Brazilian President Lula da Silva has effectively blocked segments of the country’s upcoming digital education policy in what’s been seen as an attempt to free federal funds for his government’s expensive social welfare programs.
Lula signed Brazil’s latest digital education policy (known locally by the acronym PNED) after it received approval by Congress. Officialy, the policy’s goal is to provide Brazilians with wider access to tech training, aiming to increase inclusion in a field ripe with opportunity in the region.
Nevertheless, the bill was signed with two major vetoes that have drawn harsh criticism from industry experts in the country. The new policy discards the inclusion of digital education (computing programming and robotics) in the curriculum of primary and secondary schools and shuts down funds for short-term programs for the development of computer techniques and languages.
Lula’s government justified its decision to cut parts of the tech curriculum from schools, arguing that the curriculum itself has to be greenlit first by the National Board of Education and the Ministry of Education. In regard to the funding for short-term programs, it stated that those have to be financially viable first.
The changes made to the policy have players in Brazilian tech worried. Latin America is quickly attracting investors who see it as a potential hub for tech talent and the export of digital services. In that landscape, Brazil stands out as a major contender for the top spot in the region’s software industry.
Cutting down the options available for digital education might end up kneecapping the sector, which is in dire need of fresh talent to attend the skyrocketing global demand.
A Growing Trend in LATAM?
Although industry players and analyst have a clear understanding of Latin America’s potential as a tech hub, heads of State across the region seem to be unaware of the implications of that potential and of what’s needed to push it, especially from an educational standoint.
Lula is not the first leader to arise concern among tech entrepreneurs in his country. In Colombia, President Gustavo Petro’s tax reform has grown into a cause of worry for local tech. The reform effectively puts a cap on the tax deductions companies can apply to for investments on workers’ education, a significant blow to an industry that depends so much on upskilling and on-the-job training to deal with talent shortages.
“In an industry where knowledge is a major asset, and which is now facing a talent shortage, constant formation of such talent becomes a necessity for growth,” stated Ximena Duque, president of Colombia’s tech industry lobby, Fedesoft, in response to the reform.
The landscape isn’t any brigher up north, in Mexico. Although President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador recently signed into law the creation of a comission for IT and information security policy, his government has been perceived by industry players as neglectful at best.
Tech entrepreneurs and cluster representatives have told NSAM that, at this point, they see no political will or interest coming from AMLO’s office to push Mexico’s tech industry to the next level. There have been efforts by the country’s Economy Secretariat and talks with the US government to increase cybersecurity capabilities. Nevertheless, Mexican entrepreneurs and foreign investors know their best bet is working with local authorities or, in many cases, with the industry itself, to make things happen.
Latin America finds itself in a priviledged position. Worldwide talent shortages and an ever-increasing demand for tech services have opened the door for the region to become a major source of programmers and software engineers, as well as a provider of top-quality tech services.
Foreign investors are waking up to that reallity, and the money is coming in. Yet, the industry fears that a lack of vision by heads of State (who might be too busy working an an ambitious agenda of their own) could throw all that potential to waste.