I was born and raised in Brazil, in a small city of 120,000 people called Guaratingueta. I attended private school from grades 1-12, but most of my friends were from the public system of education. Then I did my BSc in a private University in another city of 310,000 people. Both were very different experiences, but they have the same cultural context embedded on them. Thus the reason for this article. I will be sharing my take on my education from back home (part 1), my education in Canada (part 2) and do a very pro and cons analysis of both experiences (part 3).
Understanding the Collective culture
As most Latin-American countries, Brazil has a collectivist culture. That means that the good of the group beats the good of one person. Or so that is what you will read in articles from North America and Europe. Reality is, the cultural standard in Brazil is… individuals SHOULD blend into the norm (for pretty much everything) or be castaways (my case most of my life :D). For example, education curriculum is the same across the country. The patterns for your typical male or female rarely vary from different states. Even what is expected from a typical student is well defined from K to PhD. The 2 things I want to focus on are the education in the Formal and Social education.
It does not matter if you are attending a public or private school, the national curriculum, number of daily hours in school and the teachers and students expectations are the same. The positive outlook is that being good or bad at school depends only on students (since all students will learn the same thing across the board). Unfortunately, that leaves little room for variation. Students are not encouraged to explore other areas besides the national curriculum. Schools do not offer extra curricular courses. The consequence is, schools in Brazil massively manufacture students that are exactly the same. Students are responsible for being different, but they can’t be too different otherwise they will be castaways from their friends and their classmates.
A positive side is that the national curriculum is broad. Students will learn Science (physics, chemistry and biology), Humanities (national and world geography, history, literature, Portuguese and English languages) as well as Math. That makes it fairly easy for students to understand the big picture and connect the dots of different areas for a specific purpose (bio-physics is a subject and easy to understand since students learned physics and biology during high school). The same concept applies to higher education. Only a few institutions in Brazil offer the credit system as we know in North America. In my case, a biologist from a private or public university will have little, if any, variation in what is learned, because the country wants all biologists to get out of university with broad but the same knowledge. In a nutshell, Brazilian students are generalists, and can easily navigate from different areas of knowledge since they learn them all during their education.
By social, I mean social skills. All these wisdom pieces that we can learn from people rather than in school. That might sound odd, but most of what Brazilians learn through their lives comes from this type of learning. As I mentioned before, Brazilians are collectivists and, in order to survive in the social environment (classroom, co-workers, distant family members, etc.), we have to adapt to the norm. And adapting to it adds layers to our personas. To give you an example… I was never into soccer (the national sport). But if I didn’t speak about soccer with my friends, I would be branded weird, therefore, no one would like to be associated with me. Thus, I had to learn about it and play soccer. I hated most of it but, because of it, I made new friends, I learned the value of adaptation to the social norm and got more active.
The same goes for being social. Most Brazilians are fairly social and easy going. But that only happens because we are “forced” to become social. If not, we don’t belong. We cannot meet the “cool” people, we will not be noticed by the girl or guy next door, or even our bosses will never talk to us. Furthermore, being “forced” to be in social situations might be bad, but it brings a lot of value. I was fairly shy during K-12, but decided to try this whole “being social thing” during University. I can spend hours describing all the awkward experiences and interactions that I had. Every time it happened, I learned and I became better at it. Nowadays, I have a huge skill set that allows me to handle social situations nicely. My last 3 bosses in Canada told me they were surprised I was so chilled around them since they were the workplace authority. Fun fact, I learned in my life that bosses are also people. They have fears and dreams. They are not just “bosses”, so why treat them like “bosses” only?
The gist of it is… no one likes being forced to do something. But there is value if you look for it. Your average Brazilian will excel into social aspects of life just because of constant exposure during their lives.
The take home message
Is the educational system perfect in Brazil? Definitely not! Does it excel in something? In being broad and in teaching the big picture. The most important thing for me is the social exposure that Brazilians have to go through. Even though it can be unwanted, it shapes Brazilians to be socially apt. Funny enough, what is being called the 21st Century Skills are mostly social skills. But that is a conversation for another article 😀
– Nikolas Zetouni
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