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‘International’ education in Rio is very different from what’s available in most of the rest of the world. It’s vital that right from the get-go, you grab hold of this concept. 

Best schools in Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Education in Rio 

Rio’s main international schools are, in fact, Brazilian schools. The majority – in some cases, the vast majority - of pupils and staff are Brazilian and Brazilian educational law means Brazilian school leaving certificates must be issued, whether they are needed or not by individual children.  

Regulations are stricter for children born in Brazil (regardless of the nationality of their parents) than they are for foreign children. International qualifications, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) or IGCSEs, are not even recognised in Brazil.  

The international schools must therefore adapt their timetables to include the legal requirements of the Brazilian curriculum. Certainly at primary level, this is an advantage. Children learn about the history and geography of the country, all children have Portuguese language lessons and the local culture comes alive with Brazilian festivals and folklore.  

At secondary level, the Brazilian requirements can become more problematic, even if interesting. From an expat perspective, they can create a diversion from the main goal of most pupils at this age: to achieve internationally recognised and easily portable qualifications. 

Prospective parents also need to take a number of cultural considerations into account. The fees at both EARJ and TBS are exceedingly high in comparison with other very good Brazilian private schools, so they have tended to become the preserve of the super-rich.  

There is an assumption, both by the schools and other parents, that all families have 24-hour childcare on tap (almost always the case for the Brazilian families). On parent-teacher consultation days, parents are usually supposed to go to school to discuss the progress of their children, who, in the meantime, have the day off and are expected to stay at home.  

Many children are ferried to and from school by a nanny (babá) and a driver (motorista). At pick-up time, an army of white-clad nannies descends on the school gates to fetch their charges, while the driver sits outside keeping the air-conditioning running. As a result it can be quite hard at times to meet other parents. Often expensive, privately contracted school buses serve the schools but many expatriate parents do the school run themselves or use the services of a driver. 

Quite a few English-speaking expatriates who have been in Rio several years feel that their children, in these schools, are trapped in an environment which is neither international nor genuinely Brazilian. Some parents of primary-aged children wish in retrospect that they had put their children into an ordinary Brazilian private school instead.  

Choosing a school in Rio 

The assimilation of new students and their parents into the life of Rio’s ‘international’ schools can be hard. While English is the language of the classroom, Portuguese is the first language of most pupils and the language of choice for the playground and the car park. After-school activities are frequently conducted in Portuguese; some PTA meetings are conducted in Portuguese. Sometimes, a child will discover that he or she is the only non-Portuguese speaker in the class, causing problems for a newly arrived family. 

In addition, few of their classmates will have a good command of English and teachers will sometimes need to use Portuguese in the classroom. The advantage is that in the lower age group, newcomers will pick up Portuguese very quickly, particularly as Portuguese teaching is usually of a very high standard. Higher up the school, the general standard of students’ English improves, and so assimilation into classroom life becomes easier.  

To add to the language confusion, most non-English-speaking expat pupils at these schools are native Spanish speakers from other Latin American countries. Sometimes these children stick together and speak Spanish outside the classroom, which can leave English-speakers feeling doubly excluded, especially as Spanish speakers also tend to make faster progress in Portuguese, too, than English-speaking children. 

Brazilian law requires that the children of teachers be educated free of charge at the establishment where their parent works. This means that the teacher has a vested interest in holding on to his or her job for the duration of their children's schooldays, leading to low staff turnover. It also means that teachers with children in the same school are unlikely to rock the boat, question accepted practice or jeopardise their position for any reason, should any contentious issues arise. 

When the schools speak of being bilingual, this is a little disingenuous as the overwhelming emphasis is on achieving an acceptable standard of English amongst Brazilian students. EARJ offers English Academic Language Support (EAL) for pupils who need it, as does TBS. It is however generally assumed that Brazilian students will pick up English as they go along. 

Rather than taking a lead from the best schools in the independent sector, much store is set by public education policy and continually evolving ‘best practice’ in the countries where the schools are accredited. As a result, some families feel that these schools are charging premium private school prices while offering a standard British or American state education. Not being well acquainted with systems elsewhere, the majority of parents accept this without question. Children moving back to British state schools usually have few problems; those moving to back to the private sector generally have some catching up to do. 

