While coming back from Globelics Academy 2012 conference, I read article on Finnish science magazine (Tiede) on how school mates improve the learning performance in primary and secondary schools. The message is simple:

“It is better to buy a worst house in best neighbourhood than best house in poor neighbourhood”

There are two reasons why private elite schools are bad for developing knowledge economy and increasing national intellectual capacity; (1) weak performers will not become more intelligent if they spend their schooling time with other weak performers; (2) many initially well performers become weaker performers among other well performers. The reasons for these observations are multiple.

First, weak performers normally come from families with lower levels of education meaning that their initial educational levels are weaker than the average. Families with weaker education levels come normally from lower income classes. When student with weaker learning capacity spends time with other students with weaker learning capacity the results indicate that aggregate level of learning decreases among the whole group of students. However, when weak performer is located with better performers, the learning capacity shows clear increase already in one year of time according to empirical research. In addition, if there are only few well performers among weak performers, the social pressure might decrease initially well performers’ opportunities and capacity to learn. Well performers coming from low income families is normally associated to motivated parents who are willing to invest in learning environment at home. This investment is many times wasted because of unequal social system. This means that for example Brazil should not only increase the level of public education, but also find ways to provide interactions between students coming from low income and high income families.

Second, high performers normally come from higher classes where the education levels of parents are higher. These students in developing and emerging countries normally go to private elite schools based on their family income levels. However, the elite schools are not always the best places for well-educated students. The self-esteem of good performers might go down when they need to compete with other high performers. In mixed schools where there is right kind of mix of good and bad performers, many good performers’ self-esteem increases as they can shine compared to bad performers.

To conclude, private elite schools are not supporting the development of knowledge economy. For example in Brazil in general only students that have graduated from private elite primary and secondary schools manage to get in to best universities in Brazil.

“There are 99 federal institutions in Brazil, enrolling about 940,000 students, and also 108 state institutions, enrolling 600,000 students. The private sector is much larger, with 2,100 institutions and 4.8 million students enrolled.”

In Brazil best universities are public such as USP (which is raked among top 200 universities in the world). On the other hand, the ones who are not the top performers in private elite school normally choose private universities which are not conducting academic research to connect their learning to global knowledge production. The people coming from poorer families are left out of professional education or are forced to pay from low quality higher education.

Source: Kuiru et. al. (2012) Best friends in adolescence show similar educational careers in early adulthood. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.


In my earlier posts I have been observing Brazil from different perspectives and also written on emerging relationship between Brazil and Scandinavian countries mainly focusing on Finland. I argued in my earlier blog post on innovation law that major deficits of Brazilian innovation system are lack of science and engineering education, low level of technology transfer in university-private sector relationship, and lack of R&D investment and understanding in Brazilian private sector. In this post my purpose is to understand the science and engineering education starting from basic education.

So to understand the fundamentals of education, we need to discuss the state of basic education in Brazil focusing on reading, mathematics and science (PISA). In 2000 Brazil entered to PISA evaluation performance even they are not part of OECD and came last from 65 countries. However significant improvement have occurred in last 10 years as picture from Economist article “Education in Brazil – no longer bottom of the class” shows. Accordingly this improvement is caused by simple political decisions to invest in basic education. President Cardoso decided to invest in teacher salaries and pay families to keep their children in school and President Lula continued the same line in his period.

However, just investing is not enough (estadao). In next decade Brazil aims to invest on quality of education and especially on science and engineering based education such as maths, physics, chemistry and biology and infrastructure investment such as laboratory equipment  (UNESCO). Finnish education system strengths as argued by documentary – The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System -are high quality teacher education, high level teacher independency creating personal motivation for teaching, low level of class difference in education leading to knowledge transfer (no private education in Finland), high investment of national GDP to education leading high salaries and good infrastructure, high appreciation of teachers in the society, central planning for skills needed in the society and social networking of teachers changing best practices. In Finland, the state decides what should be taught, but not how. Finnish students achieve with average 25 hours weekly schooling the same results as South Korean students with over 30 hours schooling per week:

“…Finnish students, who studied only 4 hours and 22 minutes during weekdays, only half of what Korean 15-year-olds do, scored higher than Korean students in mathematics...”

Still, it is good  to remember the evolutionary perspective of development. Brazil has progressed substantially in basic education since the 1980s. The nation witnessed an increase in school enrolment for children age 7–14, from 80.9% in 1980 to 96.4% in the year 2000. In the 15-17 age demographic, in the same period, this rate rose from 49.7% to 83%.Literacy rates went up, from 75% to 90.0%. (Source wikipedia)

Earlier sections show how innovation related discussion is strongly rooted in the innovation system of the countries. Innovation is closely related to science and engineering capacity and freedom of knowledge transfer in innovation system nationally and internationally. Universities are seen as powerful research centres and producers of highly skilled human resources. However first we need to understand how to provide human resources to universities as this blog post has highlighted. Private sector, in other hand, is responsible for creating societal and economic impact of new skills and technologies.

