By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Thursday, July 3rd, when a new public creche (nursery), originally promised in 2010, opened in the Rocinha favela community, Jornal do Brasil reported some 200,000 families applied for the nursery’s mere 150 available spots, revealing a need for more daycares and preschools in Latin America’s largest favela.
The new Rocinha daycare is part of the growth acceleration program known as PAC (Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento), a program, first enacted by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2007, that encompasses numerous measures, including the creation of Emergency Care Units (PSUs), the Basic Health Units (BHU), sports programs in schools, as well as the construction of, and purchase of equipment and furniture for new creches and preschools for children up to the age of five throughout Brazil.
With the government investment of R$3.4 million, the site will be administered by the department of municipal education. An estimated R$7.6 billion was earmarked for the construction of six thousand nurseries and preschools by the end of 2014 in Rio de Janeiro alone.
At the inauguration in Rocinha, governor Luiz Fernando Pezão said “This is an area of quality education, that has a partnership with the City of Rio. In recent years, the community has received a series of works from PAC which provides for other [efforts].”
According to the mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, the project is in line with the city’s goals and vision, and represents progress. “The nursery was built by the state, along the lines of about 129 spaces of development that already exist in the city,” he said at the opening.
However the amount of families looking to enroll their children in Rocinha is stagering compared to the capacity of the new daycare center. Also, according to the city’s Department of Education, the truancy rates reduced by 2.29 percent between 2009 and 2013, yet there remains a primary school attendance problem.
A recent survey conducted by Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC) of one Rocinha primary school with 430 students, showed during the time period the school was studied, 10.9 percent of the students attended classes infrequently and another three percent dropped out of the school.
Research coordinator, sociologist Marcelo Burgos told O Globo that the PUC research was motivated by the recent murder of Rocinha resident, twelve-year-old Alan de Souza and that the collection of the data could help the Conselho Tutelar da Rocinha (Guardianship Board of Rocinha) to aid families in keeping their children in the area’s schools and off of the streets.
In the U.S., a forty-year long case study conducted by early childhood education advocate James Heckman examined the effects of pre-school education on 123 low-income participants. It found that, in later life, those who had attended pre-school were almost twenty percent less likely to have been arrested, and more than five times more likely to have graduated from high school, than those with no pre-school education at all.
Some critics and residents suggest the current openings, delayed for years, are happening now only due to upcoming the October elections where President Dilma Rousseff will bid for reelection and others will run for seats in the government.
Theresa Williamson, founder of Catalytic Communities, an advocacy group for favela communities in Rio, told The Rio Times; “This is how it works in Brazil, every two years a number of facilities and programs are launched in the lead-up to elections. Many are dropped, others are not well maintained after, and a handful prosper. […] Also because marketing budgets are legally mandated to low limits during election years and seasons, so this becomes a form of marketing.”