International Education Guide – Brazil

A comparison of the education system in Brazil to education standards in Alberta.

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This is not an official IQAS assessment. These credential comparisons represent common educational patterns within each country. They do not take into account the recognition status of the institution through which a credential was obtained, the authenticity of the documentation, or the particular pattern of education followed by an individual.

Country overview

Official country name: Federative Republic of Brazil

Location: South America

Capital: Brasília (since 1960), the Federal District (Distrito Federal) in the state of Goiás

  • Bordering countries: Brazil is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east; Uruguay to the south; Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru to the west; and Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana to the north. Brazil shares a border with every country on the continent, apart from Ecuador and Chile.
  • Area: Brazil has an area of 8,515,767.049 square kilometres. It is the largest country in South America and the fifth largest country in the world.
  • Population: Brazil 2020 population is estimated at 211 million people, according to UN data.
  • Ethnicity and Religion: Brazil is an ethnically diverse country. Several ethnic groups live in the country, composed mainly of people of European and African descent and Indigenous people. According to the 2010 census, the majority of Brazilians are Roman Catholics (64.4%); among other religions, 22.2% are Protestants, 8% are non-religious, and 5.2% belong to other religions.
  • Languages: Portuguese is the official language of Brazil. Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking country in the Americas. Brazil is also home to 217 indigenous languages.
  • Administration: Brazil is a Presidential Federated Republic consisting of 26 states and the Federal District of Brasília.

School education

Basic education comprises pre-school education (educação pré-escolar), primary education (ensino fundamental), including both elementary and lower secondary, and secondary education (ensino médio).

Education is administered by various bodies: a) pre-school education by the municipalities; b) primary education by the states and the federal district and the municipalities; and c) secondary and technical education by the states and the federal district. The Ministry of Education (Ministério da Educação – MEC) in collaboration with the National Council of Education (Conselho Nacional de Educação – CNE) is responsible for providing technical and financial support to the municipalities, the states and the federal district for their school systems.

School education is offered through public and private schools. Private schools offer programs at all education levels and must be approved by the Ministry of Education.

Image 1. Structure of the school education system.

graphic showing Brazil's school system structure

Before 2006, compulsory schooling was 8 years for 7- to 14-year-olds. The educational decree of 2006 extended compulsory education to 9 years from 6 to 14 years of age. Subsequently, in 2010, education became mandatory for 4-year-olds, due to the insertion of pre-school education into the basic education level.

Pre-school education (educação pré-escolar)

Pre-school and primary education is compulsory and free at public schools. Mandatory pre-school programs are offered at kindergarten (jardim, pré-escola). Nursery schools accept children up to 4 years old, offer child care services and do not belong to the basic education level.

Primary education (ensino fundamental)

Primary education is divided into 2 levels: primary education I and II (ensino fundamental I e ensino fundamental II) that represents elementary and lower secondary schooling. Before 1999, this level of education was known as 1st degree education (ensino de primeiro grau). Students receive a leaving certificate on the completion of primary compulsory education, Certificado de Conclusão do Ensino Fundamental. Before 1999, the final award of this cycle was known as a Certificado de Conclusão de Primeiro Grau or 1º Grau. The word conclusão may often be excluded from the title.

Secondary education (ensino médio)

Secondary education is not compulsory, but is available for free at public schools. It covers grades 10 to 12 for students aged 15 to 17. Holders of a primary education certificate can access high school without sitting an entrance examination. Until 1996, this level was known as second degree education (ensino de segundo grau).

There are 2 types of high schools: academic (instituições de ensino médio) and technical (instituições de ensino técnico). The school year in Brazil usually starts at the beginning of February and consists of forty weeks or 200 days. Students have holidays in July and December/January. Each lesson lasts 45 or 50 minutes. The majority of high schools in Brazil are part-time evening or online schools.

