 percent of the country’s oil royalties for spending on education (with the remaining 25 percent spent on healthcare), a move that is expected to result in an additional $800 million in funding for education and health this year.
With higher spending on education, student success is still stagnant even with minor progress
However, spending more money on education does not always guarantee students’ success. Brazil still lags behind most OECD countries in terms of educational quality and attainment. In 2011, just 43 percent of adults aged 25-64 had earned the equivalent of a high school degree, much less than the OECD average of 74 percent. And according to the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2012, about one in three 15-year-old students in Brazil had repeated a grade at least once in primary or secondary school — one of the highest rates of grade repetition among countries participating in PISA.
Brazil is also one of the worst-performing countries in the PISA tests (which assess students’ performance in reading, mathematics, and science), although there’s been progress in all three areas. Mean performance in mathematics increased from 356 in 2003 to 391 score points in 2012, making Brazil the country with the largest performance gains since 2003, and significant improvements were also found in reading and science.
More equal access to high-quality education in Brazil than in the U.S.
In comparison, the United States has shown no significant change in student performance in Mathematics since 2003, despite higher annual per-student spending across all levels of education than any other country ($15,171). Similarly, there has been no significant change in reading performance since 2000 and none in Science since 2006.
Socioeconomic disadvantage also translates more directly into poor educational performance in the U.S. than is the case in many other countries, including Brazil. In Brazil, the average difference in results between the students with the highest socioeconomic background and the students with the lowest socioeconomic background is 84 points, lower than both the U.S. (98 points) and the OECD average of 96 points. This suggests that the school system in Brazil provides relatively more equal access to high-quality education than the U.S. school system, and the U.S. is also one of a group of countries where advantaged and disadvantaged schools show particularly wide differences in the level of teacher shortages.
To read about how some American thinkers are trying to reform education, check out this article: President Obama: Invite These 5 Education Leaders to the White House
Despite educational progress, Brazil has a long way to go
In a broader context, it seems there is much to celebrate about Brazil’s progress in improving its education system. However, in many cases, the reforms have not gone far enough. For instance, despite increases in the overall education budget, there is still great disparity in where the money is being directed, with a disproportionate share of education spending going towards tertiary (post-secondary) education; Brazil spends almost six times as much per student in tertiary education as at the primary and secondary level, while OECD countries spend, on average, twice as much.
Many demonstrators are also concerned about the level of bribery and corruption in the country, arguing that real change can not occur until this is addressed. And an investigation by the Federation of the Industries of the State of São Paulo found that, in 2008 alone, corruption cost the country some $40 billion — equivalent to about half its education budget.
So, while the money spent on preparing the country for the World Cup may only represent a small fraction of planned public spending in Brazil, perhaps any spending on lavish items such as soccer stadiums is too much so long as these social inequalities and larger structural issues persist.
Brazilian Discontent Ahead of World Cup. (2014, June 3). Pew Research Centers Global Attitudes Project RSS. Retrieved June 13, 2014, from Pew Research
Moody's: 2014 FIFA World Cup to provide temporary lift for Brazil. (2014, March 31). Moodys.com. Retrieved June 13, 2014, from Moody’s
Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators. (n.d.). Education - OECD. Retrieved June 13, 2014, from OECD
PISA - OECD. (n.d.). PISA - OECD. Retrieved June 13, 2014, from OECD
Innovation in government: Brazil. (2012, September). McKinsey & Company. Retrieved June 23, 2014, from McKinsey