In an age of cynicism about politics, it is bittersweet this week to reflect on the life and legacy of Brazil’s former minister of education, Paulo Renato Souza. Paulo Renato died on June 25 of a massive stroke, at the far too young age of 65. It is a shock that all of us who knew and loved him will need a long time to overcome.
His imprint on Brazilian education cannot be exaggerated. As someone said this week: “The history of education in Brazil has two parts: before Paulo Renato and after Paulo Renato.” For those of us who knew Brazil before, Paulo Renato’s eight year tenure as Minister of Education under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso from 1994-2002 was an eye-opening introduction into the potential for a single individual at the right moment in history to create political room for maneuver where previously there was none. Topics that had been “on the table” only in World Bank reports – such as the deep inequalities in education finance in Brazil, or the complete lack of student learning assessment – suddenly were tackled with sweeping, full-frontal reforms.