Before 2019, the school workload was 800 hours per year. A core curriculum (parte comum) consisted of the following compulsory subjects over three years of learning: Portuguese language and Brazilian literature, mathematics, geography, history, physics, chemistry, biology, foreign language(s), art, and physical education. In 2008 the subjects of philosophy and sociology were made mandatory. The core subjects contained a minimum of 75% of curriculum instruction. Students were also required to study at least 2 elective subjects (parte diversificada).

The 2017 school education reform extended the number of mandatory classroom hours to 1,400 hours. A total of 60% of hours are dedicated to the core curriculum. Mandatory subjects are Portuguese, mathematics and English. Indigenous students have the right to study co-official languages, such as indigenous Amerindian languages. Other subjects are taught in one of the specific areas, called training itineraries (itinerários formativos), such as:

  • Languages and Technologies (linguagens e suas tecnologias)
  • Mathematic and Technologies (matemática e suas tecnologias)
  • Sciences and Technologies (ciências da natureza e suas tecnologias)
  • Applied Social Sciences and Humanities (ciências humanas e sociais aplicadas)

Students choose a training itinerary at the beginning of high school. The new curriculum was first implemented in high schools in 2019.

The final high school credential awarded upon the completion of an academic high school program is the Certificate of Completion of Secondary Education (Certificado de Conclusão do Ensino Médio). The pre-1996 high school credential was known as the Certificado de Conclusão de Segundo Grau.

Not all institutions issue the Certificado. Most schools only issue an academic transcript, called histórico escolar. The document states that the student has completed secondary school requirements (concluiu o ensino médio) and is eligible for further higher education studies (apto ao prosequimiento de estudos em nivel superior).

Technical (técnico) programs

Technical programs provide vocational and technical training to students enrolled in secondary schools after completing grade 9, ensino fundamental. There are 3 program types:

  • Integrated (integrado), offered to students simultaneously and in conjunction with general secondary education.
  • Concomitant (concomitante), offered to students enrolled in a general education program and taking a technical/vocational program in another secondary institution.
  • Sequential (subsequente), offered to students who completed general secondary education.

Technical integrated programs are 3 or 4 years in length. The curriculum includes general as well as specialized technical and vocational subjects. In addition, technical programs include a compulsory supervised internship.

Concomitant and sequential modalities offer technical and vocational subjects to students on top of their general secondary program. Technical programs offered via these modalities last from 1 to 2 years. The admission requires the completion of the first or second year of high school, depending on the course, and classification exam or other forms defined by a technical program provider.

A technical secondary certificate (Titulo de Tecnico (Ensino Medio) allows entry into tertiary education.

All secondary level technical programs are evaluated by the education councils of the states in which they are offered. The National System of Information of Vocational and Technological Education (Sistema Nacional de Informações da Educação Profissional e Tecnológica – SISTEC) provides information on any institution that offers technical education at the secondary level and verifies technical credentials.

National Examination of Secondary Education (ENEM)

All students who wish to enroll in an undergraduate program are required to pass an entrance examination administered by the university, known as vestibular. Since 2009, all students who wish to enroll in a federal university are required to pass the National Examination of Secondary Education (Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio – ENEM). The exam is not mandatory for high school graduation. The ENEM score between 0 to 200 points is assigned for each of the 5 areas of knowledge (social sciences, sciences, languages, mathematics, and essay). A total ENEM score is 1,000 points. The best ranked candidates are selected according to their exam scores. Institutions set different weights per subject and minimum grade for each program.

Alternative high school programs

Students who dropped out of high school have several options to complete an alternative high school program. The National Institute of Educational Studies and Research (Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisas Educacionais Anísio Teixeira – INEP) offers the National Youth and Adult Competency Certification Exam (Exame Nacional para Certificação de Competências de Jovens e Adultos – ENCCEJA), first implemented in 2002. Students study on their own and pass an exam that consists of 30 questions distributed among languages, mathematics, social sciences, and sciences subjects.

