Society and Culture
In terms of distribution of wealth, Brazilian society is
best shown as a pyramid. The very wealthy are a small group
at the top with a large base of the poor masses underneath
the tip. This has created a class structure that pervades
every aspect of social behavior and interaction. Accordingly,
“Brazil is a highly structured society in which interpersonal
relationships are stringently restricted through dictates
of appropriateness that are based on class, wealth, ethnicity
and race (race being by far the least restrictive) . . . Movements
across these dictates of appropriateness are difficult to
impossible, even for the robust” (Watson, n.d., p. 248).
With a population
of 177,062,044 in 2003, Brazil is the sixth most populous
country in the world. Despite this, Brazil has a relatively
low population density (Demographics of Brazil, 2004). Nearly
half of its population is of European ancestry,
mainly from Portugal, France, Italy, and Holland (Demographics
of Brazil, 2004). The other half is comprised of people of
(Roland, 2001) and indigenous
populations (U.S. Library of Congress, 1997a; Page, 1995
; Summ, 1995) .
The most populated cities are São Paulo
(approx. pop. 20 million) (São Paulo, 2005), the second-largest
area (List of metropolitan areas by population, 2005)
in the world Rio de Janeiro
(12.15 million) (Rio de Janeiro, 2005), Porto Alegre
(77th/3.95 million) (Porto Alegre, 2004), Belo Horizonte
(5.3 million) (Belo Horizonte, 2005), and Recife (3.75 million)
Brazilians identify themselves not only by their nationality,
but also by the region of the country that they originate
from. For example, people from Rio de Janeiro will say they
is the official language
of Brazil and is spoken by almost 100% of its people with
the exception of some Amerindians and recent immigrants who
have not yet learned the language (U.S. Library of Congress,
1997e). Brazilian-Portuguese differs from European-Portuguese
spoken in Portugal. The distinction is similar to that between
British-English and American-English (Giangola, 2001) . A
variety of indigenous
languages (Wise, 1994) such as Tupi, Arawak, Carib
(Museu do Índio: Funai, n.d.), and Ge are also spoken but
in very small numbers.
Brazilians have universal health
care that is provided by public (free) and private (reimbursed)
facilities and providers (U.S. Library of Congress, 1997c).
The public health infrastructure oversees basic and preventive
health care, but most of the services are provided by private
nonprofit and for-profit hospitals and clinics. Affluent Brazilians
may opt for additional paid private health care.
system in Brazil (Ministério da Educação, n.d.) includes
both public (federal, state, and municipal) and private institutions
(Jorge, 1993) . All public educational institutions are free
and non-profit. Private institutions are eligible for public
funding. The entire system is divided into two main categories:
basic- and university-level education. Basic Education (Educação
Básica) includes the following:
Pre-school (Educação Infantil), is optional.
It comprises early childhood (2-3 years) and/or kindergarten
(4 -7 years).
Elementary School (Ensino Fundamental) comprises
8 grades (7-14 years of age) and is compulsory. At this level,
urban schools separate students by grade/age in each classroom.
In rural schools, multi-grade classrooms are common.
Secondary School (Ensino
Médio) is optional. Students may select to
receive vocational training or prepare for college.
University Education (Educação Superior) is
available at federal and state universities, as well as at
many private institutions, for all Brazilian students who
pass rigorous entrance exams.
A numeric grading system is standard in Brazil, ranging
from 0 to 100. The minimum passing grade is 60.
Public education is state and federally funded at all levels,
including higher education. Non-profit private schools are
also eligible to receive public funding.
Due to Brazil’s location on the globe, the academic year
begins in March and ends in December. Schools have a 3 to
4 week winter vacation in July and a summer vacation
from December to February. A minimum of 800 hours annually
must be dedicated to instruction and school activities.
- Academic year: Classes from March to
- Summer vacation from December 15 to February
- Languages of instruction: Portuguese
Brazil requires, by way of a Constitutional amendment, that
25% of state and local tax revenue be allocated to education
(UNESCO, 2000). In addition, the government provides three
free meals to 35-million pre-school and elementary students
enrolled in public institutions. In 1964, only 10 million
students were enrolled in all the various levels of education
available. In 1994, this number had increased to 42.7 million
students, 1.7 million of which were enrolled in university-level
education. The country has achieved an 84% literacy
rate (World Resources Institute, 2004).
In comparison, the United States had an estimated enrollment
of 53.6 million students in K-12 classrooms in Fall, 2002
(U.S. Department of Education, 2002). The corresponding figure
for college and university enrollments was 15.6 million students.
It is important to note that students in the Brazilian educational
system do not have the option of choosing among a variety
of elective courses. Academic curricula proscribe a set combination
of courses. The program of study is pre-determined based
on the subject (major) or track a student is in. Therefore,
Brazilian students who enter the U.S. educational system are,
unfamiliar and unsure of how to go about choosing courses
when they have the option to do so.
The Education System in Brazil:
– 100 point scale
| College Prep
| Secondary Optional
College Prep or Vocational (Ensino Médio) Optional
| 0 – 100 point
Grade – 14-15
(Ensino Fundamental) Compulsory
||0 – 100
Grade – 13-14
Grade – 12-13
Grade – 11-12
Grade – 10-11
Grade – 9-10
Grade – 8-9
Grade - 7-8
|0 – 100
From Ministério da Educação (n.d.)
| New Year's Eve and Day
|| January 1
|| 4 days preceding Lent
| Good Friday and Easter
| Tiradentes Day
|| April 21
| Labor Day
|| May 1
| St. John
|| June 24
| St. Peter
|| June 29
| Independence Day
|| September 7
| Our Lady Aparecida Day
|| October 12
| Memorial Day
|| November 2
| Republic Day
|| November 15
| Christmas Day
|| December 25
Elements of Popular Culture
Brazilian culture is influenced mostly by the Portuguese,
African, and indigenous traditions (Ribeiro, 2000) . The
tropical climate influences the Brazilian way of life as expressed
in the food, music, and clothing. Major manifestations of
popular culture include soccer, Carnaval and music. Brazilians
regard soccer as the national sport and are the winners of
three World Cup Soccer
championships (TetraBrazil Soccer Academy, 2003). Afro-Brazilians
a form of self-defense tactic and dance (Boneco, n.d.).
is the major national festival, taking place annually in February
during the 4 days preceding Lent (Soliski, n.d.). It involves
outdoor music and dance with colorful costumes and parades.
(Maria-Brazil, n.d.) includes bossa-nova
(Overview of Brazilian Music, n.d.), jazz, samba (Samba,
2005) and many other forms of popular
rhythms (Music of Brazil, 2004), such as lambada
(Vianna & Chasteen, 1999) .