Racial inequality in the education system: The modern day slavery that Brazil insists it doesn’t see



Note from BW of Brazil: Can we be real about this? Inequalities in access to quality education should be considered a crime. How can any government claim it seeks equality, or “progress”  when it does nothing to equalize the means to which people can become equal? This is not to say that this exists only in Brazil. In the United States, I often marveled at some of the elite, mostly white elementary and high schools that look liked colleges and academies in comparison to the deteriorating old schools I would see in inner city, mostly non-white schools. Schools are the places where future leaders are trained and when the kids who have access to this sort of training are overwhelmingly white (or something close to it), what do we expect the VIPs of the future to look like? I’ve seen it time and time again, in various states across Brazil. When you visit private, middle/upper middle class schools, most of the student body is white. It is even noticeable how many of the children who are clearly not white often still have very fair skin. In other words, the pigmentocracy and ideology of the embranquecimento (whitening) of Brazil continues. Couple this with the fact that if one wants a quality education in Brazil (meaning private, where students outperform peers from public schools), you must have the resources to pay for it and we have a situation in which non-whites will perpetually represent the lower class. Considering Brazil’s three plus centuries of the enslavement of its black population and this should come as no surprise. 


Modern slavery and the Brazil that insists on not seeing it

Brazil still doesn’t feel indignation at modern slavery due to inequality in the educational access of each child.

By Cristovam Buarque, Senator of the Republic, was Minister of Education of the Lula government

The indignation with the denial of freedom to slaves only began to contaminate the mentality of society starting from the second half of the nineteenth century.

For 300 years, the Catholic Church supported, landowners needed, the middle classes benefited, and rare intellectuals criticized slavery.

Illustration of Jean Baptiste Debret available at the National Library of Paris, France

Slavery was comfortable and natural to the white “class”: there was no indignation or moral pretexts to extinguish it.

While it was defended for logical or economic reasons, the abolitionist cause gained some support, but it did not get the followers needed to impose itself on the historical mentality that naturally accepted the inequality between whites and blacks.

Abolition was only consolidated when abolitionists managed to pass moral indignation against slavery.


More than a hundred years later, the Brazilian population still doesn’t feel moral indignation with the modern slavery resulting from the inequality in the educational access of each child, depending on the income of the family.

Poor education is still not seen as a slave ship that takes millions of needy children toward poverty, and leads the country to low productivity, poor income distribution, violence, inefficiency and injustice.

One cannot visualize that a child outside of a good school is like a person being thrown overboard, growing up to be exploited and excluded due to the denial of education.

There is not even a name to indicate “denial of education,” as there was the word slavery to indicate “absence of freedom.”


Denial of liberty to a slave was visible in his servitude, in forced labor, in the selling of himself and his children, but denial of access to education is not seen as a national crime against humanity; nor as a stupidity against the future of the country.

Beginning in the nineteenth century, slavery became a moral aberration, but was still a technical instrument for the use of the most important economic vector, which were the arms of the slaves; in the 21st century, denial of education is a moral aberration, but it is also a national stupidity in preventing the use of the most important vector of progress in modern times: the knowledge of each free and educated citizen.


Lack of access to quality education increases inequality among whites, blacks and browns

“Quality education is fundamental for overcoming inequalities and full citizenship for all,” says Priscila Cruz of TPE

Courtesy of  Todos Pela Educação

Lack of access to quality education increases inequality among whites, blacks and browns

Racial Inequality

A study by the Todos Pela Educação (TPE or All For Education) movement, based on the National Household Sample Survey (Pnad/IBGE), highlights educational inequalities that affect populations that declare themselves parda (brown) and preta (black) (representing 45% and 8.6% of the total population, respectively), in comparison to the population declaring itself branca (white) (45.5%) in the country.

% of children aged 0-3 years that attend school in Brazil – Total – White – Black -Brown

In Child Education, the difference between the percentage of care for branca and parda children was, in 2014, 7.5 percentage points (pp) in the day care center and 3.8 pp in preschool. It is interesting to note that in the 0-3 age group, the percentage of preta children is higher than that of children declared branca in almost all of the historical series (2001-2014), however that of parda children is always the lowest. In the age range of 4 and 5 years, the percentage of preta and parda populations is lower, but the gap, which reached 5.7 pp between branca and preta children in 2001, has been reduced.


In the age group of 6 to 14 years old, corresponding to Elementary School, attendance rates are not so different among whites, blacks and browns, but when one observes the percentage of young people who can complete this stage up to a maximum of 16 years, the weight of the inequality is again noted. While this rate is 82.6% among the white population, the percentages among the black and brown youth are only 66.4% and 67.8%, respectively’ a difference of up to 16.2 pp.

% of children between 4 to 5 years of age that attend school in Brazil – Total – White – Black – Brown

For the population aged 15 to 17, the figures again point to large disparities in rates of service. The percentage of young people declared white in this age group attending school is 6 pp higher than those declared black and 6.7 pp higher than among those declared brown.