Public and private schools offer 6-month in-person academic courses on school subjects for youth and adults (Educação para Jovens e Adultos – EJA). Before 2016, this type of program was known as supletivo. The State Center for Youth and Adult Education (Centro Estadual de Educação para Jovens e Adultos – CEEJA) offers high school course materials that students study on their own with remote access to teachers. Graduates of alternative high school programs receive the Certificate of Completion of Secondary Education (Certificado de Conclusão do Ensino Médio).

Higher education

Brazil’s higher education system is one of the largest in the world. The current structure of higher education was formalized in the Constitution of 1988 and legally recognized in the Education Law of 1996. The Ministry of Education coordinates and regulates the higher education system. Two other important agencies are:

  • the National System of Evaluation of Higher Education (Sistema Nacional de Avaliação da Educação Superior – SINAES), established in 2004 to evaluate higher education institutions, their undergraduate programs and student performance
  • the Coordination of Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior – CAPES), accountable for quality assurance of graduate studies

The ministry makes regulatory decisions about accreditation (credenciamento) of all higher education institutions and recognition of undergraduate (graduação) and specialist (especializaçã) programs based on the results of evaluation coordinated by SINAES. CAPES implements a system of quality assurance for academic (stricto sensu) graduate programs. Professional programs (for example, law, medicine, dentistry) must be recognized by the Federal Council of the Brazilian Bar Association (Conselho Federal da Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil – OAB) and National Health Council (Conselho Nacional de Saúde – CNS), respectively.

Higher education institutions can be classified by public and private ownership and are organized as follows:

  • universities (universidades)
  • university centres (centros universitários)
  • colleges (faculdades)
  • federal institutes of education, science and technology (institutos federais de educação, ciência e tecnologia – IFs) and federal centres of technological education (centros federais de educação tecnológica – CEFETs)

Public higher education institutions may be established in any institutional form and are accredited automatically by their acts of establishment (ato autorizativo). Private higher education institutions are required to obtain formal external institutional accreditation (credenciamento) that allow them to begin operation. Campuses that are located outside of the municipality in which a private institution operates must undergo a separate process of evaluation. Institutional accreditation for private institutions is valid for a period of 3 to 5 years. After that, private institutions must undergo a process of a reaccreditation (recredenciamento).

Private institutions may be established with the formal status of college (faculdade) only. Transition to a university centre or university is possible if the college meets certain quality assurance criteria. Private institutions must obtain recognition (reconhecimento) of their programs in order to award nationally valid diplomas. Program recognition must also be renewed (renovação de reconhecimento de cursos). A recognized credential awarded by a faculdade must also be registered (diploma registrado) by a university.

Under the 1968 Law, higher educational institutions may offer:

  • undergraduate courses
  • postgraduate courses stricto sensu (master and doctorate degrees)
  • postgraduate courses latu sensu (specialization certificate)

Research activities were attached to the postgraduate programs stricto sensu, aiming to advance knowledge and provide research training for postgraduate students (learning by doing research).

Higher education in Brazil, by the 1968 Law, can be classified into public and private institutions. Public institutions can be sub classified into:

  • federals – supported and managed by the federal government
  • states – supported and managed by state governments
  • municipals – supported and managed by municipal governments

Private institutions can be sub classified into non-profit and pro-profit ones. Finally, non-profit private institutions can be:

  • communitarians
  • confessionals – religious orientation
  • philanthropists

Tertiary education is divided in 2 levels: undergraduate (graduação) and graduate (pos-graduação).

Image 2. The structure of the higher education system.

image of Brazil's higher education system

Undergraduate programs


Admission to universities in Brazil is based on the completion of secondary school as well as the score on ENEM exam, or entrance exams of universities know as vestibular.

An academic year contains 200 days of academic work. Each academic year is split up in 2 semesters. The first semester starts in March and goes until July. The second semester starts in August and ends in December. Studies may be offered through full time (presencial), part time (semipresencial) or distance (distância) modes. Distance programs were first allowed in 1996.

