In Brazilian Educational Publishing: A Crisis Averted

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The Brazilian state of São Paulo’s educational publishers went to court this month to turn around a state school-content program.

Karine Pansa. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Pansa: ‘No One Was Expecting This’
What started as a disturbing report of a move against educational publishing made by the State of São Paulo in Brazil has been turned around by a court order, generating relief across the largest of Brazil’s 26 states.

The successful resolution of the crisis has been confirmed to Publishing Perspectives by the Latin American Educational Publishers Forum, the International Publishers Association (IPA) in Geneva, and the IPA’s president—Karine Pansa, who is the editorial director at Girassol Brasil Edições in São Paulo.

“The São Paulo Court of Justice,” Pansa tells us, has ordered the state government “to rejoin the ‘National Textbook Program’ (Programa Nacional do Livro Didático, PNLD) and use the materials recommended by the ministry of education.”

In the injunction, Judge Antonio Augusto Galvão de Franca emphasized the urgency of the decision because of today’s (August 23) deadline for selecting textbook materials. Had the issue dragged on past today, it could have impacted the ability of elementary level students to receive the program’s approved textbooks.

But at the beginning of this month, things hardly looked so promising. Brazil’s publishing industry found itself fighting this the kind of dangerous government intervention in educational publishing that can spread to other states and regions, and which can short-circuit the work of a free, commercial book-publishing industry by overriding output and even distribution through state control. The Brazilian Book Chamber (Câmara Brasileira do Livro, CBL), alongside other industry entities, worked on a manifesto against the state government’s decision to exit the national plan.

Sevani de Matos

Sevani de Matos Oliveira, president of chamber, participated in a public hearing called “Textbook, Plurality, and the Freedom to Teach and Learn” on August 14 at the São Paulo State Legislative Assembly, stressing, “The book is the foundation of a just and sovereign society.”

And the good news arrived Thursday from Eduardo Kruel Rodrigues, chair of the Latin American educational publishers’ forum, when he sent a message to José Borghino, IPA’s executive director, to say, “After the tremendous social pressure over São Paulo, I’m happy to inform you that we won a court decision ordering that the state to get back to the federal government program and use the books made by professional publishers. The governor has stated that he will comply with decision.

Eduardo Kruel Rodrigues

“The state will continue to make their own material, that will work together with our books, as it has been the case for quite some years in São Paulo.”

Borghino quickly followed with a statement to Publishing Perspectives, saying, “The IPA and educational publishers in Brazil are grateful and relieved that the São Paulo government has accepted a court ruling that it must adhere to previously agreed guidelines to use books and resources produced by professional publishers in schools.

“Education is a strategic resource in the development of any functional knowledge society of the future and it is educational publishers who are best equipped to deliver high-quality materials that, in turn, produce the best learning outcomes for all students.”

Borghino: ‘Serious and Long-Term Concerns’

As Pansa tells Publishing Perspectives in an interview from her office in São Paulo, this weeks-long round of confusion and concern for publishers, educators, parents, and families, began with “the secretary of education’s comment”—initially not even a formal announcement but an off-the-cuff interview line—that the state would be breaking away from the national educational content publishing protocols.

“It wasn’t anticipated. It wasn’t planned,” she says. “No one was expecting this.”

Initially, it appeared that the new pathway was toward making the entire curriculum delivered by digital means. The states’ publishers already do extensive digital publishing and delivery, but the question of turning the entire range of educational output into digitally delivered alternatives to print—let alone with time to let teachers follow tradition and make their elections of what to use—was at best daunting.

While the government seemed to give way on this to a degree, allowing this transition to digital to be phased in, “We realized that they wanted to have their own materials” for the school system, Pansa says. In publishers’ discussions with the ministry, it became evident, she says, “that they wanted to create their own materials—not only all-digital but their own material. When they started to present their material, it wasn’t real. It was like PowerPoint material.”

Needless to say, in an age of rising authoritarianism, a government’s move to take over the creation and/or production and delivery of educational materials sets off very loud warning bells.

Indeed, Borghino’s offices at IPA in Geneva provided a statement of alarm on behalf of the world community of publishing, writing in part:

“This is not the first time a government has intervened in the distribution of educational resources, but from our experience, there is ample evidence that state publications rarely amount to anything beyond a disaster in terms of material quality and outcomes. See current examples in Hungary and Mexico.

José Borghino

“Across the globe, the best educational outcomes often arise from a virtuous cycle of editorial revisions and enhancements performed by educational publishers, within a competitive context against other publishers in a specific market.

“Such a publishing model dominates the top of the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings, a triennial assessment by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with 15-year-old students. Countries where educational publishers operate within this competitive environment include Finland, Estonia, South Korea, Ireland, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, and Australia.

“It’s almost inevitable that countries where the prevailing model is state publishing find themselves at the bottom of the PISA tables. Brazil’s current results are in the middle of the table.”

“Any government shift to dominate educational content raises serious and long-term concerns about political control of the curriculum, especially in subjects like history, social studies, and politics. From curriculum control to thought control is a small step.”

As meetings went on between the publishers and the ministry, Pansa says, “It became very clear” that the creation and production of the state’s huge education system’s course materials by the government “was not planned. They wanted to have their own material delivered to the students in a cheaper way so they could spend the book money on something else.

“The education budget is one of the biggest budgets in the state,” she points out, not least because educational expenses covered for the citizens include “uniforms, meals, transport, shoes—everything is paid by the government.

“Professional publishers should be allowed to do their job: create high-quality educational works. It is not the government’s role to engage in this important activity, as the government is not qualified to produce such works, and there is no guarantee of neutrality regarding content.”International Publishers Association

“We also realized that one of their arguments was about the content. Their argument was that they needed to have control” to provide consistency of content across the system. What’s more, there was to be a phone app pushed to mobile devices “so the kids could access this content.” And that app was to be placed on the state citizens’ phones without their consent.

As it turns out, of course, the lawsuit led by the Educational Publishers Forum was successful. But this is, as Pansa cautions, something “We see as a way of controlling the content being given to the population. That’s very, very worrying.”

Creating a position paper on the international perspective, then, Pansa as the IPA’s president and Borghino as its executive director—working with the Latin American educational publishers’ association–outlined a compelling argument.

To be clear, a completely coherent statement of intent seems not to have been forthcoming from the government in this instance. But at the very least, the episode created an appearance of what could have been content tampering, and this in an era in which many international regimes have turned to various elements of information control. Brazil’s publishing community, Pansa says, is pleased to have the assurance of the state government that it has accepted the decision of the court.

In concluding the IPA statement on the issue, the key concern here is succinctly summed up in two sentences: “Professional publishers should be allowed to do their job: create high-quality educational works. It is not the government’s role to engage in this important activity, as the government is not qualified to produce such works, and there is no guarantee of neutrality regarding content.”


More from Publishing Perspectives on educational publishing is here, more on the freedom to publish and freedom of expression is here, more on the work of the International Publishers Association is here, and more on the Brazilian publishing industry is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.