São Paulo’s $2.73 Billion RFP (Yes, It’s a “B”) and Other Alluring Brazilian Educational ICT Numbers

Floated about a year ago, São Paulo’s proposed R$ 5.5 billion ICT initiative, a ten-year program which converts to a remarkable US$273 million per year for equipment, teacher training, and content for schools throughout the state, drew preliminary proposals from 30 organizations and consortia. The number of competitors is now nine. You’ll recognize some of their names. The government is now eight months late announcing the winner of the tender, leading some to think it has quietly been withdrawn. During the uncertainty, one Brazilian vendor told me “the money’s still there” and saw the experience as a positive sign. That the education ministry of one of Brazil’s states—it wasn’t a federal initiative—was willing to structure a huge multi-billion-dollar tender, he said, says a good deal about a changing mind-set in LatAm. Then this past April 25, in an online PDF summarizing São Paulo government’s open tenders, there it was. (See Chamamento Público 003/2012 – PPP Aula Interativa.) Maybe a winner will actually be announced soon, or maybe it’s in indefinite limbo, but read on to see why Brazil is a growing force not to be ignored by education resource providers.

Growing…and Growing Pains

At BETT in London early this year, talking with folks from i2i Events Group about their plans to expand BETT internationally, I first heard about the São Paulo tender. It hasn’t been easy to get information about it. According to an individual whose firm responded, and who spoke under condition of anonymity, it was announced in an official newspaper, and “the numbers and data were open to anyone who applied to participate.” More than 30 companies (or consortia) applied. At the end only nine groups presented official bids: 100% PROMO Marketing Promocional Ltda; Cassiano Zeferino e Carvalho Neto; College – Ensinos presenciais, online; interativos e multimídias; Dell Computadores do Brasil Ltda; Fundação Carlos Alberto Vanzolini; KPMG Structured Finance S/A; Pearson Education do Brasil Ltda; Planeta Educação, Gráfica e Editora Ltda; and Positivo Informática S/A. The due date given for publishing the project’s winning model was November 2012. “Since it wasn’t published, and no official explanation has been given, it’s obvious they had a problem with all offers.” Nonetheless, “it was the first time a state government tried to implement what we call a Private and Public Partnership (PPP) for a huge project in education. It’s not gone, and the experience of this first tentative, although unsuccessful effort, made us learn much that will be incorporated to foster future endeavors.”

Brazil has almost as many K-12 students as the U.S.; it represents half of the economy of Latin America; its GDP of $2.5 trillion in 2011 was greater than that of the U.K., Russia, or India; and its 2011 per capita income was 45% higher than China’s and is enjoyed by a growing consumer class. If you haven’t already guessed, the low-hanging fruit for education publishers are ESL products, increasingly digital. For the first time, the Brazilian Ministry of Education’s National Textbook Program’s call for bids for high school textbooks for 2015 includes a request for digital product.

At a recent U.S. Commercial Service webinar, “Opportunities in Brazil – English Language Products and Services,” Susan Bell, PA Cultural and Educational Affairs, U.S. State Department, the country cultural affairs officer for Brazil, said, “Now is the time to be thinking about Brazil for education and the English language learning sector.” In addition to the above, here are some useful facts to get you started, gleaned especially from a presentation by Ligia Pimentel, Commercial Specialist for the Educational Sector, U.S. Commercial Service – Brazil, and from material sent to me by Luis Carlos Carvalho, Director de Relacionamento e Negocios, XDEducation.

U.S. Commercial Service’s top 30 industry prospects for Brazil include “Education & Training”
Tenth largest sector in the economy, with around $75 billion annually
The Brazilian Ministry of Education’s 2013 budget represents 5.5% of Brazil’s GDP (in 2011, the budget ran about US$35 billion, including direct and indirect resources, student financing, and salaries)
The Ministry seeks to invest heavily in classroom infrastructure, learning technologies, and textbooks
Beyond government purchases, the Brazilian educational sector is a $4 billion industry, with many opportunities for U.S. companies
Number of Schools (Elementary Through High School): 194,939
  Public: 159,439
  Private: 35,500
Number of Students (Elementary Through High School): 51.5 Million
  Public: 43.9 Million (85.3%) and going ↓
  Private: 7.6 Million (14.7%) and going ↑
    Fundamental 1 (6 to 10 years old): 16.7 Million (54%)
    Fundamental 2 (11 to 14 years old): 14.3 Million (46%)
    Ensino Medio (15 to 17 years old): 8.4 Million
Vocational Education: 1.2 Million Students
Higher Education: 5.95 Million Students
  Public: 1.52 Million (25.5%)
  Private: 4.43 Million (74.5%)
By 2015, Brazilian universities are expecting 10 million students
Of Brazilian non-salary education industry spend, 44% goes to school materials and 20% goes to primary and secondary education books

150 Thousand Schools – National Textbook Program

The Brazilian Ministry of Education operates a National Textbook Program to provide qualified textbooks for students enrolled in Brazilian public schools. More than 150,000 schools participate. The program runs on a three-year cycle with a procurement process that starts three years before the actual purchase. Books are purchased for one year, and complementary purchases are made, such as for replacements, over the next two years. Purchases are divided in three categories: books used in libraries, textbooks for students, and books for teachers. Subjects covered include mathematics, English language, history, geography, science, literacy, English, Spanish, philosophy, and sociology.

