Teaching the Basic Sciences in Brazil

Date: c. 2011
Source Type: Images


This photograph shows a science class in Brazil. Biology, like physics and chemistry, is considered to be a basic science, research-based work that is instrumental to the development of new innovations. The basic sciences (like the biology seen here) have, however, generally been lacking from Latin American institutions while the focus (since the Bourbon reforms of the late eighteenth century) has been on applied science, or the useful arts, pursuits such as agriculture, engineering, and mining. Although applied sciences are necessary for a country to generate wealth, build infrastructure, and modernize, too much emphasis on them can detract from pure research in the basic sciences. Teaching the basic sciences without the complimentary focus on pure science relegates a country to always being a step behind those countries actively engaging in research.

In the second half of the twentieth century, enrollment at Latin American institutes of higher education began to rise at an incredible rate; whereas 250,000 students attended college or university in 1950, over 6,000,000 enrolled in 1980. In the 1990s, about 25% of all students in higher education sought degrees in technology or engineering, as compared to only 3-4% who worked in the basic sciences. Part of the reason for this discrepancy is that the only jobs available to researchers are for the state because there are few private research institutions that can offer good wages. Nevertheless, students receiving technical training also experience difficulties finding employment; there are simply not enough jobs for everyone in engineering and the other practical sciences. Thus the goal of teaching applied science to improve the economy is often unachievable because the economy is not strong enough to employ those same specialists.

Reference: Vessurri, Hebe. "Higher Education, Science and Engineering in Late 20th Century Latin America: Needs and Opportunities for Co-operation." In European Journal of Education, Vol. 28, no. 1 (1993), p. 49-59.

CITATION: Science education in Brazil, 2011. Image copyright UNESCO Brazil.