DEFINITION of 'Saber Currency'

The Saber currency was a proposed Brazilian currency that would be handed out by the Ministry of Education to seven-year-olds to be redeemed only for university tuition. Saber currency is a complementary currency that was proposed by Bernard Lietaer to help Brazilian schools offer more educational opportunities, regardless of a lack of available funds. The Saber currency was rejected by the Brazilian government at the review stage.

BREAKING DOWN 'Saber Currency'

A type of educational voucher, the Saber was intended to facilitate more learning opportunities for a larger number of students, without adding any new financial pressures to the economy. The planned Saber currency had three capacities:

1. The Ministry of Education allocates Sabers to the youngest students (for example, seven-year-olds) in schools in economically disadvantaged areas. The young students must choose an older student (10 years old, for instance) as a mentor, and pays the mentor with the Sabers. The 10-year-old then does the same, finding an older student to mentor him or her. Down the line, 17-year-old children will have collected the Sabers to be used towards university tuition. Redeemed Sabers are reallocated to young students.

2. Children or adults who help elderly or handicapped individuals can also earn Sabers.

3. Certain laborers could elect to be paid in the standard pay for the job, or at a reduced pay plus additional Sabers, an incentive for parents of children planning on attending university.

The word "saber" is the Portuguese (and Spanish) verb "to know." After Brazil privatized the mobile telephone industry, the country enacted a 1% tax allocated for educational purposes. When the Education Fund had grown to about 3 billion reals ($1 billion), alternative solutions for its use were discussed, including the implementation of the Saber currency. A goal would be to provide a "multiplier of learning" to increase the number of students who can afford a college education in Brazil.

Complementary Currencies

The Saber currency was conceived as a complementary currency. A complementary currency is a currency or medium of exchange which is not a national currency, but which is thought of as supplementing or complementing national currencies. Complementary currencies are usually not legal tender and their use is based on agreement between the parties exchanging the currency. According to Jérôme Blanc of Laboratoire d'Économie de la Firme et des Institutions, complementary currencies aim to protect, stimulate or orientate the economy. They may also be used to advance particular social, environmental or political goals.

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