Created by means of a Provisional Measure during the Temer government (MDB), the New Secondary School (NEM) is being gradually implemented in the country’s schools, mainly since last year. The biggest reform in this school stage since 1971 is at the center of a battle over the direction of education in Brazil.
The demand for the immediate repeal of the new model is being embraced by the student movement, by trade unions and teachers and also by researchers, and gained strength last March 15, when demonstrations called by high school students took place in 51 cities.
Among the main criticisms of the NEM are its approval without discussion with society and the detriment of disciplines in the basic sciences in favor of a low-complexity entrepreneurial professionalization.
Under pressure, President Lula (PT) and the Minister of Education, Camilo Santana, claim that the new model will not continue “the way it is” and that they will hold a public consultation on the subject until June, to outline necessary repairs. There was no signal from the government, however, that the model will be revoked rather than adjusted.
But what is, after all, the New High School?
MP 746 issued by Temer in 2016 instituted, among other points, the policy to encourage the expansion of full-time schools. Converted into Law 13,415 in 2017, the measure established the New High School.
Expected to be completely consolidated in Brazilian schools by 2024, the new model extends the minimum time a student spends in school (from 800 to 1400 hours a year) and institutes a new curriculum organization, including the option of professional technical training.
Disciplines are now divided into four major areas of knowledge: languages, mathematics, natural sciences and human sciences. These should occupy 60% of the course load in high school.
The other 40% are covered by so-called formative itineraries. They are a set of complementary subjects, coupled according to the area that the student chooses to specialize in, such as humanities, exact or biological.
The vague or unusual names of new disciplines have yielded memes on the Internet. Among them, “What’s going on around there”, “Become a millionaire”, “Homemade Brigadeiro”, “Mundo Pets SA”, “Art of living”, “RPG” and “Projeto de vida”. After choosing his training itinerary, the student cannot change his mind: he has to study it until he graduates.
In theory more choices, in practice less
Advertised as a system that increases students’ freedom of choice, the itineraries have been the target of criticism for, in practice, doing exactly the opposite. High school students and teachers heard by the Brazil in fact point out that, in addition to this system imposing bizarre disciplines in place of basic ones, smaller schools and municipalities with few schools – often just one – are unable to offer many options for itineraries.
It was what made Ana Ponce, aged 17, change schools in Curitiba (PR). At Colégio Estadual Jayme Canet, where she was before, there was only the exact exact course. Since she prefers humans, she had to look elsewhere. Now she is at the Professor Lysímaco Ferreira da Costa State College, which, in turn, does not offer other possibilities besides human ones.
“We don’t have much to choose from. You don’t have the option to adapt and take the classes you want. If you don’t have the itinerary you want to follow, you have to change schools”, says Ponce, who is also director of Brazilian Union of Secondary Students (UBES).
Widening gap between schools
“Realities are not being considered”, summarizes Iago Gomes, a teacher at the only state school in Candeal (BA), a city in the interior of Bahia, with around nine thousand inhabitants.
If Ana found it difficult to find a school that offered an itinerary of her interest in the capital of Paraná, Iago reinforces that it is necessary to think “in schools in the interior, in the periphery, that cannot have this variation of ‘menu’ to distribute to students.”
“Schools from large educational conglomerates manage to maintain the same basic curriculum by inserting training itineraries, because they have better structures, more teaching staff”, argues the professor. “Many public or smaller schools are unable to do this”. Thus, he opines, “the NEM increases the abyss that exists in educational inequalities in Brazil”.
From “Homemade Brigadeiro” to “Ethics and leadership”
Andressa Pellanda, from the National Campaign for the Right to Education, recalls the wave of school occupations by high school students in 2015 and 2016, which spread across the country. “They mobilized for a new secondary education, but what was proposed is not what they demanded”, she laments.
“What happened was a lack of funding, devaluation of education professionals and a cut in the curriculum”, criticizes Pellanda. “They took time away from essential classes, such as Philosophy, Sociology, History, to replace subjects that didn’t make any sense and weren’t even discussed with the students”, she adds.
Ana Ponce, for example, is taking the route of her choice, but misses the subjects mentioned by Pellanda. “These are important classes not only for the formation of our critical sense, but also for the entrance exams, which are about interpretation”, she explains.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have these classes. Philosophy in the second year of high school doesn’t exist here. It was replaced by Ethics and leadership, which is a class in coaching”, describes Anna. “You don’t learn anything, you just close your eyes and imagine. Which is what the teacher asks us to do. Sit at the table, close your eyes and imagine what we want in the future”, she reports.
