By Daniela Caldeirinha
Last week, the Anísio Teixeira National Institute for Educational Studies and Research (INEP) released the results of the Alfabetiza Brasil Survey, which defines what constitutes a literate child by the end of the 2nd grade in Brazil. This is a crucial step towards reversing Brazil’s critical literacy situation. This criterion shall serve as a basis for the federal, state, and municipal governments to design, implement, and improve their literacy policies with more precise assessments and goals.
There are two dimensions. The first is Brazil’s national learning assessment (SAEB) score. The national assessment is conducted every two years on 2nd graders and determines the rate between literate and non-literate students. The assessment’s cutoff score of 743 points categorizes students as either literate or non-literate. The second encompasses defining the skills and competencies of a literate child in Brazil. The structure of INEP’s defined skills are below:
“Students are considered literate when they read short texts composed of brief sentences and can locate information on the surface of the text. They make basic inferences, drawing on the connection between verbal and non-verbal elements, as seen in comics and cartoon strips. They also produce texts, with some spelling errors, used in everyday life for simple communication, such as invitations or reminders.”
“Students are beginner readers and writers when they interact more autonomously, primarily with texts found in everyday life and the literary arts, engaging in reading and writing practices typical of school literacy.”
The structure above is undoubtedly a step forward. It is solid, provides examples, and creates a basis for the country’s needed discussion. However, despite its solid foundation, it lacks specificity and requires further elaboration to fulfill its purpose. For instance, it does not detail the types of texts and level of complexity that 2nd graders should read, what kinds of spelling mistakes to expect at this stage, or what it means to be a beginner reader.
Introducing measures that elicit these skills is crucial to guide decisions and provide input to support teachers in the classroom. The long-awaited National Child Literacy Commitment is expected to introduce a series of guidelines and incentives for states and municipalities, and this information will be necessary. The Ministry of Education (MEC) is anticipated to support states and municipalities in developing supplementary literacy-focused teaching material. What types of texts should this material include? How long or short should they be, and what are the criteria for word selection and sentence structure? Another example pertains to the assessment itself: What assessments can measure whether children have fully developed the skills described in the structure INEP released?
Another aspect, just as vital, is the lack of focus on mathematics. Ernesto Martins Faria and Katia Smole stated in an Estadão article (available on the Terra Portal), “Not prioritizing Math in the early years of elementary education is a failure in combating critical educational inequalities.” They pointed out that “advanced neuroscience studies have shown the potential of mathematical thinking in building brain structures that support native-language literacy and vice versa.”
So, what we have is an essential first step. And that’s how any journey begins. However, we cannot miss the window of opportunity before us lest we miss the pivotal subsequent steps. The National Child Literacy Commitment could bridge the gap between where we are and where we aim to be—where all of Brazil’s children will be literate by the end of the 2nd grade.
More about the Alfabetiza Brasil Survey
It was a two-stage survey. Between April 15 and 23 of 2023, INEP and MEC consulted teachers from all five regions of Brazil to collect information about the competencies that characterize a truly literate student, per Brazil’s National Learning Standards (BNCC). Then, in May, around 20 education experts discussed the information from the first stage and reviewed the technical and pedagogical aspects to determine the national literacy cutoff point.
The data shows that in 2021, 56.4% of 2nd-grade students were non-literate