% of persons 16 years of age that have completed primary school in Brazil – Total – White – Black – Brown

When we look at the population aged 15 to 17 who is in high school (net enrollment rate) the inequality is even greater. The difference between the percentage of white young people aged 15 to 17 years in high school and young blacks and browns is about 15 pp.

% of youth between 15 to 17 years of age that attend school in Brazil – Total – White – Black – Brown

Among young people aged 15 to 17 who are not in high school, some of them have already dropped out of school and another is still in elementary school. The rate of age-grade distortion in elementary school is 5.6% among white students and 16.3% and 12.6% among black and brown pupils, respectively. Among those outside of school – 1.7 million in total – 9.6% and 58.7% are respectively blacks and browns – higher rates than the participation of these groups in the general population of 15 to 17 (8.3% and 50.4%, respectively).

Rate of enrollment of High School of young people ages 15-17 in Brazil – Total – white – black – brown

Illiteracy rates also demonstrate the enormous inequality between races in terms of access to quality education. While among whites, the illiteracy rate is 5%, for blacks and browns it’s 11%.

The Plano Nacional de Educação (NPE or National Education Plan 2014-2024) establishes in several of its goals and strategies actions to combat racial inequalities. Goal 8 of the determines, for example, that the average schooling of the black population (9.4 and 9.5 years for blacks and browns, respectively) is equated to the average schooling of the white population (10.7 years).

Percentage of students of 5th, 9th and 3rd grade primary school with adequate learning  in Portuguese and Math – Saeb Brasil 2013 – White – Brown – Black

Inequalities reflected in Learning

According to several studies already published, the socioeconomic level has a great impact on the students’ school performance. In this sense, it is important to note that preta and parda populations account for 69% of those in the lowest income quartile of the country (up to R$414 per month per capita, currently about US$133).

All these aspects that promote inequality in access to quality education are reflected in the indicators of learning. Analyzing data from the Saeb (MEC/Inep) of 2013, it is observed that the percentages of students who reached an adequate level* of performance in the 5th and 9th year grades of Elementary School and 3rd year of High School are lower among those who declare themselves to be preta and parda than those who declare themselves to be branca, both in Portuguese and in Mathematics.

Data for Brazil, referring to students from federal, state, municipal and private schools participating with more than 10 students in the classes evaluated. Self-declared race/color by the students who answered the questionnaire. *The difference in the performance of pretas and pardas for the 3rd year of high school is not statistically significant.


According to Pnad data, the average per capita family income (family income divided by total family members) in 2014 of the parda and preta population was just over half (55% and 56%, respectively) than income in the branca population. The unemployment rate, historically, also affects the população negra (black and brown population) more. While among whites it was 5.1% in 2012, for the black and the brown population it was 7.5% and 6.8%, respectively. Parda children are the most affected by child labor – a rate of 7.6% compared to a national average of 6.7% in 2012.

The lack of access to quality education has serious consequences for the emancipation of the black population (pretas and pardas) in Brazil, according to Priscila Cruz, executive president of the Todos Pela Educação movement. “Quality education is a fundamental condition so that those who have been historically excluded and disadvantaged can break the inequalities and fully exercise their citizenship. There is a lot of evidence that confirms the transforming power of education, we need to start using that information to think of public policies and put education, once and for all, as the central axis of our country’s development project,” she says.

* Adequate learning: The movement considers that the student has adequate learning that reaches or exceeds the following scores for each discipline in each evaluated year:

5th year of Elementary School: 200 in Portuguese and 225 in Mathematics

9th year of Elementary School: 275 in Portuguese Language and 300 in Mathematics

3rd year of High School: 300 in Portuguese and 350 in Mathematics

Source: Brasil Post, Todos Pela Educação

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. The good thing is that, despite what upper class “white” Brazilians think, the powers that be finally understand that you cannot have half the country remain undereducated AND move forward as a populace. You cannot have a bunch of lazy white people retiring at 55 and costing taxpayers R$10.000 – R$ 100.000 per month for 30 – 40 years AND move forward. You cannot continue to have dumb white people who can barely read and write or solve basic problems to lead organizations AND move forward. You cannot have lazy, lying, white politicians continue to steal R$ 200 BILLION per year from the public funds AND move forward as a populace. I suspect that we will see these trends change for the better, over time. I would also argue that the white illiteracy rate is much higher than what is suggested in the research. This is because almost ALL of the supposedly educated “white” adults I’ve worked with can’t seem to even write a grammatically correct sentence or paragraph in Portuguese. They try to hide their ignorance by insisting that Portuguese is the hardest language in the world, but when you ask Portuguese people or Africans if this is true, they disagree. Dumb white doctors don’t have basic problem solving skills and can’t practice basic family medicine, but somehow, (Black) Cubans have had enormous success in poor communities working with very few resources. It will be interesting to see what th next 5 – 10 years will bring.

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