Prior to 2001, a young black child from favela Dona Marta in Rio de Janeiro could not conceptualize a future as a doctor or engineer. Today, with affirmative action and a quota system, this vision could in fact become a reality.
The birth of affirmative action in Brasil has generated a controversial debate on whether affirmative action and quotas help or hinder. Some say quotas are analogous to handing a homeless man a million dollars without first teaching him how to manage money, others say it gets one foot in the door and that is what matters most. In this debate, can’t both sides be right?
Though the quota system welcomes this population into college, without a strong basic education, how will any of these children succeed in college? Studies have found that many students who did not have the requisite scores for admission–as do most of the students admitted via quota–found it difficult to succeed academically and more than 30 percent of these students drop-out before the end of the academic school year.
The question for Brasil should not be whether affirmative action works, because it is apparent that affirmative action does improve the lives of many Brazilians; the question for Brasil should be how best to provide sustainable change for a larger percentage of impoverished youth—not just those that make it through high school.
Sustainable change is most often bottom-up, and here, it requires a more precise and scrutinize evaluation of the public schooling system and the reasons many impoverished–most often black–youth do not reach or finish college.
Because many of the poorest children come from generation after generation of no basic education, a generational change must occur—directing the focus on the formative years of childhood and educational development, while also guaranteeing admittance at the college level, will sustain such a change.
The success of a child from a favela in Brasil is dependent on much more than an open-invitation to study at the local university. Raising younger siblings, seeing constant violence and drug-trafficking, witnessing prostitution and fleeing home—this is the reality of a child in a favela. Raising a child does indeed take a village—the village needs to speak for these children and demand long-awaited change.