With the goal of guaranteeing universal access and overcoming the 2 Megabits per second internet connection barrier, which hinders the use of technology in education, the Brazilian government announced the creation of Programa Brasil Mais Inteligente (the Smarter Brazil Program) on Monday, 9 June. The goal is to bring high speed broadband to 95% of the population and fiber optic access to 70% of municipal districts by 2018.
In the context of education, this includes, as a key theme, the Minha Escola Mais Inteligente (“My School Is Smarter”) project, which substituted the Plano Banda Larga nas Escolas (Broadband in Schools plan), and aims to reach 30,000 schools by 2019. The announcement comes months after the Internet in Schools campaign, championed, in 2015, by the Lemann Foundation and the Inspirare Institute, which brought together students and educational professionals from across Brazil to carry out speed tests to evaluate the quality of the internet in their schools. In the same spirit of mobilization, a report by the Rio Technology and Society Institute pointed out the failures of the PBLE to meet its obligations.
Managed by Telebras, the project aims to benefit around 20 million students in its first stage (up to 2019). Minister André Figueiredo explained that My School Is Smarter is one of the priorities of the Program. “The project represents principles that we believe in, and our partners understand this. In other words, that equality of access to the knowledge provided by the internet is imperative”, he said.
The president of Telebras, Jorge Bittar, confirmed that the initial investment will be in the region of R$ 500 million, from the MiniCom (Ministério das Comunicações) (Communications Ministry) itself. And that more funding is expected from the MEC (Ministério da Educação) (Ministry of Education), with R$ 400 million budgeted in 2017, R$ 500 million in 2018 and R$ 600 million in 2019, respectively.
Bittar also explained that the goal is to reach a speed of 78 Megabits per second in schools. “This will represent a real leap forward, which is why we have the idea of creating a national high speed platform, with an average of at least 78 Megabits per second in our schools. Today, most schools have an average of 1 or 2 Megabits per second, which is basically nothing,” Bittar said at the ceremony.
Asked about the existence of a broadband speed table in schools, the president of Telebras explained that this detail will depend on the number of students in each educational institution. The selection of institutions was carried out by MEC, prioritizing, in part, those with the worst educational performance. Another set of schools was selected for their strategic locations in various cities.
Luís Cláudio Costa, executive secretary of the Ministry of Education, said that My School Is Smarter represents a step towards inclusion in Brazilian education. He cited, as an example, the fact that much of the continuing education of teachers takes place through the Open University of Brazil, whose results depend on internet access being available in every corner of the country. “This step is vital because teachers need this training,” he said.
Even in the face of a political crisis in which the Brazilian Senate may approve the process of impeachment against Dilma Rousseff, the Communications Minister ended the ceremony by stating that while the actions of the Program are entirely feasible, its continuity will depend more on the political will to take digital inclusion forward than the raising of funds to meet the primary surplus targets. “It’s a feasible strategy. Of course there is a long way to go to do but we made sure to launch the program as it is, convinced that it is a feasible and necessary project. It is an essential project for Brazil, involving not only government ministries but also service providers, small producers, Telebras, Anatel and the many researchers who have addressed this issue” he said.
Translated by James Young