Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Chavez and the Universities

It is a fact that pupils coming from public schools in general have more trouble getting into public universities than pupils from private schools. Why? The reason is simple: public schools in Venezuela are of very bad quality. The level is so incredibly bad and so many people want to enter universities (nobody in Venezuela seems to have some appreciation for non-university technical studies) that public universities need to make an exam to select the best or, rather, the least bad. Still, they are overstretched.

Now Chávez wants to force them to accept more people and not 10% or 20% more. The Chávez regime is trying to force public universities to double the amount of students they accept. Universities have already been forced to accept students who would have not been accepted otherwise. As the academic level those students have is so bad, universities have to put teachers to give many extra hours of preparation. The problem is: there are only a limited amount of university teachers. Many of them, specially in the engineering and sciences, now have to give courses that should have been given in secondary school and in doing so all students at universities are getting less and less of what they need.

The government wants to force universities to accept quotas for each "school". The real purpose is to introduce as many Chavez supporters in as possible and so, to try to control the student representative commissions. Many of those "schools" the government has in mind are just groups of Chavistas who are way past their twenties and who are used just for political purposes. They are not "poor people getting a chance" (mind: my own father was a poor guy who got many decades ago a scholarship to do his secondary school and then a scholarship to go to university).

The government had previously introduced a series of "university studies" in so-called Bolivarian universities that are nothing but a farce. Students in those centres have started to realise their 2 to 3-year "engineer studies" or "medicine studies" do not qualify them for the real market. 2 or 3 years of engineer studies in Venezuela are even much less than what they can mean in Europe or the US as students begin with much lower math and language skills. People are abandoning the Bolivarian universities in throws.

Chávez and his band think they can solve the disenchantment of those students and at the same time use them to control other universities by forcing universities to accept quotas established by the government.

Why doesn't Chávez face what needs to be done in the first place? First he needs to improve the level of primary and secondary schools by a lot. We have pleaded to take part in the PISA programme of academic evaluation to determine how prepared Venezuelan pupils are in the world. That would show Chávez what needs to be done.

We have already proposed other things for improving education in Venezuela. You can read them HERE. If you have more ideas, let me know.

Ps: if you ask around you will see almost all those Chavista big bosses have their children in private schools.

Ps2: In case you think I just talk from the point of view of the "aristocracy":
My whole family and I studied at public schools and went to public universities. We had to have good grades and pass tests. We know the limitation of public schools and know the first thing that needs to be done is improve the schools, not shove completely unprepared people into universities that are chock-a-block


  1. They had an interesting article on schools in Findland in the paper. They focused on Findland because it has among the best schools and ranks high on your favorite test - the PISA.

    The analysis was interesting - Finish students don't have that much homework, nor much pressure, nor are universities very competative.

    The two main things seemed to be: teachers are given lots of lattitude to design their own lesson plans and there is no stratification of students by ability - eveyone is in the same class and the better students are expected to help the students who are struggling.

    That is the opposite of hte US were schools are very stratafied by income, performance, and by public versus private.

    It makes sense that keeping everyone in the same classes helps everyone as a whole do better. Of course there would be big screams if they tried to do that in the U.S.

    And in Venezuela there probably would be too. Think about it, one measure would be to ban private education and force everyone to go to public schools and be in the same classes. It would probably be very beneficial to the cause of education as a whole but I bet those who currently send their kids to private schools wouldn't accept it.

  2. Well, in the Bible it is written: those who start the line will come last, those who finish will be the first.

    I know, Finland is a hot topic here. Still, there are other things people need to take into account.
    I think they need to spot what really makes the difference.
    The Finish case is much simpler because they have almost no foreigner. Try to hold a class in places here in Europe where almost ALL the pupils are of foreign parents and whose mothers do not even speak the language (ex: Frankfurt, Brussels).

    I think one big thing they have in Finland is the way they select teachers. School teachers need to have a university degree! In Venezuela, teachers usually need just the escuela normal, which is much lower quality.
    The job of a teacher in Finland is, unlike in many other places, a coveted one and this even if they do not earn more than the average OECD teacher. It is the whole environment they are in: they are trained, they have, as you say, freedom, they know they are a selection, people around them know that and respect them.

    I am not for bans. At most I would be for taxes, but bans on education is the wrong start. It would take too long, it would backfire.
    I think we need to take the other way around: one needs to make public schools so attractive that people go for them.
    You want to force politicians improve schools by forcing rich parents (like Flores or Ramirez or Chavez or Cisneros or Granier) to send their children to public schools?
    I think it would not work and we would go back to step 0 in no time.
    I am rather for starting accountability in Venezuela and that includes, among other things, the PISA programme. I read from some teachers: the couple of evaluation programmes carried out in Venezuela were silenced when they came out because they were a huge scandal. The Venezuelan median pupil is a disaster, even for Latin American standards.
    With PISA (of course, it would be just a tiny part of the efforts), Venezuela would not be able to do like the ostrich anymore. PISA has a lot of visibility. People everywhere would start comparing and asking questions to Venezuelans.


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