More Than a Quarter of Learners in Brazil Have Not Received Any Learning Activity, Datafolha Study Finds

Using Data to Inform How We Can Support Learners
Erin Simmons
Global Head, Operations and Strategic Projects
Nathalie Zogbi
Principal (Representative)

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on learning around the world and Brazil is no exception. Just one month into the academic year — which runs from February to December — learners and educators were asked to stay home, with little notice and scarce plans for what learning might look like in the months to come.

As a result, more than a quarter of students in Brazil have not received any type of learning activity since school closures, according to Datafolha in a recent survey study that we funded in partnership with Lemann Foundation and Itaú Social. The leading research group, which specializes in public opinion polling, also found that regional inequalities are large: in the North region just over half of the students (52%) received school activities in the pandemic, and in the Northeast, 61%. In contrast, in the South, 94%, followed by the Southeast, 85%, and the Midwest, 80%.

Like elsewhere around the world, distance learning puts those with fewer resources at a disadvantage. One-third of students’ households have no internet connection; in rural areas, that number climbs to 51%. This lack of access is keeping many students from participating in distance learning. While reaching 74% of learners with remote learning is certainly a promising sign, it also means nearly one-quarter of students in Brazil were left unsupported. Thus, equitable access is a key issue for distance learning to work for all learners.

These realities are certainly difficult to face, but Datafolha uncovered some glimmers of hope: Most students are continuing to learn, largely due to strong teacher and student motivation as well as family and parental support. In this blog post, we highlight details of some of the hopeful indicators that the study found.

Hopeful Indicators for Student Learning During COVID-19 in Brazil

When teachers are dedicated and engaged, learning can happen: Teacher dedication and engagement have had a profound impact on student learning during this time. Thanks to the unwavering commitment of many teachers and school leaders who went to great lengths to support their students during this period, 74% of students in public schools received some form of remote learning activity. This marks a dramatic and positive shift from past experiences when Brazilian students have been out of school for extended periods. Prior to COVID-19, unexpected school closures meant that learners would remain largely unsupported by schools at home.

One example of these motivated teachers is Fernando Moraes, a history teacher who, for the past 19 years, has taught sixth and seventh grade in São Paulo. Witnessing the limited access his students had to remote classes, he partnered with a local radio station to offer a podcast as a study and communication tool. The initiative brought together teachers from other surrounding schools. The show is broadcast daily at 9 a.m, and students receive printed materials to supplement their studies at home.

Student agency is a powerful, driving force: Student agency makes a big difference — despite the challenges that COVID-19 presents. Willian Marciel, a 13-year-old from Goiás, had no internet connection or computer at home and used his savings from collecting soda tins in the streets to buy a cellphone. Each day, Willian used the Wi-Fi from a local butcher shop to support his studies.

While not all students have gone to these extremes like Willian, the Datafolha survey revealed that students are finding ways to stay engaged with learning. According to the parents or guardians who responded to the survey, 82% of students did most of the school activities sent by the school. Most students accessed the offered activities through some technological device (internet via cellphone or computer, TV or radio) and the majority of these students (84%) dedicate more than an hour per day towards their studies, while 29% spend more than three hours daily. We see this as an amazing testament to children and their youthful intrinsic motivation to learn, even with such adversity.

Families are essential to help support their children’s learning: Families are essential supporters in students’ learning journeys, especially during this time. However, many families struggle to balance the demands of running a household with the time to monitor, mentor and instruct their students at home. The Datafolha study found that while more than half of surveyed parents and guardians believe their children are motivated to learn and are learning, 31% fear that students will drop out of school if they are unable to follow classes at home in the long term. In addition, 58% of parents consider it very difficult for the children under their responsibility to maintain a study routine.

At the heart of our work at Imaginable Futures lies a desire and commitment to creating a more equitable education system. Together, with committed partners across government, private and social sectors, we can overcome barriers of geographic, socioeconomic and racial inequalities to ensure every Brazilian learner can get to school, get online and has the opportunity to learn.
Erin Simmons and Nathalie Zogbi, Imaginable Futures

Reflections and Closing Thoughts

We co-funded this longitudinal study with Lemann Foundation and Itaú Social with the goal to equip Departments of Education throughouts Brazil with data about the current reach of remote learning activities, and to help inform their future strategies to support learners during the pandemic and beyond.

Data were collected in May by survey and include 1,028 interviews with parents or guardians of 1,518 public school students across Brazil. Reports with findings from each of the three studies will be published and available in fall 2020. Further information on preliminary findings can be found in the official report and via CNN Brasil and Veja.

The results of the first of three reports, released in late June 2020, have provided us much insight into the current status of distance learning. The study makes it clear that public school networks, alongside private and social sector partners, have taken rapid, wide-reaching steps in this pandemic to connect students and engage families. However, more than one-quarter of learners are at risk of disengaging with learning, disconnecting from school and possibly dropping out altogether. Still, we remain optimistic: Children and educators have an incredible capacity to overcome adversity and remain committed to their goals.

At the heart of our work at Imaginable Futures lies a desire and commitment to creating a more equitable education system. Together, with committed partners across government, private and social sectors, we can overcome barriers of geographic, socioeconomic and racial inequalities to ensure every Brazilian learner can get to school, get online and has the opportunity to learn.