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Foggy Forest


Adult Learning in Brazil: A Multicultural Approach

Ana Ivenicki


Adult Learning in Brazil has arguably had an important role worldwide thanks to the influence of the great educator Paulo Freire and his transformative focus on respecting and valuing adult learners’ cultural contexts and incorporating them in generative themes to be worked out in adult learners’ literacy acquisition. Freire’s ideas have impacted multicultural thinking, which has been generally understood as a set of theories and practical actions to improve the lives of marginalized groups (Ivenicki, 2018,2021). Such Freirean and multicultural ideas have been central in educational policies for adult education in Brazil. By looking at the National Plan for Education 2014-2024 (Brazil, 2014), it is arguably possible to look at how far a multicultural lifelong perspective has been in place for adult education in Brazil. It also is important to gauge how adult education has improved and what developments could possibly be pointed out for the next ten years.

Adult Education and the National Plan for Education

Adult education in Brazil has been viewed as a responsibility of the federal government since the introduction of the National Constitution in 1988 in Brazil, which considers it to be a way to address the persistently high rate of adult illiteracy among the country’s disadvantaged groups. As discussed elsewhere (Ivenicki, 2020), the National Plan has 14 articles and an annex where twenty goals and their strategies are delineated for ten years. Those specifically referring to adult education are numbers 3, 8, 9, and 10, which emphasizes the need to eradicate illiteracy. Goal 3 addresses the need to universalise primary school for those between 15 and 17 years old and points to an intended increase of this group’s proportion in entrance to secondary education to 85%; goal 8 defines a horizon of elevating schooling for those between 18 and 29 years old to twelve years of study by 2024 in 85% within urban areas and to 25% in the poorer rural areas. Goal 9 expresses the idea that the rate of literacy among the population aged 15 years old and over should be raised to 93,5% by 2024. Goal 10 is that 25% of primary and secondary schooling of adult education should be linked to some kind of professional training for those adults  beyond the regular school curriculum.

It is interesting to highlight two points. Firstly, as claimed by Osborne and Houston (2012) in the context of the UK, there seems to be a trend evidenced in most of the goals in the Brazilian National Plan for Education (Brazil, 2014) of leaving lifelong learning in later life as secondary (and indeed almost invisible) in relation to lifelong learning for younger people. On another note, there also is a multicultural perspective particularly noticed in goal 8, which points to the need to make the average schooling of whites and blacks the same, showing sensitivity to diversity and equity in adult education.


As we approach the year of 2024, the answer as to how adult learning has become more/less important over the past ten years should be assessed, to prepare for the next National Plan (2024-2034). The goals as expressed in the National Plan for Education 2014-2024 (Brazil, 2014) have evidenced that adult education has been more and more sensitive to cultural diversity (particularly looking at goal 9, for example), following Paulo Freire’s perspective. Additionally, as it can be noted from the goals, adult education has been a concept more used in Brazilian policies than lifelong learning, even though it can be argued that lifelong learning should provide a broader framework that could address education along the life of adult students, rather than a view of restricting it to the acquisition of literacy and of knowledge in formal primary and secondary schooling. As argued by Slowey and Schuetze (2020), an intersectional approach should be fostered that could try and represent the intricate relationships that shape opportunities for inclusion and participation in higher education and lifelong learning. 

In terms of developing equity in higher education, as argued by Mendiola and Pérez-Colunga (2020), it is tightly linked to equity at prior levels, which should guarantee that students from marginalized groups could break the structural selectivity of the educational system, in Brazil and abroad. On a positive note, in Brazil, it should be noted that the institution of quotas for entry at public universities for black, indigenous, and poor students has increased access of adults to higher education. Likewise, programs for tax exemption for private universities that offer scholarships for those groups have also increased the presence of black, indigenous, and poor adults at this level of education. As possible future developments, such perspectives could arguably be boosted if they could be thought of in a broader lifelong learning framework in educational policies, to view adult education as a continuum from literacy acquisition to higher education access and permanence of adults of all ages and cultural, and ethnic-racial identities.  


About the Author

Ana Ivenicki holds a PhD from the University of Glasgow. She is a Professor Emeritus of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro/UFRJ, and a Researcher for the Brazilian National Research Council/CNPq, Brazil. Areas of Research Interest are: Multicultural and Comparative Education, Adult Education and Lifelong Learning, Teacher Education and Educational Research in Multicultural Perspectives. Email: 


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Brazil, Presidency of Republic (2014). Law 13.005/2014, National Plan for Education (2014-2024.

Ivenicki, A. (2018). Multiculturalismo e Formação de Professores: Dimensões, possibilidades e desafios na   contemporaneidade. Ensaio. Avaliação e Políticas Públicas em Educação, 26(100), 1151-1167.

Ivenicki, A. (2020). Lifelong Learning in Multicultural Brazil: Challenges for higher education. In M. Slowey, H.G. Schuetze & T. Zubrzycki (Eds.), Inequality, innovation and reform in higher education: Challenges of migration and ageing populations (pp. 145 – 157). Springer.

Ivenicki, A. (2021). COVID-19 and multicultural education in Brazil, Perspectives in Education, 39(1), 237-241. 

Osborne, M., & Houston, M. (2012), United Kingdom: Universities and lifelong learning in the UK – adults as losers, but who are the winners? In M. Slowey & H. Schuetze (Eds.), Global perspectives on higher education and lifelong learners (pp. 112 – 132). Routledge.

Slowey, M., Schuetze, H. G., & Zubrzycki, T. (2020).  Implications of migration and ageing populations for inclusion and equality in higher education and lifelong learning.  In M. Slowey, H.G. Schuetze & T. Zubrzycki (Eds), Inequality, innovation and reform in higher education: Challenges of migration and ageing populations (pp. 3 – 24). Springer.

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