Best schools in Rio 

These schools have been brought to our attention, but until we have more reports from parents, we are unable to consider reviewing them. 

American International School (Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro) 

Adapted American curriculum/ Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio (ENEM)/ American High School Diploma/ IB Diploma; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 1,050 students

An original campus, (Gavéa), on the Rio hillside with an amazing view but also close to one of the biggest slums (favelas) in the city. Hard work with the local community means fewer problems in recent years. The new unit in (Barra) is in an impressive building with the capacity to become an all-through school. Graduates leave for universities in the US and elsewhere. Only school in Rio classified ‘international’ and follows the northern hemisphere academic year. Accredited by Cognia (formerly AdvancED).

British School, Rio de Janeiro 

International Primary Curriculum/ adapted National Curriculum for England/ IGCSE/ IB Diploma/ Brazilian curriculum; ages 2-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 2,200 students

On three separate campuses: Botafogo (nursery to 11) teaching the IPC and NCFE curricula; Urca (11-18) teaching the NCFE, IGCSE and IB Diploma Programme: Barra da Tijuca (nursery to 18) teaching the IPC, NCFE, IGCSE and IB Diploma Programme The Botafago unit is in the historic part of the city, Urca sits at the foot of the Sugar Loaf Mountain and the state of the art Barra campus boasts the best scholastic facilities and has taught students the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme since 1992.  

Escola Alema Corcovado

Adapted German curriculum/ Brazilian curriculum/ Exame Nacional do Ensino Médio (ENEM); ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 1,300 students

Founded in 1965 and now housed in a former American Ambassador’s residence, in Botafago, an old part of the city. The school has two streams; in one, a German curriculum is taught by German teachers (educational requirements of Brazilian law also fulfilled) in the other, a Brazilian curriculum is followed, with compulsory German lessons. Children can move from one branch to the other, providing their command of German/Portuguese is sufficient. Towards the end of their primary years, all children also learn English. 

Escola Eleva Botafogo

International Primary Curriculum/ Brazilian curriculum/ IB Diploma; ages 3-18 ; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned 

Bilingual English/Portuguese education. Opened in 2017 on two sites in Botafogo and Barra.  

Lycée Moliere

Adapted French National Curriculum/ Brevet/ French Bac; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 680 students

Located in modern buildings in the historic part of the city and offering the official French curriculum adapted for the Brazilian environment. Open to all nationalities but 25 per cent of pupils are French with roughly a further 40 per cent Franco-Brazilian. Classes almost all taught in French but English also taught from primary level.  

Our Lady of Mercy School Rio de Janeiro (OLM) 

Adapted American curriculum/ Brazilian curriculum; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 580 students

Opened in 1952 and follows an accredited American curriculum, based on Roman Catholic principles. Maintained by the Society of Our Lady of Mercy, an organisation founded by British and American residents of Rio, to celebrate Catholic services in English. There is a full programme of extra-curricular activities, and dedicated ESL and PSL (Portuguese as a Second Language) support. The chapel serves as the English-speaking Roman Catholic church in Rio. 

Rio International School (formerly International Christian School) 

Adapted American curriculum/ Brazilian curriculum; ages 5-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 160 students

Opened in 2000, located alongside the non-denominational Union Church, in Barra da Tijuca but now also with a nearby secondary campus. Member of the Network of International Christian Schools (NICS) and the church premises are used for drama and assemblies. The school draws on different school curricula from around the world, the programme is Biblically-based - although children of other religions are welcome. Around 35 per cent of pupils are Brazilian.  

SIS Swiss International School Rio

Brazilian curriculum/ PYP/ MYP/ IB Diploma; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 670 students

An unusual educational offering that combines teaching in Portuguese with either German, French or English. Owned by the Swiss organisation, Kaleidos Swiss Education Group, who own and run schools in Switzerland and Germany and a second school here, in Brasilia. Founded in 2014 and licensed by the Brazilian Ministry of Education. Final exams leave pupils with the option of preparing for Brazilian higher education or Swiss university entrance. 

For more information on the schools above, please go to each school’s individual entry on the Good Schools Guide international search.


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