Participants in the fifth FAPESP 60 Years Conference discussed the use of evidence and data to improve education (photo: Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil)
Published on 11/01/2021
By André Julião | Agência FAPESP – One of Brazil’s oldest educational policies is the distribution of textbooks by the state, an activity of the utmost importance to the delivery of basic education, especially in smaller towns far from the main urban centers. Few studies show what is working well and what needs to be improved in these materials, however.
This is one among many examples of the lack of research to inform education policy in Brazil, especially for primary and lower secondary schooling, according to the participants in the fifth FAPESP 60 Years Conference, held on October 20. A recording of the event is available on YouTube.
“Our basic education requires reforms in many respects, but a key issue is the need for planning and execution to be far more science-based, more driven by data and evidence than they are now. We need to apply the evidence gleaned from scientific research, and at the same time continue to gather more information. For this reason, FAPESP is highly interested in contributing to this discussion, supporting proposals and projects that aim to produce this information, and helping to design public policies to apply it,” said Marco Antonio Zago, President of FAPESP, in his welcoming remarks to participants in the event.
The mediator was Mozart Neves Ramos, a member of FAPESP’s Board of Trustees and of the National Council of Education (2005-14 and 2018 – current).
Rossieli Soares, São Paulo State Education Secretary, recalled the creation of an advisory bureau on educational evidence at the Brazilian Ministry of Education in 2018, when he was the minister, to make data provision transparent, foster appropriate use of evidence, and promote innovation to enhance the quality of education policy. During his term in the state government, he has set up a service entitled Office of Evidence.
“We aim to foster increasing generation and use of evidence for use in decision-making by the secretary and all areas of the state education system. The purpose of the Office of Evidence is precisely to strengthen the relationship between the state department of education, as the player responsible for formulation and implementation, and academia and civil society, as producers of knowledge,” Soares said.
Surveys and indicators
Sociologist Simon Schwartzman argued that there is a large amount of information in the education system that has not been used to improve Brazilian education. According to Schwartzman, a researcher at Casa das Garças Institute for Economic Policy Studies in Rio de Janeiro, external assessments and surveys to produce indicators should not be an end in themselves.
“Indicators have problems as well, but living in the world of indicators and their problems is much richer than living in a world without them,” he said.
The reason for not using the data generated is often that it may create discomfort for vested interests or conflict with rigid perceptions. “It’s a battle of ideas. The evidence generated by indicators won’t have the impact we’d like it to have unless there are people in government capable of understanding, discussing and analyzing the problems, and persuading certain sectors. We must improve the quality of our surveys and other research, but the capacity to implement policies based on the results also needs to improve,” he said.
Neuroscientist Roberto Lent, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and coordinator of the National Science for Education Network (Rede CpE), compared the use of scientific evidence in health and education.
According to Lent, neither education nor healthcare can be improvised or administered intuitively but must be science-based. However, there is a bridge between science and health that has yet to be built in the case of education.
“In health, this was clearly demonstrated when the pandemic hit us. The scientific basis for healthcare was laid after World War Two, and the results have been astounding despite the acute inequality in Brazil. Child mortality has fallen dramatically, and life expectancy has improved a great deal, modifying the age pyramid. Nothing of the kind has been seen in education,” he said.
In the health sector, research is stimulated by the potential for direct application, but this is not the case in education. Calls for research proposals, for example, are specific in health but generic and far less frequent in education, Lent added.
In response to this concern, the São Paulo State Department of Education (SEDUC) and FAPESP are soon to issue a call for research proposals whose results will be implemented in basic education, Soares announced.
“Brazil needs to learn how to do education based on evidence. We have important research findings, but most of them come from the northern hemisphere. For example, reading and writing should be linked up with research in neuroscience. This should be a key goal,” he said.
A recording of the event is at: youtu.be/yFK_A8dRddk.
The first four FAPESP 60 Years Conferences are at: 60anos.fapesp.br/conferencias.