In 2017, under the government of former president Michel Temer, Brazil approved a controversial reform of secondary education, considered by experts to be anti-reform because it reproduces an anachronistic, exclusionary and perverse model. In the face of criticism, Lula’s government temporarily suspended the deadlines for the implementation of the New Secondary Education (NEM) and opened a public consultation to hear society’s views.

The consultation to evaluate and restructure the National Secondary Education Policy took place between 8 March and 6 July. The Participa+Brasil platform received 11,024 contributions and a WhatsApp survey of the school community heard from 139,159 people, including students, young people who did not identify themselves as students, teachers and managers.

There were also 12 webinars with experts, five seminars organised by the National Association of Postgraduate and Research in Education (Anped), public hearings with organisations linked to the sector and meetings with students.

The results of the public consultation were compiled in an Executive Summary and presented by the Minister of Education, Camilo Santana, in early August, together with the proposal of the Ministry of Education (MEC), which will serve as the basis for the legal changes to be sent to Congress.

Main results

The MEC grouped the contributions to the public consultation into 12 clusters. In relation to educational equity, human rights and democratic participation of students, the majority said that the NEM had a negative impact on the right to education in the country and affirmed the need for specific guidelines for rural, quilombola, indigenous, riverine, disabled and low-income youth.

There was massive criticism of the reduction of the General Basic Education (EGB) teaching load from 2,400 teaching hours to 1,800 hours, reserving 1,200 hours for elective content distributed in five educational pathways (Natural Sciences and their technologies, Languages and their technologies, Applied Humanist and Social Sciences, Mathematics and their technologies, and Technical and Vocational Training).

The Government’s proposal is to re-establish the charge assigned to the FGB at 2,400 hours, with the exception of the offer of technical courses, for which a minimum of 2,200 hours would be set. The MEC suggests that the composition of the FGB should include Spanish (as an alternative to English), art, physical education, literature, history, sociology, philosophy, geography, chemistry, physics, biology and digital education.

Law No. 13.415/2017, which amended the Law of Guidelines and Bases of National Education and instituted the New Secondary School, establishes that only two subjects are compulsory in the three years of the course: Mathematics and Portuguese. The other subjects listed in the Common National Curriculum (BNCC) are distributed among the five educational pathways.

The student who chooses the Natural Sciences and their Technologies pathway, for example, studies chemistry, physics and biology. The teaching of geography and history, in this case, is not compulsory. Similarly, pupils who choose Languages and their technologies are not obliged to study chemistry, physics and biology.

As the NEM stipulates that 40% of classes should be devoted to electives, many schools end up offering unusual subjects to supplement the workload, such as entrepreneurship, cookery, public speaking and leadership. This has provoked widespread criticism from the school community, including students, who submitted a technical note to the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Artur Lira, outlining the problems with the policy.

Formation programmes

Another proposal of the MEC is to reduce the number of training itineraries from five to three, which would be renamed itineraries of deepening and integration of studies. Only Languages, Mathematics and Natural Sciences; Languages, Mathematics and Humanist and Social Sciences; and Technical and Vocational Training would remain. The use of distance learning in FGB, which was also heavily criticised in the public consultation, would be banned, being limited to 20% in the case of Technical Vocational Education, on an exceptional basis in specific situations.

The MEC also commits to announce strategies to restore the learning of students affected by the covid-19 pandemic and the perverse effects of the NEM, in conjunction with education systems and civil society. The idea is that the 2024 National High School Examination (Enem) will be limited to the FGB and that the format for subsequent years will be discussed with society.

The National Confederation of Education Workers (CNTE) stated that the results of the public consultation and the preliminary proposals of the MEC are a “victory for Brazilian society and social mobilisation”, but pointed out that some improvements still need to be made. Before sending the text of the bill to the National Congress for evaluation – which should happen in the coming months – the MEC still intends to receive contributions from educational organisations that want to comment on the summary of the public consultation.