Protest

Hunger strikers denounce attacks on Brazilian education

Activists criticize government reforms and potential budget cuts

Protesters demonstrate against Temer measures in downtown Rio de Janeiro in 2016 / Mídia Ninja

A key point on the agenda of the activists staging a hunger strike in Brasília for more than two weeks is the government’s attacks on education, a huge concern for Brazilians, especially the youth, according to the protesters.

Leonardo Soares was the last protester to join the hunger strike, on Aug. 6, a week after the other five activists started the extreme protest, on Jul. 31. A member of the Levante Popular da Juventude (Youth Uprising), he points out the Michel Temer administration’s education budget cuts.

Education is one of the areas that is included in the public spending cap pushed by the coup government and passed by the majority of the Congress in 2016, limiting social investments for 20 years.

The change significantly impacted, for example, the National Education Plan and its 2024 goals.

Since 2016, when president Dilma Rousseff was ousted, Brazil has been struggling to meet the deadline for goal number 1, regarding universalizing early childhood education. The country has to boost enrollment by 450,000 to achieve the goal.

Knowledge at risk

Strikers also criticize a high school reform that was passed last year, changing the curriculum to further vocational school while relieving students from taking classes such as philosophy.

“They don’t want the youth – especially working class youth – to think. They just want [the youth] to be good workers with technical skills who do as they are told,” Soares said.

Another recent controversy addressed by the activist is the budget for research grants and scholarships within federal educational institution, as the government announced early this month it could cut R$580 million (US$149 million) from the CAPES, the Brazilian federal agency for postgraduate education, in 2019. The organization informed the budget cut would mean strangling research grants and scholarships.

The government went back on the decision days later and decided to keep an inflation-adjusted budget for the Ministry of Education next year.

The press office of the CAPES told Brasil de Fato the agency was not informed about this new change. Hunger striker Leonardo Soares said people’s movements representing the youth are on the watch.

“What’s in the foreground for us is the Temer administration’s project to neglect education. A project to curtail the working class and the tools used throughout history to reflect upon their conditions and produce change,” he said.

Unemployment

The deputy chair of Brazil’s National Union of Students (UNE), Jessy Dayane, points out that other aspects of the Temer administration are directly impacting education, such as high unemployment rates, which is leading to higher college dropout rates as well.

As unemployment increases and students become unemployed, they have to find ways to make a living, making it harder for them to stay in college, Dayane explains.

She says the setbacks faced today are very frustrating for students, especially because, since the mid-2000s, Brazil saw the expansion of its universities and schools, with low income Brazilians, who were traditionally unable to access higher education, finally going to college.

“It’s a generation who had changed their expectations, their mindset, and consequently, their hope and perspectives, believing it [going to college] was possible. And now it is as if we were going decades backwards in this sense,” she argues.

Edition: Cecília Figueiredo