Brazil’s own goal

May 22, 2014

The recall from Canada and Australia of students on Brazil’s flagship study-abroad scheme, Science Without Borders, is a very sad story (“Flying back to Rio: dismay as Brazilian scholars sent home”, News, 1 May).

One of the main issues is that of inadequate English language skills. Capes, the Brazilian Federal Agency for the Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education, should have ensured that the young people on the scheme had adequate language skills before allowing them to go abroad. Equally, neither Capes nor other organisations provide affordable English language courses to fill the gap: of the many courses available, most are beyond the financial means of the majority of students.

Those students who opted to go to Portugal but were turned down because of oversubscription should not have been transferred to an English-speaking country without first fulfilling the English language requirements.

Poor English is the Achilles heel of Brazilian education. Brazil ranks 45th in the world in the use of English despite having the seventh largest economy.

I am a visiting professor at the University of São Paulo, where I am one of the very few professors who teach postgraduate research in English, although it has become the norm in many other non-English-speaking countries.

Absolutely everything that is done in research is evaluated in English by the whole world. Brazil has got to start accepting part of the responsibility for improving English within its universities. Currently, universities simply point fingers and state that is a task for high schools. That would be true in an ideal world, but not in Brazil, given the gross deficiencies in public school education. Equally, dumping the English problem abroad is causing a lot of aggravation and costing a lot of money at present.

Peter Pearson

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