Brazil is one of Latin America’s largest education opportunities

28 January 2019 5 min. read
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Demand in Brazil for private education is on the rise, according to a new study by a global management consultancy.

Private schools currently account for 20% of the K-12 market (primary and secondary education) in Brazil, but this is believed to shift, taking further market hold in the coming years. Brazil’s rising middle class has grown from 15% to 30% of the country’s population in the last two decades. There is also increased dissatisfaction with public schooling, where high teacher-student ratios often correlate to lower learning outcomes. These factors are seeing an increasing number of families that can afford – and are seeking – private schooling.

According to a report by L.E.K. Consulting, titled "Brazil’s burgeoning private K-12 market," this demand will lead to “premiumization” in the market, with the emergence of higher-end schools that can “command a higher market price by delivering differentiated, superior educational services,” the report states. The Brazilian government is highly supportive of private K-12 schools, and has placed no restrictions on tuition fees.

Public vs. private K-12 enrollment, Latin American countries

Better teachers, better tech, better results

Families are particularly interested in institutions offering high-quality English-language curriculum. One one hand, this is to prepare children for the global workforce, on the other, it allows the top performers to land a position in top local and global universities. In order to cater to the growing demand, bilingual schools have emerged as the fastest-growing segment in the market.

A key challenge for schools is finding qualified teachers – there are few skilled local teachers, and expat teachers demand much higher salaries. The focus, then, must be on recruiting, hiring, and training local teachers in internationally competitive methods. Maple Bear, a Canadian bilingual school operating in Brazil, does just that, the report finds. Canadian teachers (native English speakers) lead the trainings, which are aligned with the school’s curriculum. 

Parents are also quite interested in schools that use 21-century technology – and teach related skills – in the classroom. Although 40-50% of Brazilian private schools already use tech-powered learning systems, there is “significant headroom for growth.” 

Regardless, the data is in: the better the student outcome, the happier the parent, the more successful the school. “School chains that were able to provide high-quality outcomes were also able to sustain growth rates despite an economic slowdown,” the report states.

Parent survey  findings, developed and emerging markets

Enter the investors

The demand for private schools is opening the door for investors and companies seeking to capitalize on the growing market. In 2018, in one of several high-profile sector moves, Brazilian-based Kroton Educacional, the largest for-profit educational company in the world, bought educational publishing company Somos Educacao, for $1.8 billion.

Investors seeking to enter the education technology market through acquisitions must decide whether to focus on business to business (B2B) or business to consumer (B2C) services. B2B services may be slower to implement because of a lack of infrastructure in schools. Brazil, for example, has four times as many students per computer when compared to many nations. B2C services, however, by nature require “higher customer acquisition costs.” Investors must tread carefully before taking a firm step in any direction when it comes to education technology.

Companies and investors looking at acquiring schools should also show caution. “The market is currently dominated by ‘mom-and-pop’ operations,” the report states. Less than 5% of private schools are in the organized sector. With such a fragmented market, “consolidation will be slower and more challenging.” A L.E.K. Consulting study of the top 20 cities in the country found just 100 “potentially acquirable targets after adjusting for ownership, scale, and quality.”

Another challenge facing investors are low tuition fees and enrollment numbers when compared to nations such as China, the UK, and the US, which could be financially off-putting. Brazil’s sheer size, too, is an obstacle. Each of the country's five regions has its own educational needs and regulations, and while Brazilian universities are increasingly adopting a standardized national entrance exam, it is not yet fully formed.

Average private school scale, select countries

Concluding, the authors state, “Brazil’s private K-12 market is a hotbed of opportunities for investors and operators. Mounting demand for higher-quality education, combined with a wealthier population and supportive government regulations, has created optimal conditions for market entry. However, success will be determined by how well investors can identify the gaps in the market in order to meet local needs.”

An August survey identified the top consulting firms for the education sector, some of which might dip a toe into the Brazilian market. Elsewhere in the industry, education consultancy spending in the UK has increased 196% in 14 years, prompting national criticism.