Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

The Private Sector and Education

Businesses are beginning to promote educational reform. Unfortunately, insufficient funding and stifling bureaucracies hold them back.

It is early afternoon on an overcast, cold Wednesday in São Paulo. Upon entering the Dr. Alberto Badra state school in the Vila das Belezas neighborhood of São Paulo, we are introduced to Franco, a precocious eight-year-old with a big toothless smile and curly brown hair. Several of his schoolteachers are there, too.

Franco has been waiting to show us around his school, and afternoon classes are in session. The school’s hallways are bare, displaying none of the student work typically seen in schools in the United States. He takes us to a 3rd-grade classroom, where a teacher is reading to students bundled up in jackets, hats and scarves because of the lack of heat. Approximately 30 of them follow along in books shared by up to three students, all sitting at round tables.

Keeping a child’s focus on his or her lesson is challenging enough when each student has his or her own book. It’s considerably harder when they not only have to share but have to brave the cold at their desks. Conditions like these help to explain why the performance of Latin American students lags behind that of developed and even many developing regions.

The scene in Franco’s classroom is no different than in thousands of classrooms across the region—with one exception: the presence of school tutors, funded by the private sector, helping students with their lessons.

At Badra and 55 other schools around Brazil, volunteers funded by Fundação Bunge (Bunge Foundation), a philanthropic arm of the Bunge global agriculture and food conglomerate, provide technical and instructional assistance to classroom teachers through a partnership with the Avisa La Institute, an NGO specializing in teacher training and developing teacher competence. The lamentable and depressing infrastructure, such as the lack of heat and books, may be outside the scope of what one corporation can do. For that reason, Fundação Bunge is attempting to tackle what matters most: learning and access to instructors. The program is only one of many examples of the private sector’s growing involvement in what had been for decades strictly the purview of the public sector.

Can such efforts turn around the region’s failing educational system?…


Tags: Education, Edward J. Remache, Ford foundation, Public-private partnerships
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