Forget the blackboard, exercise books and textbooks! New tools such as video-conferencing and educational games are becoming widespread in schools and universities in Brazil. Known in the United States as EdTech, this phenomenon is now a rising trend in Brazil, driven by a handful of tech startups that are focusing on the education field.

Up to the end of the 1970s, Brazil was still investing very little in education – less than 2% of GDP. As a result, the country is lagging behind and this is directly reflected in low productivity levels among the workforce. However, Brazil is now starting to catch up. Over the last ten years the national education budget has grown from 4.5% to 6% of GDP and royalties from oil production are expected to enable an injection of a further €40 billion by the year 2022.

This is good news for the 5-19 age-group, which accounts for 50 million Brazilians, a quarter of the population. It is also good news for the private sector, because the state authorities will not themselves have the resources to respond to the structural challenges involved – creating universal access to knowledge, equipping schools, improving the quality of educational content and training teachers.

Opportunities in Brazil there for the taking by education-oriented startups

However, school education does not, as yet, seem to be arousing much enthusiasm among Brazilian entrepreneurs, and the market is far from being saturated. That at least, is the conclusion of a report entitled Oportunidades em Educação para Negócios Voltados para a População de Baixa Renda no Brasil (Opportunities in Education for Companies Oriented towards the Low Income Segment of the Brazilian Population), published in August this year by the Inspirare Institute, which has drawn up a detailed list of what is lacking in terms of educational resources and services in various strata of the population.

When we talk about deficiencies, that also of course means opportunities, in this case especially for startups and small and medium-sized businesses, as major international companies seem to prefer to invest in the – equally promising – university education market.

Some Brazilian startups have grasped the situation and are placing technological innovation at the service of primary and secondary education. One example is Evobooks, which specialises in electronic publishing, providing schools with digital books containing 3D images. Another is Descomplica, a company that provides inexpensive and highly effective online coaching to help students pass their national secondary education exams.  Descomplica (which literally means ‘de-complicate’) is backed by Gavea Angels, Valar Ventures, Valor Capital Group, 500Startups, EL Area and The Social+Capital Partnership.

New technologies and education: two examples of flourishing businesses in Brazil

These startups use tools such as videos, apps and games, which have been tried and tested in other markets, adapting them to meet the needs and expectations of the Brazilian population.

The founders of Evobooks, Carlos Grieco and Felipe Rezende, began with a simple goal: to make tablets and interactive whiteboards widely available in both state and private schools, with the backing of the federal government. This was the idea behind offering digital material suited to school curricula, enhanced by 3D images and the sort of animation to be found in the video games on which Brazilians are especially keen. These book-applications enable teachers to use in the classroom the wide range of functionality offered by the new reading devices and to provide some encouragement to a younger generation which seems highly resistant to immersing themselves in books. The apps are sold under licence for less than €10, and once downloaded are also available offline. This is a major benefit in a country known for its huge disparities in terms of broadband Internet access.  At the moment there are six subjects on offer: mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, history and geography.

Meanwhile Descomplica provides an online video course platform focusing on students preparing to take the national secondary school education qualification, ENEM. Set up in March 2011 by physics teacher Marco Fisbhen, the website offers some 4,000 video lessons in eight key subjects, recorded ‘live’ sessions plus a system of personal tutoring. The site receives over half a million visits per month. The key to its success is an ultra-simple subscription plan with two options – €7 a month or €30 a year –  which students from the lower income strata, who make up some two-thirds of all subscribers, are able to afford, plus lessons that are (in contrast to rival online educational platform The Khan Academy) fronted by charismatic teachers recruited from the best private schools and paid high fees to engage and inspire the students.

Meanwhile, innovative companies looking to grow can count on the assistance of both Brazilian and foreign accelerators, incubators and investors, which are showing increasing belief in the potential of this market.