Chapter 5

The first

Paula was born in Americana in a humble family. Although there was no need for it, luxury was something that wasn't even around the corner. That question of "what am I going to be when I grow up?" it is child's play or the privilege of the richest. For Paula, her future was clear: study, finish high school and find a job in the city. In the best of cases, she would follow the family tradition and take a public exam, which seemed extremely boring to her.

Despite the lack of enthusiasm for her pre-post future, she was an exemplary student. He believed that if he got a 10 in everything, he would get a better job in the neighborhood trade.

I'm in doubt if I find the determined and responsible little Paula cute, or sad to think that a pre-teen shouldn't be so worried about this.

Anyway, the focus on studies led her to a technical course that would completely change the direction of her life. After years of a “very weak” basic education, in her words, she had the opportunity to enter the Paula Souza Center, a teaching center of excellence of the Government of the State of São Paulo. It was in this environment that she experienced, for the first time, contact with qualified teachers, a robust and challenging teaching program, as well as projects that aroused her curiosity and showed her a horizon of new possibilities, including going to college.

Unlike his new classmates, attending higher education was never part of his plans. Not that her mother didn't encourage her to study, but five years of college meant five more years of tight bookkeeping, extra expenses, and one less daughter contributing around the house. It was a difficult account to close.

It was difficult, but not impossible. For the first time Paula saw a chance to rewrite her history and she wouldn't miss this opportunity for anything. She had one chance, only one chance.

He studied harder than anyone else, took an extra preparatory course for the university entrance exam, and the reward came months later in the form of a list of approved candidates for the chemistry course at Unicamp. Paula was officially the first college woman in her family.

He studied at night to work during the day, made honey bread on Sundays to sell to friends, did scientific initiation and took advantage of every opportunity that the institution offered him. She even got an international scholarship and her first plane trip was to Portugal, which was not washed down with custard tarts and codfish, but based on trays and lunchbox, and which even today yields sweet memories and lots of laughter.

Joining college opened the doors of the world to Paula, and she never stopped. After graduating, she completed her master's degree and, even before finishing, she was already planning her next steps. She wanted to live outside Brazil, fought and made it happen. In 2016, she moved to Holland, hired as a doctoral student, learned a lot, made friends from all over the world, traveled to countries she never thought she would travel to, bought a house, fulfilled dreams she didn't even know she had. Today, a PhD in chemistry, he left his academic life for a corporate career in search of more stability and works at the research center of a multinational energy and petrochemical company. So proud of this woman.

Paula fought against all the statistics and wrote a beautiful story thanks to her discipline and determination. She has a clarity of where she wants to go and a focus on the path that is rare to see. She is a pure source of inspiration, but she also exposes a serious and serious problem.

Despite free education being a right guaranteed by our constitution, Paula burst her bubble by entering college when public universities were attended almost only by the elite who could afford a quality secondary education.

After just over a decade of public policies, the quota system and the SISU program for admission to higher education, data from 2018 show an important change in the composition of students in free higher education, where more than 70% of students were in the range of family income of up to 1.5 times the minimum wage and 74.7% of enrolled students came from public education. Despite the good news, in 2021 only 18% of young people between 18 and 24 years old were enrolled in college.

Basic education is still precarious, the dropout rate is huge, the crisis in education aggravated by the covid pandemic is already reflected in the numbers that show a 171% increase in the rate of children and young people out of school. In addition to university access, Brazil urgently needs a leap in quality in basic education.

Paula's trajectory is inspiring but also highlights the challenges faced by most young Brazilians in terms of access to education. How many Paulas are not hidden behind the lack of opportunity? How many stories are not ready to be rewritten?

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