In Brazil, universities have been performing weakly on producing highly skilled research and development human resources that would benefit the society and especially private sector, university and public research knowledge is weakly transferred to benefit the society and private sector is reluctant to invest in R&D and hiring highly skilled R&D human resources. This means that policy intervention is needed. Next post I will discuss these issues in more detail. To conclude this post:

“We need to teach how to learn, learn how to teach…”

“… and change education paradigms constantly…

In the last post –Brazil as natural future economy –  I promised to observe Brazil from different perspectives. To respect the tradition of evolutionary economics, in this post I investigate Brazilian innovation from first aeroplane flight in 1906 to Innovation Law established in 2004. This period highlights the Brazilian potential for innovation and how it missed almost a century on global development caused by the lack of strategic approach to innovation. The Story of Science clearly states that innovations does not happen over the night and requires balance between passion for science and research, political power, and open global collaboration and rivalry as Michael J. Mosley shows in my favourite documentary!

Brazil gained the independence from Portugal in 1822.  Portugal legacy left Brazil underdeveloped as country had been mainly used as a source for raw materials to feed the parent country. There was no investment on education system, universities or scientific organizations. Many international and internal conflicts kept Brazil underdevelopment for many decades. Only innovation policy highlight comes from establishment of Instituto Butantan biomedical research center to Sao Paulo in 1901 and innovation highlight from year 1906: If you went to European or North American school you most probably have learned that the Wright Brothers invented and flew the first aeroplane in 1903. However if you look on Brazilian school books you can find that first actual flight with “real” airplane was made by Alberto Santos Dumont with 14-bis aeroplane in 1906. This is a many times praised as one of the global achievements of innovation in Brazil. Brazilian basic education, university and science and research system remained relatively underdeveloped until 1930s.

Brazilian recent political history can be divided to three phases based on Rosanis (2011) dissertation on Brazilian innovation system. 1930 – 1980 is named as “state-led protective industrialization” or “milagre econômico brasileiro”. Protectionist policies contributed to high GDB growth and high levels of local industrial expansion. The policies culminate on Singer-Prebisch thesis in 1950, dependency theory and import substitution industrialization which aimed to decrease dependency from Western developed economies and increase local production. However, these policies missed the fact that only selected industries should be protected. In addition, these policies produced disincentives to innovation, decreased rates of productivity and lead technological inefficiency. Innovation policy highlighst for this period were establishment of Aeronautic Technological Institute (ITA) in 1950, the National Research Council (CNPq) in 1951, the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDE) in 1953, the Agency for Financing studies and Projects (FINEP) in 1965, and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) in 1973. Apparently, these instruments did not get much attention among policy makers from strategic innovation perspective, and science and research remained marginal and isolated. One of the reasons for this was the misleading assumption made in Latin American World model in 1970s. It assumed that most important modern world challenges were not scientific but social and political. This lead to state that

“it was necessary to reduce the rate of technological development since advances in technology had already outstripped existing consumer needs.”

During this period, Brazil emerged as supplier of raw materials and crops and increased its capacity in manufacturing industry. Still in short, Brazil and other Latin American countries missed the one of the highest technological development phases in human history. Efforts to decrease the dependency to Western economies actually laid a ground for technological dependency for coming decades when global scale economic liberalization took place.

This lead to the Brazilian lost decades in 1980 – 2000. During this period Brazil as other Latin American countries’ economic development stagnated, poverty increased and income distribution gap increased. Recovery policies failed and increased the foreign dept. All this lead to super inflation and drew Brazil to economic and social turmoil.

In 1985 the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT) was formed to implement national innovation policies. However, investments to science and research does not realize overnight and didn’t help much Brazilian innovation performance during the economic and social difficulties. While Finland and South Korea as well as many other historically underdeveloped countries entered to global liberalization in 1990s with high technological capacity, Brazil and other Latin American countries were forced to rely even more heavily on foreign technologies to catch-up modern development. The Real Plan, Foreign Trade Policy (PICE) and the National Privatization Program (PND) meant Brazilian companies needed to enter global competition in 1990s. One only need look situation in sales of 50 biggest companies in Brazil in 2000 to figure out what happened. 19 out of 50 biggest companies in 2000 in Brazil were foreign owned and especially if we look high-tech industries as automobiles (9/10), telecommunications (5/10), petro chemistry (4/10), Information and communication technologies (8/10), pharmaceutics (8/10), and electronics (9/10) were foreign owned.

Stefan Zweig wrote already in 1941 “Brazil: Land of the Future”. In following decades this already became a joke arguing that “Brazil is the country of tomorrow – and always will be!” However, when coming to new millennium Brazil is finally starting to fulfil its promises.

Macroeconomic stability gained in late 1990s, President Lula’s social and international policies etc. as stated in earlier post – Brazil as natural future economy – have increased the arguments that Brazil is finally becoming a serious country not only famous of football, carnival and bikinis.

In 2005 almost century later of Santos Dumont first flight, Brazilian company Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica (EMBRAER) made again historical mark for aviation history. They unveiled the Ipanema, the first commercially produced aircraft to run solely on biofuels. This was not cause of blind change! One policy act still not mentioned in this post is the PróAlcool bioethanol policy implemented in 1975 to response the 1973 oil crises. Historical and long term evolutionary understanding of global development matters!

The Story of Brazilian Science is much more fascinating that one might think. This blog post shows that Brazilian innovation culture has deeper historical roots than many can image and lack of policy understanding for innovation have kept this part of the Brazil hidden for decades. Now it is time for Brazil to show its real face on race to tackle global societal challenges such as climate change and poverty reduction. All this culminates to Innovation Law established in 2004 which my next blog post will tackle.

If you liked it please share this below on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin or mail this to people interested on Brazil and if you want to contribute on our knowledge on Brazil please comment on this 😉

%d bloggers like this: