Pernambuco, Brazil: They used to be the worst schools. Now they set an example

December 21, 2012


Classrooms were refurbished at Maria Gayão School in Araçoiaba. The project also enabled the construction of a library, a computer lab and a cafeteria.    

Mariana Ceratti / World Bank.

  • A World Bank project helped to improve quality standards for teaching and infrastructure in public schools.
  • The initiative focused in the worst performing schools. 159 have been benefitted since 2009; another 62 will take part until 2014.
  • Pernambuco’s success story is already inspiring other states to improve their education systems.

Is the flamingo flight
The fig pulp
The Sunday afternoon
The milk and gooseberry
The collar of a red old shirt
Is the color of candy
And even if it weren’t a color
How sweet it would still be.”
(Pink, by Brazilian authors Lalau and Laurabeatriz)

Araçoiaba, 40 kilometers away from Recife, is one of Pernambuco state’s poorest cities. Around 85% of its 18,000 inhabitants subsist on less than US$ 2 a day. In addition, 80% of the kids live in rural areas – and often have to work in their families’ fields.
Still, when a classroom door opens at Maria Gayão School, pupils welcome visitors with verses they know by heart (like the ones above) and smiles. This is the only high school in town. “I like studying here because teachers are really nice. They treat us like family,” says 17-year-old Aleson Mota, who frequently gets there early to study in the library and meet his friends.
The school library, a source of local pride, was developed with the help of a World Bank project that sets quality standards for Pernambuco schools. Also a cafeteria and a computer lab were built, while classrooms, toilets and furniture were improved.

“Students help keeping the infrastructure in place because the school is their hope for a better life,” says principal Claudivan Claudiano. 1,645 students are currently enrolled, ranging from the 5th to the 11th grade.

" I lend them my ears whenever needed. Countless pupils have no emotional support at home. "

Silvano Araújo

Portuguese teacher at Maria Gayão School in Araçoiaba, Pernambuco

Curbing dropout rates

Since 2009, the initiative aimed at improving not only the infrastructure, but the students’ grades in Math and Portuguese, as well as the schools’ management. Currently 159 schools take part in the project. Another 62 will be added until 2014.

“When infrastructure and teaching quality improve, schools like Maria Gayão become a focus of community life,” says Madalena Santos, education specialist at the World Bank.

“We picked the worst performing schools statewide,” adds Shirley Moura, who coordinates the project at the government of Pernambuco. An annual certificate is now given to the ones that fight vandalism and properly manage the budget, while retaining teachers and curbing dropout.

The latter is one of the most important concerns in cities such as Araçoiaba. To address these issues and keep pupils motivated, teachers work with poetry, music, and videos in the classroom. In addition, educational apps for tablets – both provided by the state government – make classes more fun and interactive.

“I engage my students more easily when I use these resources,” says Silvano Araújo, who has been teaching Portuguese at Maria Gayão School for five years.  “And what’s more important, I lend them my ears whenever needed. Countless pupils have no emotional support at home.”

Inspiring neighbor states

His efforts – and his colleagues’ – are bearing fruit: since 2009, the percentage of students whose performance was rated below average dropped from 45.4% to 26.3%. In addition, the school surpassed in 2011 the Basic Education Development Index (IDEB) projected by the Ministry of Education for that year.

“The schools benefitted by the project set an example to other Northeastern states,” concludes Madalena Santos. “Governments from Alagoas and Rio Grande do Norte, for example, are already seeking inspiration in Pernambuco to improve their education systems.”