In our recently published paper titled Leveraging Market-Creating Innovations to Solve Brazil’s Education Paradox, we describe how Brazil currently spends more money on education than its Latin American peers, however much of the outcome of its education system is subpar to theirs in comparison. This mismatch in spending versus outcome is what we call Brazil’s Education Paradox.
Although the government is doing what it can to fix the problem, progress has been slow. Since 2013, the government has been working to implement a National Education System but education stakeholders continue to disagree on details of the system and how to implement it.
Thankfully there is hope. By leveraging solutions from Brazil’s innovators, the government can improve outcomes in its education system instead of waiting to fundamentally change the entire system.
Four market-creating organizations–Mind Lab, Descomplica, eduK, and Árvore Educação– are already having a significant impact in Brazil.
Mind Lab researches, designs, and deploys innovative educational technologies for the development of cognitive, social, emotional, and ethical skills and competencies. The core of the organization’s mission is to improve learning outcomes, regardless of socioeconomic background. The company has developed a service that schools can more easily integrate into their existing infrastructure.
The organization leverages digital technologies where it makes sense and where its users have access to devices and the Internet. In circumstances where users don’t, Mind Lab has created other ways to engage with students and users.
When a school signs up for the Mind Lab program, students, families, and teachers get a box with materials. Each box contains a family book, student books, and a game library (a book that contains all the Mind Lab games). The program also provides digital assets such as online games, digital versions of the books, and socio-emotional tests.
The model is available for all grades in the basic education system in Brazil.
Several studies have been conducted on the impact of the Mind Lab methodology. A 2004 Yale University study showed that Mind Lab improved reading and math proficiency. Since then, more than ten other studies have shown the efficacy of the model and how it aids learning.
To date, more than 10,000 schools and 5.6 million students and families have used Mind Lab.
With a Gini coefficient of 48.9, Brazil ranks as one of the countries with the most wealth inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean. Education is often considered a great equalizer, but in Brazil it actually accentuates inequality. The richest states in the country spend up to four times more on education per student than some of the poorest ones.
This is especially important in Brazil because of the Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio (National High School Exam, or ENEM for short). More than eight million students take the test annually to determine the chances of getting into a federal university and most of the top-tier higher education institutions—a gateway to a good job. It also serves as a certification for a high school diploma and is used as selection criteria for a federal scholarship program.
In short, doing well on the ENEM can change the trajectory of the life of a student from a low-income family. But chances of a low-income student doing well on the test and attending university are slim. That’s one of the problems Descomplica aims to solve.
Descomplica started out by offering preparatory classes for the ENEM to help level the playing field for socio-economically disadvantaged students. High ENEM test scores are correlated with higher income and, before Descomplica, test prep courses were expensive. These courses were largely available to the wealthy and, because of how important they are to university admission and getting a good job, they simply bred more inequality.
Descomplica developed an affordable online solution that adapts to students’ lifestyles. The organization offers live classes throughout the day to accommodate students’ schedules, more than 15,000 online videos, and private tutoring for specific problems.
The organization offers a free model through its social media channels and a paid subscription model. The cost of its paid subscription model is around $5 a month. Similar prep courses, most of which are designed to serve the wealthy, often range from $370 to $1,150 a month.
Descomplica’s learning management system has been shown to increase students’ test scores by as much as 31%. Almost 90% of Descomplica students are from families with monthly incomes lower than $1,000 (about half the Brazilian population).
Brazil’s reading and literacy statistics are at once impressive and disheartening.
Although Brazil’s literacy rate surpasses 90%, only 8% of the country’s “economically active population,” or those participating in the workforce, can read and interpret a complex text, according to Danielle Brants, founder of Árvore Educação. More than 55% of Brazilian schools don’t have access to a library.
Árvore is working to change that by offering students access to a myriad of books, news articles, and English language content through its reading platform.
Instead of building tens of thousands of libraries across Brazil, schools can adopt the organization’s reading platform—the Tree—and get access to digitized content with language that is written at their students’ reading level. Schools and government agencies can get access to its digital library for a subscription.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Árvore served 200,000 students in 400 schools. After the pandemic sent millions of students home and further exposed Brazil’s inequalities in education, Árvore scaled its operations. Today, the organization serves more than one million students across the country.
Since 2012, unemployment in Brazil has more than doubled from about 6% to 14%. Worse is the fact that almost six million people gave up looking for work because they didn’t believe they could find a job.
The eduK platform is designed to reverse this trend as a one-stop shop for income generation, especially for Brazilians who are currently unemployed or underemployed. One of the goals of the platform is to “structure the unstructured,” according to Ivan Pereira, a vice president at Mind Lab.
The platform currently hosts 3,200 courses, 1,100 experts, and more than 8 million subscribers. The service costs around $50 for an annual subscription.
When users join the platform, they choose from several work options for how they’d like to generate income. For those who need it, the platform recommends courses to help them acquire the skills necessary to do work in the area they’ve picked.
Once a person is connected to a job (also applicable if the person is self-employed), eduK works with them to create a guided path that helps them acquire more skills so they can advance in their career. For example, say Thiago gets a job as a delivery driver, but someday wants to own his own distribution and logistics company. eduK empowers him with the skills to help him achieve his goals.
To date, more than 100,000 people have completed courses on eduK’s platform, with over 22,000 getting access to new sources of income.
To further increase its reach and impact, eduK has signed up almost 40 companies seeking to fill job openings. In any given month, there are approximately 15,000 new job opportunities on eduK’s platform.
Each of these organizations is providing a cost effective solution to help Brazil improve its education system. The Brazilian government need not solve its education paradox alone. Supporting these organizations can lead to better outcomes in the country.