Achieving equity through finance: helping Indigenous populations in Brazil

On the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, this blog outlines successful policies in Latin America that have helped redistribute funds to help bring about equity in education, and benefit its indigenous populations.

scales_pinkTo achieve Education for All, it is necessary not only to increase domestic resources for education but also to redistribute these resources equitably so that a fair share reaches marginalized groups. More often, however, resources are skewed towards the most privileged.

To shift education spending in favour of the marginalized, some governments have introduced compensatory funding formula, which allocate more resources to locales, communities or schools that are in need of greater support, such as indigenous populations. This can help overcome educational deprivation and socio-economic inequality.

Brazil weighs its national spending in order to tackle widespread education inequality between states; inequality that affects its indigenous populations the most. In the poorer northern Amazonian states, for instance, income is less than half the level in the richer southern states, so tax revenue and spending per pupil are significantly lower.

scales_blueTo address this imbalance and prioritise the needs of marginalized indigenous groups, the government introduced in the mid-1990s the Fund for Primary Education Administration and Development for the Enhancement of Teacher Status (FUNDEF). This school funding reform guaranteed a certain minimum spending level per pupil. Schools in rural areas were generally favoured over urban schools, with greater weight given to those attended by marginalized indigenous groups.

map_blog3Recognising state disparities in the quality of teachers between poorer and richer states, 60% of Brazil’s new fund was earmarked for teacher salaries. This is very much in line with the findings in the EFA GMR 2013/4, which showed that the uneven allocation of trained teachers  can widen equity gaps in learning. By 2002, the new funds had enabled almost all teachers to acquire minimum required training, and ensure an influx of fully qualified teachers to schools serving students from marginalized groups. In fact the teaching workforce in Brazil increased by around one-fifth in the years since 1997.

And more significantly, average school attendance of the poorest 20% in Brazil rose from four years in the mid-1990s to eight years by 2006. Between 1997 and 2002, average enrolment increased by 61% in the North-East region and 32% in the North region.

There are economic benefits to prioritizing equitable education

In Latin America and the Caribbean, educational attainment is on the rise: on average, adults had spent 3.6 years at school in 1965 which increased to 7.5 years in 2005. The Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2013/4 estimated that this contributed to two-thirds of the average annual growth rate in GDP per capita in the region between 2005 and 2010.

However, not all countries in the region kept pace. In Guatemala, for example, completed years of schooling among adults in 2005 was just 3.6 years. The Report calculated that, if Guatemala had matched the regional average, it could have more than doubled its average annual growth rate between 2005 and 2010, from 1.7% to 3.6%, equivalent to an additional US$500 per person. A major reason for Guatemala’s poor performance is that members of indigenous groups have historically received half as many years of schooling as non-indigenous groups.


On the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, let’s jog the memories of those forgetting to include them in their education policies and reform plans. The benefits that come with redressing historical inequities by improving the provision and quality of education for children from indigenous groups accrue not just for the child, but for the whole of society.

This entry was posted in Equality, Ethnicity, Language, Latin America, Marginalization, Rural areas, Teachers. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Achieving equity through finance: helping Indigenous populations in Brazil

  1. I am glad to note the steps taken by Brazil to make education really to be with in the ambit of the poor and powerless, – giving more to those who have less- positive discrimination formula adopted even in developed countries as in USA for certain communities.

    However, there is more that could be done to improve the quality of LT in remote marginalised areas and groups helping the poor and powerless to become more empowered.
    This refers to developing educational programs that are more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the poor and powerless.Such a project was carried out in Sri Lanka for those who study in small schools – marginalised and starved of resources. Eight dimensions were identified by the research team through a preliminary case studies of a few selected schools. The publication is available free on request (CD) which spells out the derails of the roles of stakeholders in this innovative project.

    S.B. Ekanayake Ph.D
    CEO Association for Educational Research and Development in Sri Lanka (AERDSL)
    former Basic Education Adviser
    UNESCO/UNHCR Central Asia


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