Although today was our last day in Recife, we decided to keep the travel and tourism to around a half day in length. Leo, our tour guide, meet us at the Shell gas station down the block at 10 o’clock in the morning, meaning we were able to sleep in a little bit later than normal and eat a late breakfast. Yesterday, he had told us that we would go to Recife’s Stadium (Arena Pernambuco), visit a Local artist studio and gallery (Francisco Brennand), and check out Francisco’s cousins (Ricardo Brennand) collection of artifacts – items like swords, knives, paintings, and sculptures.
The ride to the stadium was about half an hour long, so to pass the time Leo kept talking about things we would see in the bus related to Brazilian culture, economics, politics, and social status. As Leo is a very knowledgeable tour guide, we talked about everything from soccer to the Brazilian military. What struck me and moved me the most was the major difference between social classes.
In Brazil there are five categories in which one can fall into when discussing social rank: A, B, C, D, and E, here are there brief descriptions… The A class is simply the rich and extremely wealthy, this class contains only three percent of the population and makes well over 10,000 Reais a month. The B class consists of the businessmen and women who I would consider to be upper-mid class. It is estimated that this class is about fifteen percent of the population and makes over 5,000 Reais a month. Moving on to the largest class in Brazil, categorizing fifty-five percent of the population, the C class. This class is considered to characterize mid-class citizens who make between 1,500 and 2,500 Reais a month. Next is the D class, this class is also referred to as lower-mid-class and is based upon the minimum wage earners, making about 750 Reais a month; this class is roughly thirteen percent of the population. Finally, we get to the lowest class, the E class, what Brazilians call the miserable. The E class is also roughly thirteen percent of the population, however, this class lives on less than two Reais a day. Haha, so much for brief, anyway, after learning about the five social classes, everything I was seeing through the windows of the bus made a lot more sense.
Recife, at least the area near our pousada, is home to mostly A and some B class citizens, which is why the neighborhood we are in doesn’t have many homeless people and appears to be maintained well. However, when we venture away from the coast and wealthy niches of the city, it is an entirely different story. In the B, C, and D class areas of the town, the economical drop off is clearly seen. Vendors line the streets in order to sell their products for a small amount of income and people wander through rows of traffic during red lights selling anything from fruit, to steering wheel covers, to hand crafted jewelry, in fact I even saw a girl washing windshields in stopped traffic for a few Reais. Additionally, less fortunate people have turned the green space between the entries and exits of federal roads and highways into garden space; these low status citizens have done this solely for the purpose of growing their own food to feed themselves and possibly have some produce left to sell for profit. The reason for the odd location, the green space is considered public, so the land is divided into small plots of earth free of charge. Sadly, while driving around, areas of E class citizens are the easiest to spot. Shanty towns, consisting of squatters and hundreds of favelas stand out like a sore thumb, they house those who have almost nothing to their name but the feebly constructed roof over their head, if they are lucky. These E class citizens, with poor living conditions and personal environments, will do any job possible for a measly ten-cent coin or wander the streets begging for money.
It was obvious to me that something needed to be done in order to shorten the gap between the social economic classes of Brazilian society, but what? As part of Lula’s Bolsa Escola plan, under the major social policy referred to as Bolsa Família, “families with qualifying children whose per capita income was less than 50 percent of the minimum salary would be entitled to R$15-45 per month, depending on the number of children” (Kingstone 164). Although this plan sounds wonderful, it has ultimately failed to make any visible progress in educating the poor and closing the inequality gap in Brazil. Low class citizens began forcing their children to go to school only because they received a stipend in return, which is fine, however, the education they received in exchange lacked in quality.
In Brazil, the K-12 schools (as Americans would call them) are either public (free, and poor quality) or private (tuition, and wonderful quality), but the universities are public and are paid for by taxes (free, and amazing quality), basically opposite of the United States. Most families cannot afford a private education, so they send their children to public schools; the problem with public grade schools is that the teachers are not as good, the level of education and rigor is extremely low, and they do not receive a lot of funding in order to make improvements to their curriculum. Private grade schools are the exact opposite, they have the best teachers, the students are greatly challenged in their academics, and with tuition costs they can afford to make all the necessary improvements and adjustments to develop the student experience and better the curriculum. The public universities are simply the best higher education a Brazilian can receive; this is where the money and focus is geared. When it comes time for the students to apply for the universities and take their entrance exams, who do you think gets accepted into one of the few available spots? Of course, the student with the better scores on their tests, which is almost always the student who attended private grade school. This is why I believe that there needs to be more focus on public grade school education, providing a better opportunity for those with less money to advance themselves in the future.
PS. Sorry for the length; I was moved by what we saw and heard
Kingstone, Peter, and Timothy J. Power. Democratic Brazil Revisited. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008.