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22 Sep 2011 15:38 Age: 3 yrs
Category: News Update, Latin America

ORT Brazil goes to the top of the class (again)

ORT Brazil has double cause to celebrate this week – its Technical High School has again been ranked among the best schools in the country and its pioneering Biotechnology Coordinator, Dr Maria Antonia Malajovich, has been honoured in the regional parliament.   But these achievements are the silver lining to a cloud hanging over the 68-year-old organization.   For while the school's performance in annual exams have again put it in the top 20 schools in Rio de Janeiro and the top 50 nationally – making it the country's top performing Jewish school – it is unable to translate this success into growth and financial independence.   "We have received a lot of applications since the Ministry of Education published the rankings but we have to turn children away because their parents can't afford the tuition," said ORT Brazil National Director Dr Hugo Malajovich.   "We already provide scholarships for 70 per cent of our 320 students; we don't have the funds to do more."


ORT Brazil students who came top of the national exams on which the school’s top ranking rests.

Dr Maria Antonia Malajovich.

Candidates for the school must be prepared to accept long hours of study – 40 hours of classes per week – as well as the Jewish ethos and related studies, and the emphasis on science. But it is the limited capacity for scholarships which is often the deal breaker: the school's $8,000 annual tuition is modest in comparison with private schools but still too steep for most Brazilian salary earners, particularly those with more than one child.

"The economic situation can only be solved if we have enough students to maintain the school and provide scholarships with the need for external help," Dr Malajovich said. "For that we need 500 students but our current capacity is 400."

And so the school is caught in a catch-22: its enrolment has slipped back after a surge two years ago meaning that most of the money it receives from World ORT and other sources is devoted to providing scholarships in line with its philanthropic goals. However, that leaves precious little to invest in building and other projects which would help the school to grow, thus limiting the number of students.

"We fundraise locally but it's not easy: as the years go on, people tire of giving money," Dr Malajovich said.

It is frustrating for Dr Malajovich and his colleagues not to be able to do more for the aspirational families for whom ORT could be the ideal option between the very expensive private schools which are run on a purely commercial basis and the generally low quality, but free, public schools.

But for those fortunate to gain entry, their future is all but assured.

"Our students graduate well; all of them get into university and almost all of them complete their studies – many of them working in their speciality thanks to the ORT diploma they receive on matriculating which qualifies them to work in industry and laboratories," Dr Malajovich said. "That is our bequest to our students: they may not have money but they can make money and this is the ORT philosophy, to help people to help themselves."

One investment that ORT Brazil has been able to make is luring Dr Malajovich's wife away from lecturing at university to set up a framework for the teaching of biotechnology at the school.

"She's done a great job developing syllabuses, setting up laboratories, and convincing people that biotechnology was a good and necessary subject to study," the National Director said of Dr Maria Antonia Malajovich.  

Her expertise and dedication means that Maria is a sought-after contributor to international conferences and consultant for educational institutions, including ORT Uruguay University. And this week she received recognition at the Rio de Janeiro Chamber of Deputies for her dedication to, and defence of, biodiversity and the environment.

Presented at the Legislative Assembly by Green Party Deputy Aspasia Camargo, the certificate notes that Brazil’s citizens are not only inspired by the country’s rich biodiversity but depend on it for their very survival.

“Conservation of these natural resources, preventing them from being destroyed is a duty incumbent on us all,” it declares. “We appreciate whose who are dedicated to this cause [in the state of Rio de Janeiro], especially the biologists, those whose work is dedicated to the source of life. For these reasons… we could not but honour Maria Antonia Munoz de Malajovich.” 

Among Dr Malajovich’s many contributions is a website (http://www.bteduc.bio.br/) through which she shares the study materials she has designed over the years as well as provide simple, clear information on biotechnology to raise literacy on the subject among the general public.

"My intention is to teach," she said. "Many people don't know what biotechnology is about but you have to know to be able to make decisions and analyses on many contemporary debates. People argue about but don't know why! It isn't easy; our lives are getting more complex because we don't understand technology."