Qualified as insipid or weak by some, Vélez administration of the MEC managed to displease members of the military, Bolsonarists of all tribes, his own former students, and the opposition
In less than three months in government, minister Ricardo Vélez Rodríguez has already dismissed dozens of people in key positions at the Ministry of Education (MEC), backed down from several decisions, and took a series of disastrous measures.
Qualified as insipid or weak by some, and disastrous by others, Vélez administration of the MEC managed to displease members of the military, Bolsonarists of all tribes, his own former students, and, of course, the opposition.
Here are some of the most-criticized facts so far.
1 Confusion in the public notice announcing the purchase of schoolbooks
In January, a change in the public notice regarding the purchase of schoolbooks ceased to require from publishing companies the inclusion of bibliographical references in the works (essential in order to verify the quality of a publication).
In a statement, Education minister Ricardo Vélez Rodríguez said that the version of the public notice, published on the second day of Bolsonaro’s government, was the responsibility of the Michel Temer administration. The former Temer government Education minister, Rossieli Soares, however, denied that version. The Ministry of Education still hasn’t explained what really happened concerning this document.
2 “Brazilians abroad are cannibals”
On February 1, an interview given by Vélez to Veja magazine infuriated the public opinion.
At one point during the interview, in order to defend the return of Moral and Civil Education classes in school curricula, Vélez used as an example “teenagers who travel.” “Brazilians, when traveling abroad, are cannibals. They steal things from hotels, steals lifesaving jackets from airplanes; they think they can leave their homes and take anything they want with them. This is the kind of thing which has to be reverted at school.”
The unfortunate statement and the negative reaction from several sectors of society caused Vélez to be openly declared as “unprepared” to head the Ministry of Education.
And Vélez took a long time to answer the criticism he received. Only on February 18, after being notified by the Federal Supreme Court (STF) to explain what happened, the minister used his Twitter account to apologize.
3 National anthem with Bolsonaro’s slogan in schools
Perhaps one of the most primary mistakes made by MEC was sending a letter to public and private schools throughout the country requesting their principals to line up the students in order to sing the national anthem and read a statement, signed by Vélez, which was concluded with Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan, “Brazil above everything, God above all.” The act was supposed to be filmed and sent to the Ministry of Education.
Once again, a torrent of criticism flooded MEC’s communication channels. The minister claimed on the following day he had realized the mistake of asking the slogan to be read, and backed down.
The mistake, however, brought to the attention of the public the internal struggle between different groups within the ministry. Followers of Vélez’s former special advisor, reserve Air Force colonel Ricardo Roquetti, accuse a “more ideological” wing, made up by pupils of writer Olavo de Carvalho and his friends, of this idea of sending the letter to the schools. On the other hand, “Olavists”, or “Olavettes”, as members of this “ideological wing” are often referred, blame Roquetti for the idea, claiming he instigated the minister with the aim of demoralizing him. None of the versions has been confirmed.
4 Acephalous executive secretariat: Ministry of Education changes three “number twos” in less than a week
The pressure exerted by writer Olavo de Carvalho was also allegedly responsible for the dismissal of MEC’s executive secretary, Luiz Antonio Tozi, with ties to Roquetti, confirmed by the minister on March 12.
In the two following days, Vélez made announcements for the office which were never confirmed. First, the executive secretary was supposed to be Rubens Barreto da Silva; then, the chosen one was Iolene Lima, according to a piece of information given by the minister’s own Twitter account.
On Friday, March 22, however, Iolene Lima reported on Twitter that she was no longer appointed as MEC’s executive secretary. In a short post, she merely stated that she “didn’t know what to say”.
Vélez knew even less, and remained silent on the matter, and until now hasn’t announced who will occupy the post of executive secretary – the most important position in the Ministry of Education after that of the minister himself.
5 The administrative rule of contention: to assess or not the children’s literacy levels?
Another blunder made by the Ministry of Education was to publish and then revoke an administrative rule suspending the assessment of the children’s literacy level, the so-called “Provinha Brasil”, until 2021.
The case led to the dismissal of Marcus Vinicius Rodrigues, former president of INEP, the organ responsible for this and all other government evaluations, such as ENEM.
Marcus did not leave the government quietly; he claimed he quit because he disagreed with the commission created to analyze ENEM questions, and for trying to prevent members with a specific ideological profile and ties to philosopher Olavo de Carvalho. According to O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, Rodrigues also claimed he had been convinced by Alphabetization secretary Carlos Nadalim to cancel literacy assessments in the country.
If the government went ahead with the idea of not assessing the children, it would remain for five years without analyzing literacy levels in their first years of education. In the latest survey, made in 2016, more than 50 percent of the children in the 3rd year of elementary school had yet not learned to read and write.
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Em menos de três meses de governo, o ministro Ricardo Vélez Rodríguez já exonerou dezenas de pessoas em postos-chave no Ministério da Educação (MEC), voltou atrás em várias decisões e tomou uma série de medidas desastrosas.