If dropping out of university were an Olympic sport, Brazil could win a medal.
Rio 2016 seems to have come around all too fast since the success of London’s Olympics in 2012. But with every Games it seems we tread a well-worn perennial path about the legacy of such an event for its host nation. The stark contrast of those rich enough to attend the games, versus those living in favelas just a few miles from the stadium’s turnstiles means that once again, return on investment is under the spotlight. Could it have been better spent on health – especially in light of the Zika virus – or perhaps on technology infrastructure for education?
More than half of Brazilian students end up dropping out of higher education without earning degrees - that’s a staggering number – and yet its universities are the best in Latin America and appear among the 200 best in the world. The University of São Paulo and the State University of Campinas are two of the best Brazil has to offer.
Brazilian higher education mirrors some of the woes of both the UK and US systems, but clearly has some issues of its own to contend with too. Those domestic students wishing to attend universities in Brazil have surged in numbers dramatically in recent years, since political changes in the 1980s brought about the right to an education, swelling numbers in schools and subsequently more than doubling the number of HE students in the last decade. Public universities couldn’t cope and private universities popped up in large numbers to cater for demand. This, like America, has created somewhat of a two-speed system.
The irony is that the richest kids who were afforded a private secondary education by their parents get the top spots in the free public universities where they’re prone to dropping out because, well, its free and they have nothing to lose. Whilst the poorer kids pay to go to private universities - and also drop out at a high rate due to poor preparation and money troubles. Rich or poor, dropping out of uni could be an Olympic sport in Brazil.
Can technology reduce the dropouts?
Much like the US and UK systems, technology is an enormous driver of social inclusion and undoubtedly can help Brazil to even up some of its divisions. There are around 300 million mobile phones in the country and it’s the third largest user of Facebook behind India and the US. Just like generation Y and Z’s everywhere, Brazil’s students are online and this opens up opportunities to higher education institutions. Delivering digital learning on digital campuses is the route to solving not just overcrowding by switching the focus away from the physical campus, but meeting the demands of the growing student population as well as simultaneously helping to reduce the drop out rates once students have enrolled and begun their studies.
It’s much easier to predict failure by looking at the digital footprint left by a student online when he or she interacts with university resources. Universities can see those who are most likely to drop out based upon their interaction with online learning facilities, which ultimately provides the opportunity to correct errors long before they occur and to reduce drop out rates.
Digital learning also creates communities online and provides everything students need so that they can focus on the job of succeeding in their studies. Friction tasks like library resource, accommodation and even transport to and from their lectures can all be delivered to them via their smartphones making their day much easier and ensuring university life is made as enjoyable as possible. It also provides a collaboration tool so that they can feel supported by peers and teachers and increasingly can build networks with outside businesses that may be a source of employment beyond studying. All of these elements work together to provide a holistic university experience that students want to see through to a successful conclusion.
It’s a race to the digital finish line, but Brazil has all the components to succeed in delivering a gold standard education to its students.