The duration of programs is not measured in years but in hours (carga horária). One class hour corresponds to a 50-minute session. A full-time year consists of at least 800 academic hours. There is no nationally standardized credit system. Some universities state that their 1 credit is equivalent to 15 hours of lectures (aula teórica) or 30 hours of practice (aula prática) per semester (semester) at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

There are 3 types of undergraduate programs: technologist (tecnólogo), bachelor (bacharelado) and licentiate (licenciatura).

Technologist (tecnólogo) programs

A technologist program is undergraduate study that can be taken in a public or private higher education institution. To enter, an applicant must have completed high school and pass the ENEM examination. Technologist programs comprise from 1,600 to 2,400 instructional hours that can be completed in 2 or 3 years.

There are more than 100 different types of technological programs that are grouped in 13 technological streams (eixos tecnológicos). The graduates receive a technologist degree or diploma (Titulo de Tecnólogo, Grau de Tecnólogo, Curso Superior de [subject]). Graduates of technologist programs may continue to a specialization (especialização) or professional master (mestrado profissional) program.

Bachelor (bacharelado) programs

A bachelor’s degree is undergraduate study that can be obtained at a university or college. Admission requires the completion of high school and passing the ENEM examination. Holders of technologist degrees may be exempted from specific bachelor’s courses, but there is no formal advanced standing between 2 levels.

The correspondence between instructional hours and the duration in years is as follows:

  • minimum of 2,400 hours: 3-year program
  • minimum of 2,700 hours: 3.5-year program
  • between 3,000 and 3,200 hours: 4-year program
  • between 3,600 and 4,000 hours: 5-year program
  • minimum of 7,200 hours: 6-year program

Degrees in professional subjects, such as medicine (medicina), dentistry (odontologia), veterinary medicine (medicina veterinária), psychology (psicologia), law (direito), engineering (engenharia), agronomy (agronomia), architecture (arquitetura), geology (geologia) and zoo technology (zootecnia) last at least 5 years.

All bachelor’s programs require a final research project (trabalho de conclusão de curso – TCC) or science research activity (iniciação científica – IC). Professional programs include an internship (estagio supervisionado) in the final year. Upon completion of an undergraduate program, a Bachelor’s degree (Título de Bacharel, Grau de Bacharel) is awarded. The final award of professional studies does not reference a bacharel. The final award would be, for example, a Title of Engineer (Titulo de Engenheiro). Bachelor’s degrees allow entry to both graduate lato sensu and stricto sensu programs.

Licentiate (licenciatura) programs

A licentiate degree is an undergraduate level program that allows holders to teach in primary or secondary schools, as well as in vocational education, youth and adult education, and special education. Before 1996, there were 2 types of licentiate programs, short licentiate (licenciatura curta) and full licentiate (licenciatura plena). The short licentiate trained teachers for kindergarten and primary grades from 1 to 4 and required between 1,200 and 1,500 hours for graduation. A full licentiate was for teachers of 5 to 9 grades and high schools and required between 2,200 and 2,500 hours of study. Older licentiate programs were also known as magisterium (magistério). In 1996 the licenciatura curta as phased out, and the licenciatura plena was restructured in a licenciatura.

Licentiate programs are offered at public and private universities and colleges, with entry based on high school and ENEM exams. The CNE resolution of 2015 defines a licentiate degree as a program of a minimum of 3,200 hours of academic work. The licentiate program does not require a research project. Holders of a bachelor’s degree can complete an additional 1-year licentiate program with at least 1,000 hours of teacher training. Graduates receive a licentiate degree (Titutlo de Licenciado, Grau de Licenciado, Diploma de Licenciado) that gives access to lato sensu and stricto sensu graduate programs. Students who completed both the bachelor and licentiate programs in the same subject receive a double degree, the Título de Bacharel e Licenciado.

