I flew into a gloomy Sao Paulo last weekend. People were mourning the death of former Corinthians footballer Socrates – and scanning figures just released showing flat GDP growth.
Brazilians have got used to living in one of the healthiest economies in the world, so what’s going on? In one sense the problem may be transitory. Yes, the crisis in the Eurozone is damaging export markets, and yes, Brazil has raised domestic interest rates to choke off the inflation caused by an over-heating economy. But most observers expect growth this year to settle at around 3% – a figure most national treasuries would willingly accept.
Reflective Brazilians are looking beyond the immediate debate. They believe Brazil’s recent performance is unsustainable in the medium to long term and point to the underlying reasons: the gap between rich and poor, low productivity and a weak skills base.
This puts the spotlight on education. A lot has been made of the weaknesses in the Brazil’s school system, and rightly so. Less is said about the strengths of its universities. What is definitely the case is that the country is failing to graduate anything like enough young people, either to support traditional industries or to push forward the new ones, driven by emerging technologies.
But education leaders are stirring. Take the State of Sao Paulo – the second biggest economy in South America, second only to Brazil itself. Here there’s a determined push to raise school standards overall, with convincing policies for raising teacher standards and deploying technology. And there’s growing interest in following Finland and Korea – the world’s best systems – toward an emphasis on higher order capabilities, ensuring enough young people emerge as complex problem solvers.
The Sao Paulo universities are excellent. The State of Sao Paulo University, the best in Brazil and in the top two hundred on the Shanghai Index, plans to consolidate, globalize and co-develop next generation innovations with smart businesses.
So could Brazil be the first country to build a genuine talent pipeline, nurturing students all the way through from primary school into top jobs? It wouldn’t be a moment too early. Petrobras, charged with exploiting the huge new oil and gas fields off Rio de Janeiro, are currently hiring clever post grads from the States and Europe, precisely because they can’t find the home-grown talent they need.
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