Class performance

Brazil offers a good example of how international benchmarking can improve education. 

In the 1950s, 64% of the Brazilian population still lived in rural areas and more than 50% of those people were illiterate. Improving education gradually became a priority among the country’s leaders, but convincing parents of the importance of more and better quality education for their children was a challenge.

Brazil’s geography made it difficult to improve access to education: the country’s 193 million inhabitants are spread out over some 8.5 million square kilometres–an area slightly smaller than the US. With around 83,000 rural schools, many with one or two teachers, scattered across the country, the quality of both the teachers and the education they provided was limited. And the school system’s extensive use of grade repetition meant that the age of students in any given class could span two to six years, making teaching more difficult. By 1995, 90% of students were in schools, but only half of them completed 8th grade.

And those who made it that far took an average of 12 years to get there because of the poor quality of teaching and low student achievement that led to repeated grades. In 2000, 13.6% of Brazil’s adult population was considered illiterate and 75% were functionally illiterate, meaning those people were not able to read long texts, follow subtitles, compare two texts, carry out inferences and syntheses, solve math problems, or work with maps and graphics. That year, Brazil was the lowest-scoring country in PISA.

But during the past decade, Brazil appears to have been able to produce measureable improvements in student achievement across different assessment areas. The country has invested significantly more resources in education, raising spending on educational institutions from 4% of GDP in 2000 to 5.2% of GDP by 2009, and allocating more of those resources to raising teachers’ salaries. It is also spending that money much more equitably than in the past.

In addition, educators in Brazil cite the Basic Education Development Index (IDEB), created in 2005, as key to improving school results across the country. The index is based on both the average achievement on national examinations in Portuguese language and mathematics conducted in 4th, 8th and 11th grades, and on the rate of student promotion. The calculation creates a score from 1 to 10, with the levels linked to the international PISA scale. The explicit goal of the Brazilian government is to reach the average PISA score in 2021, the year before the 200th anniversary of Brazil’s independence.

Educators have accepted the system because they believe it is fairer to compare a school’s current performance to its past performance than to set an arbitrary score that all schools should reach. Unlike many other countries, Brazil includes both public and private schools in the assessment and for targeting purposes. Since the index was adopted, national performance in primary schools (1st to 4th grade) has risen from 3.8 in 2005 to 4.6 in 2009, outperforming the target of 4.2. In intermediate grades (5th to 8th grade), the index has gone from 3.5 in 2005 to 4.0 in 2009, outperforming the target of 3.7; and high school (9th to 11th grade) performance rose slightly from 3.4 to 3.6 during the same period. PISA reading scores also improved between 2000 and 2009.


See also: 

Brazil's Basic Education Quality Index 

©OECD Observer No 287 Q4 2011

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019

OECD Observer Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Subscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To order your own paper editions,email

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • MCM logo
  • The following communiqué and Chair’s statement were issued at the close of the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level, this year presided by the Slovak Republic.
  • Food production will suffer some of the most immediate and brutal effects of climate change, with some regions of the world suffering far more than others. Only through unhindered global trade can we ensure that high-quality, nutritious food reaches those who need it most, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, write in their latest Project Syndicate article. Read the article here.
  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2019