National Student Performance Exam

Since 2004, the National Student Performance Exam (Exame Nacional de Desempenho de Estudantes – ENADE) evaluates the competences acquired by graduates of bachelor and licentiate programs. The exam is mandatory for all students in their final year in all knowledge areas, in order to obtain a degree. ENADE results are used extensively for regulatory decisions, for example, renewal of program recognition, but are not used by institutions for academic quality assurance. A performance score of the ENADE exam is not listed in the graduate’s transcript and does not affect a degree result.

Transcript verification

The Integrated System of Academic Activities Management (Sistema Integrado de Gestão de Atividades Acadêmicas – SIGAA) offers online verification of students’ academic transcripts. The SIGAA code must appear on the transcript.

Graduate programs


Graduate programs are divided into strict (stricto sensu) and broad (lato sensu) programs. Stricto sensu programs, such as the master (mestrado) and doctorate (doutorado), involve academic research and require CAPES accreditation. Lato sensu programs, such as specialization programs (especialização), are professionally oriented and terminal and are not subject to ministerial regulations. At the end of a stricto sensu program, a student obtains a diploma (grau de …, magister, doutor em …), while the completion of a lato sensu program leads to a certificate (Certificado de …).

Specialization (especialização) programs

Specialization programs are lato sensu programs. MBA (Master Business Administration) and medical residency are also classified as lato sensu programs. Specialization programs do not require MOE’s recognition. However, all academic institutions (instituições de educação superior) that offer specialization programs, including their campuses that offer distance specialization programs, must be MOE-accredited. All other institutions should obtain a special accreditation (credenciamento especial) by the National Education Council (Conselho Nacional de Educação – CNE) in order to offer lato sensu programs. They can only offer specialization programs exclusively in the area defined in the act of its accreditation.
Specialization programs are open to holders of an undergraduate degree.

There is no national entrance examination. Programs are offered via full-time or distance mode and require a minimum duration of 360 hours. Programs consist of vocational or professional subjects and require a research assignment conclusion (trabalho de conclusão do curso). At the end of study students obtain a Certificate or Title of Specialist (Certificado de Especialista, Titulo de Especialista). Graduates of lato sensu programs do not receive direct admission in stricto sensu master’s programs. However, some coursework may be transferred into a master’s program.

Master (mestrado) programs

The master’s degree is a stricto sensu program. There are two types of master programs: academic (mestrado acadêmico) and professional (mestrado profissional). Professional master’s degrees were established in 1998 as a response to new market demands. A bachelor or licentiate degree is required for admission to a master program. Holders of a technologist degree may be admitted to a professional master program only.

There is no national entrance examination and additional entry requirements are determined by institutions.

A typical one-year full-time graduate program requires from 360 to 450 hours of academic work, seminars or laboratory activities per academic year. If a university adopts a credit system, one credit usually corresponds to 15 hours of instruction. A proficiency in a foreign language is a compulsory requirement of graduate studies. The defense of a thesis (dissertacao) is mandatory for academic master graduation. Successful graduates of an academic stream receive a Master’s degree (Título de Mestre).

The final professional master’s degree always contains the term ‘professional’, for example Master in Dentistry – Orthodontics Specialty (Mestre em Odontologia – Profissional em Ortodontia) or Professional Master in Economics (Mestre Profissional em Economia). Professional Master’s degrees are terminal and do not give access to a doctoral study. Only programs recognized by CAPES are authorized to issue nationally recognized master’s degrees.

  • Master in Dentistry – Professional in Orthodontics or Professional Master in Economics

Doctoral (doutorado) programs

The Title of Doctor (Título de Doutor) is the highest academic degree awarded in Brazil. Doctoral programs are stricto sensu graduate programs that are open to candidates who have an academic master’s degree and meet the requirements of educational institutions. Programs are offered in full-time, part-time and distance modes. All programs must receive CAPES homologation to be nationally valid.

Doctoral programs last between 3 to 5 years. Typically, programs require a minimum of 48 credits. A dissertation (dissertacao) based on original research must be presented and defended. Proof of proficiency in 2 foreign languages is also required, with the first language being English and the second relevant to the research.


