Private Schools for Expats in Brazil

Submitted: April 2014

The main problems for expats with the publically funded state schools in Brazil are that all of the teaching is done in Portuguese, and the standard of education and resources offered is not high enough. As a result most expats will attend private schools. There are generally two kinds of private schools in Brazil: Brazilian private schools and International schools. Brazilian private schools teach the Brazilian curriculum with an aim to educate the children to a level consistent with passing the vestibular exam for entry into university. International schools tend to educate to standards such as GCSE (UK), PSAT (USA) and International Baccalaureate. This article is only concerned with Brazilian private schools.

Day nurseries are available for children under the age of 2, kindergartens for 2 and 3 year olds, and pre-schools once they reach the age of 4. There are two kinds of pre-school: Maternal which are effectively playgroups, and Jardim which are more academic. Schooling is compulsory from the ages of 6-14 and is divided into two stages:

Ensino Fundamental I (primary school): Ages 6-10, and

Ensino Fundamental II (lower secondary school): Ages 11-14.

At both levels your children will study maths, science, history, geography, Portuguese, art and PE, but at Ensino Fundamental II they must also study one, or sometimes two, other languages. Exams take place at the end of each year to decide whether your child goes up into the next year or repeats the existing one.

After the end of Ensino Fundamental II, Ensino Médio or upper secondary schooling is optional and takes place between the ages of 15 and 18. The curriculum is the same as in the previous school, but also includes sociology and philosophy. The main purpose of Ensino Médio is to prepare your child for entry into university or technical college. This is achieved by passing the multi paper vestibular exam. There is an additional multiple choice exam called Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio (ENEM). Some universities will use the result of the ENEM only to determine admission, most universities use a combination of both results. Competition for places at public universities is fierce, there may only be one place available for every 25 children taking the vestibular. Children from private schools tend to win approximately 75% of the available places.

For city dwellers, the number of available schools is generally large. Here for instance is a list of schools in Morumbi, São Paulo, a popular suburb for expats. Choosing a suitable school can involve a delicate balance between various factors. If the school is in a city, the two most important factors are likely to be the school’s location and the ranking of the school in the results tables. Before deciding on a particular school it is probably a good idea to do a dummy school run, at both drop-off and pick-up time, to see how long it takes. Even short trips in cities can take a long time due to the generally appalling traffic conditions. There is little point in picking the school with the best results, only to find that you are facing at a two hour school run twice a day. You should also be aware that many schools have long waiting lists.

Because of the demand for places at private schools in Brazil, the school day is generally divided into a morning session running from approximately 7.00 until 12.00, and an afternoon session running from 12.00 until 17.00. Your child will only attend one of these sessions. So in effect there are two distinct sets of pupils for each school. This means that two children attending the same school and in the same year may never actually meet each other.

The following information is generally required for registration (matriculate):

Generally you will also have to pay a registration fee (matrícula) which is often the equivalent to one month’s tuition, but can be much higher in some cases.

Unlike state schools, private schools are free to set their own term dates, so you will have to check with the schools themselves. The first term of the school year generally begins in mid-February to early March and runs through until the end of June. July is taken as a holiday, and the second term starts in August and runs through until early December. There are usually two half term holidays, each lasting one week; the dates of these vary from school to school. In addition, all national holidays are generally also observed.