Improving Public Education and the Use of Public Resources in Education in the State of Pernambuco, Brazil

April 11, 2017

Public Library Vacation Schedule / Photo: Alyne Pinheiro / Secretariat of Education of Pernambuco

The literacy rates of children enrolled in grades 1 through 5 in Pernambuco’s public schools increased from 55 percent in 2005 to 86 percent by 2013. Student achievements improved in mathematics and Portuguese. The dropout rate fell between 2008 and 2014 at all levels of education, decreasing significantly in grades 6 through 9 (from 14 percent to 2 percent) and grades 10 through 12 (from 20 percent to 4 percent). Equity and results have increased in schools at the bottom of the distribution.


Pernambuco, a poor, largely arid northeastern state, was characterized by low education attainment. The resulting poorly qualified labor pool was considered a bottleneck to growth and reduced the impact of state-planned investments. Pernambuco had one of Brazil’s lowest student performance records. In 2005, nearly 90 percent of grade 4 students scored at an unsatisfactory level in both mathematics and Portuguese. Moreover, illiteracy for various age cohorts was high, ranging from 5.3 percent for 15 to 19 year olds to 25.9 percent for those 25 and over. The education system was inefficient, with repetition rates of 11 percent in grade 4 and 14.7 percent in grade 8, leading to large numbers of overage students. Dropout rates were significantly high at all levels of education. Basic services in Pernambuco lacked efficiency, coverage, and quality. A heavy administrative structure, combined with limited managerial capacity, negatively affected the government’s ability to provide public services effectively and efficiently.


The design of the Brazil Pernambuco Education Results and Accountability Project was highly innovative and relevant to addressing low performance in public education, weak public administration, and inefficient use of public resources. The project used a T-shaped approach composed of a horizontal/crosscutting public-sector management component and a vertical/sectoral component closely linked to service delivery outcomes. The state’s priorities focused on improving schools’ and students’ performance and on the efficiency of the education system. Central strategies for improving public education included the introduction of basic school standards (better quality infrastructure, equipment, and furniture and access to water, electricity, and connectivity); support for literacy and overage correction programs; adoption of school development plans; and application of state student assessments. Interventions in the public sector, such as an integrated computerized solution for public administration, supported the government’s efforts to implement results-based management initiatives to reform some of the state’s most critical management challenges in finance, planning, and general administration.

Public Library Vacation Schedule / Photo: Alyne Pinheiro / Secretariat of Education of Pernambuco


The improvement of public education in Pernambuco benefited the more than 1.3 million children enrolled each year grades 1 through 12 of the public and state schools. Interventions to better allocate public resources in the education sector and to improve the efficiency of public administration benefited more than 160,000 state civil servants through capacity-building and Pernambuco’s general population through access to better basic public services.

·         The proportion of literate students at the end of grade 6 increased from 55 percent in 2007 to 86 percent in 2013.

·         Student achievement in mathematics and Portuguese increased at all levels of education. For example, between 2008 and 2014 test scores in the primary grades rose from 163 to 188.1 for Portuguese and from 171 to 198.8 for mathematics.

·         The dropout rate decreased between 2008 and 2014 at all levels of education, but reductions were most significant in lower secondary education, decreasing from 14 percent to 2 percent, and in upper secondary education, decreasing from 20 percent to 4 percent. Changes in grade repetition and dropout rates were more significant in schools receiving the Basic Standards program financed by the project. Because of these declining dropout rates and improved test scores, Pernambuco now occupies the first position on the national upper secondary education index for 2015. Support for failing schools, the introduction of school development plans, and enhanced monitoring of student achievement through standardized assessments were the primary factors in improving public education in the state.

·         Reforms in financial management and procurement led to more efficient use of the state government’s resources in education and other sectors. For example, at the initiation of the project, procuring goods took five to six months, and at closing, procurement took an average of only twenty days; direct contracting, which had previously taken three months, took 12 days at the end of the project. The percentage of State Secretariat of Education personnel delivering education services in schools increased from 50 percent in 2008 to 88 percent in 2013, suggesting that by the end of the project more resources went directly to education in schools rather than to administrative and oversight functions. 

Photo: Passarinho / Pref. Olinda

Bank Group Contribution

The total cost of the project was US$ 751.9 million. The World Bank, through the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, contributed US$ 152.9 million. The Bank's financing (97 percent) was disbursed under a sector-wide approach. Disbursements were based on budgeted and actual expenditures under the government of Pernambuco's approved eligible expenditure programs. Eighty-seven percent of total project costs were disbursed to improve infrastructure, equipment, and teacher availability and quality in the state’s schools. Another 12 percent financed activities to improve efficiency, equity, and assessment of student learning outcomes. The balance financed public-sector interventions, with technical assistance provided through the project.


Under the State Secretariat of Planning (Secretaria do Planejamento e Gestão, SEPLAG), the Executive Secretariat for Fundraising and Program Monitoring was responsible for project coordination. The use of SEPLAG for project oversight and as the primary interlocutor with the Bank led to the development of strong partnerships among the executing agencies and better implementation of project activities. The Secretariat of Education, along with the regional education delegations, was the main interlocutor at the sectoral level. Other interlocutors included the State Secretary of Finance and the State Secretariat of Administration. Finally, the Roberto Marinho Foundation and the Ayrton Senna Institute partnered with the Secretariat of Education to implement the overage correction program and the literacy program, respectively. 

Moving Forward

The Pernambuco government remains fully committed to the project’s objectives, which have been progressively included in its programs and policies since 2008. Access to quality education for the entire school-age population, increased social inclusion, and greater efficiency in the use of public resources in the education and other public sectors are priorities on the government’s agenda. The government remains committed to using a results-based management approach and to further institutionalizing this strategic approach in all state secretariats and agencies. Many interventions successfully implemented in Pernambuco have been reproduced in other states in Brazil, such as the overage correction program, standardized assessment, monitoring of school performance, and strengthened financial management and procurement.


In addition to the 1.3 million students enrolled each year in grades 1 through 12 in Pernambuco schools, principals, parents, and teachers of students in approximately 1,100 state schools and in the municipal schools of nearly all of Pernambuco’s 185 municipalities benefited from the project. Staff and parents underlined the importance of the activities developed by the Secretary of Education, notably basic school standards, the overage correction program for reducing grade repetition and dropout rates, standardized assessments, and a state school quality index to improve and monitor school performance.  

The dropout rate decreased between 2008 and 2014 at all levels of education, but reductions were most significant in lower secondary education, decreasing from 14 percent to 2 percent, and in upper secondary education, decreasing from 20 percent to 4 percent.