There is no uniform grading scale. Most secondary and tertiary schools use the 1 to 10 scale with a pass mark for individual subjects from 5 to 7.5:

  • Superior, Excelente – Excellent  – 10, 9
  • Media superior, Bom  – Good – 8, 7
  • Media media, Regular – Average – 6, 5
  • Media inferior, Insuficiente – Insufficient – 4, 3
  • Inferior inferior, Deficiente – Deficient – 2, 1
  • Sem rendimento – Fail
  • Crédito concedido – Credit

At some post-secondary institutions, letter grades are used as the following:

  • Excelente – Excellent – A
  • Bom – Good – B
  • Regular – Average – C
  • Insuficiente – Insufficient – D

Credential comparison

Table 1. Crediential comparions

Credential Entrance requirements Length of study IQAS comparison
Certificado de Conclusão do Ensino Médio (Certificate of Completion of Secondary Education) Certificado de Conclusão do Ensino Fundamental 3 years Generally compares to the completion of a high school diploma
Título de Técnico, [ensino médio], (Certificate of Completion of Technical Secondary Education) Certificado de Conclusão do Ensino Fundamental 3 to 4 years Generally compares to the completion of a high school diploma, including technical training in xxx
Titulo de Tecnólogo (Title of Technologist) Certificado de Conclusão do Ensino Médio 2 to 3 years Generally compares to the completion of a 2- or 3-year post-secondary diploma
Título de Bacharel (Bachelor’s degree)
Titulo de [subject], (Title of [subject])
Certificado de Conclusão do Ensino Médio 3, 4, or 5 years Generally compares to the completion of a 3- or 4-year Bachelor’s degree
Titulo de [subject], (Title of [subject]), [professional fields: medicine (medicina), dentistry (odontologia), veterinary medicine (medicina veterinária)] Certificado de Conclusão do Ensino Médio 5 to 6 years Generally compares to the completion of a first professional university degree in xxx
Título de Bacharel em Direito, (Title of Bachelor in Law) Certificado de Conclusão do Ensino Médio 5 years Generally compares to the completion of a first professional university degree in law
Titulo de Licenciado (Licentiate Degree) Certificado de Conclusão do Ensino Médio 4 to 5 years Generally compares to the completion of a 4-year Bachelor's degree
Certificado de Especialista (Certificate of Specialist) Titulo de Tecnólogo, Título de Bacharel, Titulo de Licenciado 1 year Generally compares to the completion of a graduate diploma
Master Business Administration (MBA) Titulo de Tecnólogo, Título de Bacharel, Titulo de Licenciado 1 to 2 years Generally compares to the completion of a graduate diploma
Título de Mestre Profissional (Professional Master’s Degree) Titulo de Tecnólogo, Título de Bacharel, Titulo de Licenciado 1 to 2 years Generally compares to the completion of a Master’s degree
Título de Mestre (Master’s Degree) Título de Bacharel, Titulo de Licenciado 2 years Generally compares to the completion of a Master’s degree
Título de Doutor (Doctoral Degree) Título de Mestre at least 3 years Generally compares to the completion of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree


Conselho Nacional de Educação – CNE accreditation acts of specialization programs (lato sensu)

Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior – CAPES list of approved graduate degree programs (stricto sensu)

Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio – ENEM examination results since 2009

Ministério da Educação – e-MEC correspondence between instruction hours and the duration in years for undergraduate programs

Ministério da Educação – e-MEC list of accredited institutions and programs

Ministério da Educação – e-MEC national catalogue of technical programs

Secretaria de Educação Profissional e Tecnológica – SETEC national catalogue of technological programs

Sistema Integrado de Gestão de Atividades Acadêmicas – SIGAA verification of academic transcripts

Sistema Nacional de Informações da Educação Profissional e Tecnológica – SISTEC list of approved technical institutions

Sistema Nacional de Informações da Educação Profissional e Tecnológica – SISTEC verification of technical credentials