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Booming For-Profit Education In Brazil

Brazil might have a model for private sector education which the United States can emulate.  For years, Brazil has struggled to populate its world-class university and college system with students capable of meeting tough academic standards.  Now, private companies are succeeding where public schools have failed.  The FT reports:

Investors in Brazil frequently complain about the country’s weak education system, characterised by high-quality public universities and private colleges that are let down by poor state schools. But while this remains a problem, private sector education companies have started a revolution in post-secondary education that has tripled the number of places available to the country’s booming lower middle classes.

Some of these, such as Anhanguera Educacional Participações, are entering the ranks of the world’s largest education companies by student numbers as they rapidly expand their reach through Latin America’s biggest economy.

“Between 2000 and 2010, Brazil has gone from 1.8m students in higher education to 6m-6.5m today,” said Alexandre Oliveira, principal investment officer at the International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank and an investor in Anhanguera. “That additional capacity has essentially come from the private sector.”

Private-sector education is having a positive impact for the poor especially: “Wage increases boosted the incomes of the poor, lifting more than 30m people into the middle classes over the past decade.”  International corporations, like Pearson, are also beginning to cater to Brazil’s demand for education and are partnering with local companies to offer new programs and divisions.

Brazil’s private sector education industry has demonstrated that with the right demand and incentive structure, private education can be both lucrative and effective.  The US should follow Brazil’s lead.  Decentralized and privatized education companies, properly monitored and managed, can seriously lift the standard of schooling here and elsewhere.  Take Ontario for example. As the Economist reported not long ago,

When Dalton McGuinty was elected Ontario’s premier in 2003, he embraced “whole-system reform”. Instead of directing reforms from the centre, the government encouraged schools to set their own targets and sent experienced teams to help them get there. Schools with large numbers of immigrant children could apply for special help, and could choose whether to extend the school day to do this, or work longer with the slower pupils.

Decentralized systems with many different kinds of participants and many different programs give parents and students more choice (and teachers and administrators more options) as competition improves quality overall.  It’s time for something like this to happen in the United States; we need all the educational help we can get.

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  • Toni

    This has been going on in India for years.

  • Luis Arauz

    Two questions. How can the state (public) keep sending low performing students and the country still have world class universities? Shouldn’t the colleges have floundered by now?

  • Paul

    Surely I am incorrect in thinking that Mr. Mead has just endorsed the termination of state “education” in the United States? This is a conclusion which he has seemed unwilling to draw in the past.

    If my assumption is correct, and Mr. Mead is proposing that private education come to the fore even as various governments continue taxation to support their own systems of education, I will point out in response that only the unusually motivated, or the unusually prosperous, will participate in such private education. They may indeed improve their outcomes with private education, but the odds are good that they would have done comparatively well in the failing state institutions also — that’s the kind of families that they are.

    Only dismantling of the whole coercive and bureaucratized structure — and here both aspects are critical — will have the desired effect. As with any policy, some of the effects will be negative, and some positive, and so the choices among them must be dictated by fundamental philosophy. I offer that we have seen what the choices implied by modern liberal democracy have yielded.

  • Jack B

    Anyone who knows anything about Brazil knows how incorrect this analysis is.

    Brazil’s education system is one of the major factors that limits its growth while creating a population incapable of creating a legitimate political system. Oh, did I mention it’s the third most unequal country on earth and that it is plagued by violence that makes the US look like Switzerland?

    When public education is junk, and you offer people the next best thing, they take it. That does not mean it’s a good system.

    Private education costs most people here an arm and a leg. Research the numbers. I’m talking a month’s minimum wage or two every month to get your kid educated, from K-university.

    Considering how unequal Brazil is, that means only the rich can truly educate their kids.

    Even worse, these people all end up competing for public sector jobs (through ‘concursos’) because the private sector is undersized and undercompetetive.

    Looking to other countries for solutions is great. But this analysis is junk.

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