Thursday, April 3, 2008

Two Different Vestibular Preparatory Courses

Wednesday evening I had the chance to visit one of Educafro’s free vestibular courses. A volunteer university student taught the course to fourteen students, eleven Afro-Brazilian students and three white students. Many of the students in the course were in their thirties and forties. I had the chance to chat with the students and I discovered that many of the students had attended public schools, where, the students told me, teachers often ended class early or refused to teach them the assigned curriculum. I also learned that almost all of the students had jobs, working during the day and attending vestibular class at night. At the end of the class, I asked the students if they would want to take out a low-interest loan to support themselves while they took this vestibular preparatory course. The loan, I explained, would allow them to quit their jobs and study for the vestibular around the clock. All of the students said they would take the loan. One student explained to me that she would take the loan because she was chasing a dream, and wanted to attain the highest score she possibly could.

I wanted to see how others prepared for the exam, so Thursday morning I went to a vestibular course run by a private company. The sales representative explained that all the students had graduated from high school the year before, and that almost all the students came from private schools. The teachers were paid high salaries to teach the courses, often making more than many public university professors. The students took the class full-time for nine months. In the mornings, the students took classes on different subjects, and after a lunch break, met one-on-one with private tutors. In the evenings, the students did homework to present in the next class. The sales representative told us that the students’ parents paid their tuition for the course and supported the students as they took the course. The cost of the course was around $13,000. The median per capita income in Brazil is $7400. The company does not offer fellowships, so the course is priced out of the range of everyone except very wealthy students.

My visits to the vestibular courses confirm my belief that the vestibular exams exacerbate the income and race discrimination Afro-Brazilian and poor students face. Although many argue that the vestibular is a meritocratic exam, the exam cannot measure merit accurately when one group has so much more access to preparation resources than others. The mostly white private school students are doubly advantaged: they have the money to attend private high schools which offer a more rigorous curriculum than public high schools and are able to afford an intensive full time preparatory class to prepare for the vestibular. The Afro-Brazilian public school students, on the other hand are doubly disadvantaged: they were forced to attend public high schools with few resources, and are forced to restrict their vestibular preparation to a few hours a night. Given the vast difference in access to preparation materials, it is no mystery why white students tend to attain higher scores on the vestibular than Afro-Brazilian students.

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