Sunday, 16 August 2009

Why Venezuela fails where others succeed or "State of Denial"

Last week the Chavez government approved a law of education they had just prepared a couple of days before and they discussed in the almost-all chavista National Assembly. University authorities and many parents' associations (from private schools only as parents of pupils at public schools haven't set up those kinds of organizations) asked the government repeatedly to allow for a public discussion of the law. The government did not pay attention. When the small dissedent group of deputies at the National Assembly took the floor in the farce Blitz-discussion that took place, they were booed and could not continue, so they had to leave. The government claimed the dissidents did not want to discuss anything.

The government says it wants to open up education for all and make universities accessible for everybody. The proportion of students coming from public schools does not correspond with the proportion of pupils in public schools. Worst still: it keeps getting worse.

In reality the government wants to take over control of the universities, which until now, even if free, have been autonomous and have been able to select to some extent the students they get. They also want to politize schools. Until now the government has not been able to gain any real election among students or professors.

What is happening? Here everything in a nutshell:

  1. Public schools in Venezuela have low standards but they keep getting worse
  2. Most private schools tend to be much better even if they are still bad for European standards. They are the choice now for anyone who can afford them, including such red Boliburgueses as the president himself and all possible high ranking officials
  3. Public - thus free - universities (which have existed for generations now) had to introduce tests and selection processes many decades ago to guarantee the people studying there should have at least some basic level (and still, the level was very low)
  4. Latin Americans in general have been in state of denial with regards to how good their education level is (see here for an interesting article by Andrés Oppenheimer), but more so Venezuelans
  5. The government finds it cannot get control universities and less and less schools
  6. The last open international evaluation tests Venezuelan pupils took part in were in 1995 andd 1998. In 1995 Venezuelan pupils came in place 41 out of 41 countries in "reading and comprehension". In 1998 Venezuela took part with 12 other Latin American countries in tests on reading and comprehension and maths. Venezuelan pupils got an average position for reading and comprehension among Latin Americans (although Latin Americans in general get bad levels internationally) and they took place 13 in maths, way below the second worst, Bolivia.

This is really like 2 + 2 = 5.
  1. High ranking officials back then found results very embarrassing, so they just buried them and almost no one in Venezuelan found out about them.
  2. Since chavismo is in power, the ministers of education have rejected to participate in open evaluation tests.
  3. Venezuela, together with Ecuador, Bolivia, Surinam and Guyana, are the only South American countries NOT TO TAKE PART in the PISA Programme of academic test.
  4. The Venezuelan government has simply ignored or rejected our pleads to let Venezuelan pupils take part in that programme.
  5. Teachers in Venezuela earn miserably and many are not qualified. They can only survive because of several jobs or because theirs is not the salary that keeps up the family. The ratio between the salary of a Venezuelan basic school teacher and a "socialist" deputy is by several degrees worse than that beween a teacher and a parliamentarian in developed countries. In fact, Venezuelan PSUV leaders, who claim to fight the oligarchy, earn salaries that are comparable to those in Germany, but without paying so many taxes, while the teachers in basic schools earn less than in Bulgaria.
  6. Venezuelan pre-university education is mostly learning by heart and preparing the homework with font 12 and 1 1/2 lines of separation, margin 2 cm, not about analysis.
  7. The government has a fetish with university titles: it thinks policemen and everybody else should get a university degree, but it does not ponder on the skills NEEDED to start university
  8. Venezuelan basic schooling has at least one year less than in most other countries
  9. The university community is rightly worried about the way chavez pretends to solve the fact few poor get to university as compared to their distribution in the total population but still they fail to
  • inform to the general public about the disastrous level of state schools, schools that are managed by the government, schools that are becoming worse and worse
  • do not point at how to solve the problem of education in general
Many Venezuelan professionals will say: "well, the picture was not so bleak before, we were making progress". Yes, some of us were, but the Venezuelan government could not provide good education, even decent education, for the vast majority and we were actually starting to lag behind in view of incredible birth rates and uncontrolled immigration (Europe's immigration now is nothing compared to immigration in Venezuela in the sixties to nineties).

An additional problem is that Venezuelans in general know little about other education systems but for the US. Even though the US has most of the best universities on Earth, US schools are on average way below OECD standards.

Here I present you some charts I created based on a report called "Diez años de educación según se constata en las Memorias y Cuenta de los ministerios de educación", by Luis Bravo Jáuregui, from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, my first alma mater.


The vast majority of Venezuelan pupils study in public (free) schools. That has been the cases since compulsory basic education was introduced in the XIX century. It has been like that since the governments started to invest in education in the thirsties and forties (my dad had to study under a mango tree first, then bike long distances to get to a secondary school, but things improved after that).

Here you can see total numbers of pupils (pre-university), including those who are "studying" in the misiones:

Here you see the numbers without the misiones:

As you can see, without the misiones, it is clear: pupils' enrollment has not improved (and this is not based on a baby boom being over)

An anecdote: I know a physician who works at a public hospital. He was filling in a form for a patient, a woman in her twenties, and asked if the woman was working or studying. The woman replied she was studying. My friend, curious, asked what (that was not part of the form). "Doctora, una misión". Yes, but what? Well, something there.

And the government hates transparency like wonder why.

So: Venezuelans in general are in a State of Denial. Without the government assuming its responsibility for improving the quality of basic education, instead of brainwashing, without an educated community making the general public aware of this, we have little chances of getting off our oil dependency and setting on the path of sustainable development.

Ps. If you are Venezuelan and had your basic and secondary studies in Venezuela, please, answer the poll on the right if you haven't done so yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment

1) Try to be constructive and creative. The main goal of this blog is not to bash but to propose ideas and, when needed, to denounce
2) Do not use offensive language
3) Bear in mind that your comments can be edited or deleted at the blogger's sole discretion
4) If your comment would link back to a site promoting hatred of ethnic groups, nations, religions or the like, don't bother commenting here.
5) Read point 4 again