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Why Brazilian Students Are Getting Worse At Math

It's simple economics: people with math skills have higher-paying job offers than teaching.

Brazil has a deficit of 65,000 math teachers
Brazil has a deficit of 65,000 math teachers
Fabio Takahashi

SÃO PAULO – The percentage of students with a sufficient knowledge of math decreases in Brazilian public schools over the course of junior high school, according to a new study.

The NGO Todos pela Educacao (All For Education) compared students’ achievements in public school from 2007 to 2011. They used the results of the Prova Brasil (Test of Brazil) exam, an assessment carried out by the Ministry of Education on students in 5th and 9th gradex in urban public schools, as well as a sample from rural and private school students. The test assesses Portuguese language and math skills.

The study found that students with an adequate knowledge of math fell from 22% when they were in 5th grade in 2007 to 12% when they were in 9th grade, in 2011.

Around 88% of them were not able to calculate percentage, a plane figure's area or read information in a column graph. In Portuguese language, the decline was not as pronounced – from 26% to 23%.

One of the main reasons cited by experts was the shortage of math teachers from grades 6 to 9.

“A young person with math skills will get higher wages working as an engineer or in a bank. Few want to teach,” explains Professor Rogerio Osvaldo Chaparin, from the University of Sao Paulo. According to the Ministry of Education, there is a deficit of 65,000 math teachers in Brazil.

In 2010, Igor Willian, 17, spent an entire year at his school in Sao Paulo without a math teacher. “I still have problems with math today,” he says. “I'd like to study civil engineering, but I'm afraid of flunking in calculus.”

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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