Sociology classes, which were twice a week, were reduced to one, which takes place online on Saturdays. “They just launch an activity that you answer by marking X and you get your grade and presence”, says the high school student.
“So we have a very big gap of important classes, to start some classes that have nothing to do with it, like Life Project. They exchanged arts for Social Media, which is basically where we learn to abbreviate things in the WhatsAppthose things that nobody needs.”
Inversion of the teaching method
In Iago’s view, “the serious problem with these new disciplines, no matter how much we make memes and laugh at the names, is that they are disconnected with the reality of the school and with what serious education researchers assess as a methodological need for teaching and learning”.
“If, for example, I want to teach my student a chemistry formula, substances, mixtures, from a class in which I take a brigadeiro to be done in the classroom, that is methodology. Not the name of the discipline”, he explains.
“What is being proposed is the inversion of this. It is transforming the methodology into a discipline, losing contents that are extremely necessary”, evaluates Gomes.
Teachers have to teach outside their areas
Before the arrival of NEM, Iago, who has a degree in Languages, taught Portuguese, Arts, Physical Education and History. Now, with the increase in the workload and the rearrangement of the curriculum, he is one of the many professors across the country who have been relocated to teach content far from their area of training.
“In 2019 I had four discipline plans. Now I have 11”, he says. Among the new classes under his responsibility is, for example, Biology. “Even if I search, research, study, I’m not going to get close to a professor in my own area. But I need to do this. Not in one, but in several disciplines. That’s what NEM imposes”, attests Gomes.
At Colégio Estadual José Rufino, where Iago works, even two of the subjects that remain mandatory at NEM, Portuguese and Mathematics, had the number of classes drastically reduced to make way for the newly created subjects of the itineraries. Among them, Art of living, Feelings of the world and My body in the world.
For the President of the National Confederation of Workers in Education (CNTE), Heleno Araújo, the expansion of the workload imposed by the NEM increases school evasion, already in accelerated growth due to the covid-19 pandemic. “A good part of young people, especially the poorest, cannot stay at school all day because they have to work, help the family support themselves”, she points out.
The high school dropout rate more than doubled between 2020 and 2021. Data from the National Institute of Educational Studies and Research Anísio Teixeira (Inep) show that the percentage increased from 2.3% to 5.6%. In the North region of the country, the rate reached 10.1%.
In September 2022, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) released a survey finding that two million children and adolescents between 11 and 19 years old are away from classrooms in Brazil.
Marry or revoke?
Last Tuesday (21), President Lula said, in an interview with Brazil 247who spoke with the Minister of Education about the NEM and that Camilo Santana “will hold a discussion so that we can do something pleasant for the government, but also for the students”.
To the Brazil in factthe Ministry of Education (MEC) informed that it “reinforces the conviction to subsidize any decision-making and reassessment regarding the New Secondary Education based on broad and democratic dialogue”.
In an ordinance published on March 9, the MEC instituted the holding, within 90 days, of a public consultation, through hearings, seminars and surveys, for the “evaluation and restructuring” of the NEM.
In addition to the MEC itself, the process will be coordinated together with the National Council of Education (CNE), the National Forum of State and District Councils of Education (Foncede), the National Council of Secretaries of Education (Consed) and the National Forum of Education (FNE).
The Consed, an association that brings together State Departments of Education, has already publicly positioned itself in defense of the NEM. “Adjustments, typical of any process, can and should be discussed, but revoking is not an option”, says a note released on March 13th.
For Pellanda, “it is not possible to mend this reform, because it has a totally inadequate basis in terms not only of the curriculum but of the whole utilitarian and reductionist model that it defends, a model that deepens inequalities”.
“We need it to be repealed and to be carried out across the country, with the participation of the educational and scientific community, the construction of a new high school in fact with the quality and complexity it demands”, defends Pellanda.
“What the MEC has been doing today is listening to private education organizations much more than those that are on the school floor”, evaluates Iago Gomes, who sees the NEM “like that wall of the house that is about to collapse”: ” You’re not going to deal with the problem by painting the wall. You have to tear it down and build another one.”
Editing: Thalita Pires
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