Brazil's illiteracy rate reached a startling 7.2 percent – roughly 11.8 million people – in 2016, with just over half (51 percent) of its 210 million population only completing elementary school education.
The numbers are from the latest National Household Sample Survey, PNAD, released by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).
The data indicate that the total number of people unable to read or write constitutes 9.9 percent of the country's majority non-white population, 5 percentage points higher than the white population. Only 8.8 percent of people who identified as Black or mixed had attained a university degree.
Geography also paints sharp disparaties in educational opportunities. Brazil's northeast region is home to more than 52 percent of people over 25 years old who have never completed elementary school, according to Rede Brasil Atual.
On average, the Brazilian population as a whole completes a total of only eight years' formal schooling.
The data also indicate that 24.8 million people between the ages of 14 and 29 "had not attended school." More than half of this group were men, with the majority saying they were unable to finish their studies because of work commitments.
This number is expected to rise as a direct result of labor reforms ('deforms,' to many) enacted by the administration of de-facto President Michel Temer. Changes in the code altered more than 100 clauses in the Consolidated Labor Law, which was first introduced in 1943.
Temer's adminstration has also attempted to redefine slave labor, issuing a decree – temporarily suspended by the Supreme Court – that described the practice as being confined to "restrictions on the freedom of movement" of workers.
It also altered the terms by which people who are exploited under conditions analogous to slavery could benefit from legal proceedings.