Currently one bid is open for 2015 high school books, the very first MOE bid including digital books. For more information about the program, see the National Textbook Program website. A Brazilian partner is required for any non-Brazilian firm to participate in the government procurement program but not, however, to do business in Brazil’s private schools market.

2 Million Passwords – “English Without Borders” Boosting an Already Hot ESL Market

Brazilians live on an island of Portuguese surrounded by oceans of Spanish and English. Foreign language skills have always been important career tools and, increasingly, are policy issues for national economic development. As a quirky side effect of a major government program to deal with its national deficiency of science talent, ESL has gotten considerable new support. Here’s how it happened.

In 2010, the Brazilian government launched the Science Without Borders Program (SWB), funded through 2014, whose objective is to “promote … expansion … of science and technology, as well as innovation and competitiveness … through … international … exchange of college and university students...” The goal is to award up to 101,000 full scholarships for study abroad over the program’s four years.

SWB immediately ran into a wall finding enough qualified Brazilian students. The problem? Most of the world’s prized science institutions use English as the language of instruction and require applicants pass the TOEFL exam as an admission qualification. The solution: English Without Borders (EWB), a new government-funded program based in higher education with consequences rippling out across the grade span. In its short lifetime, EWB is qualifying more public universities to be TOEFL testing centers, offering “MY ENGLISH ONLINE (MEO)” to help students prepare for the TOEFL and providing intensive, face-to-face courses for students who demonstrate a high level of proficiency but whose TOEFL scores do not qualify them for SWB. According to Denise Abreu-e-Lima,President, English Without Borders, Secretariat of Higher Education, Ministry of Education, EWB is fortifying “English teaching and learning on a national scale.” As evidence, she says, since its recent launch, MEO has already issued 2 million passwords.

Getting Your Perna in the Porta

A Brazilian ICT publisher acquaintance, speaking about why he’s not concerned about competition from U.S. firms, told me, “American publishers are so focused on complying with U.S. education standards that they simply don’t have the time or money to invest in localized Spanish or Portuguese content.” If you think he might be wrong, here are some suggestions.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Latin American education market in general, including Brazil, you may want to check out Virtual Educa 2013, being held in Medellin, Columbia, June 17-21, 2013. Run by the Organization of American States (OAS) and in its thirteenth year, the event moves around LatAm. It’ll be in Chile and Peru in the next two years. Some 7,000 educators and 100 exhibitors are expected this June; last year, representatives of about 18 education ministries attended.

For a more concentrated Brazilian experience with a considerably larger attendance (about 300 exhibitors and 15,000 visitors) that also offers LatAm reach, you might want to try Educar Educador 2013, May 22-25, 2013, in São Paulo. (I'll be attending myself so let's connect if you will be, too.) i2i Events Group’s inaugural two-day Bett Latin America Leadership Summit will be held in São Paulo next November. For more information about the Summit, which i2i Events envision as a high-level invitation-only program, like the Education World Forum (which precedes BETT in London), contact Katy McDonnell, Business Development Director. And if you’re looking for VARs or have some tips to share about doing business south of the border, let’s talk. (If you’re still wondering about “perna” and “porta,” have a look at Babylon.com’s Portuguese to English translation tool.


Dr. Nelson Heller is President of The HellerResults Group, a global strategic consultancy serving business and non-profits seeking growth opportunities in the education market. He is the founder of The Heller Reports newsletters and EdNET: The Educational Networking Conference, both started in 1989. The EdNET News Alert, successor to The Heller Reports publications and now published by MDR, reaches over 31,000 education executives worldwide every week and features a regular column from The HellerResults Group each quarter. In 2009, he was inducted into the Association of Educational Publishers’ (AEP) Educational Publishing Hall of Fame, and in June 2012, he chaired the first AEP/AAP International Markets Forum. You can learn more about Nelson and his industry leadership at The HellerResults Group. You can reach Nelson at 858-720-1914, by email at nelson@hellerresults.com, and on Twitter @NelsonHeller.