ELL Assessment for Linguistic Differences vs. Learning Disabilities
Home Languages Cultures Examples Resources About Us
The Power of linguistically and culturally responsive classroom assessement
Society & Culture
National Holidays
Popular Culture
Main Page
Cultural Differences
Home› Cultures› Brazil› Society & Culture

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 African descent (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 metropolitan 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) (Recife, 2004).

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 are Cariocas.


Portuguese 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.

Educational System

The educational 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.

Grading system

A numeric grading system is standard in Brazil, ranging from 0 to 100.  The minimum passing grade is 60.

School financing

Public education is state and federally funded at all levels, including higher education.  Non-profit private schools are also eligible to receive public funding.

School calendar

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 December
  • Summer vacation from December 15 to  February 28
  • 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:

Post-Graduate Higher Education
0 – 100 point scale
Teacher Training
College Prep - Vocational
12th grade
11th grade

10th grade

9th Grade
Secondary Optional
College Prep or Vocational (Ensino Médio) Optional
0 – 100 point scale
8th Grade – 14-15 Elementary (Ensino Fundamental) Compulsory 0 – 100 point scale
7th Grade – 13-14
6th Grade – 12-13
5th Grade – 11-12
4th Grade – 10-11
3rd Grade – 9-10
2nd Grade – 8-9
1st Grade -  7-8
Kindergarten– 4-7 Preschool Level
0 – 100 point scale
Early Childhood – 2-3

From Ministério da Educação (n.d.) Organização.

Brazilian National Holidays

New Year's Eve and Day January 1
Carnaval 4 days preceding Lent
Good Friday and Easter Varies
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

Other 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 developed capoeira a form of self-defense tactic and dance (Boneco, n.d.).

Carnaval 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.  Brazilian music (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) .

©2005 Maria de Lourdes Serpa.
All Rights Reserved. Term of Use
Home | Languages | Cultures | Examples | Resources | About Us | Site Map Lesley University