Friday, 5 March 2010

How not to think: Venezuela's education

Obsession with ahistorical Bolívar as main component of Venezuela's pensum at schools (and later on)

Venezuela's education is arguably the worst problem we have. If the general population does not have the right tools for analytical thinking and its leaders are in a similar situation, the country is doomed for failure. The government we have now is not up to the challenge. Right now it is clumsily trying to get rid of the responsability of providing for a solid education at school level. It is putting most of the responsability at university level, as you can read in Spanish El Nacional. The government is simply saying that universities now are discriminating against pupils coming from state schools and that they should simply accept them all and fix things then. It does not want to debate why those pupils are so badly prepared.

The reality is that Venezuelan pupils, specially those coming from public schools, are on average very badly qualified. They are - this is average - the worst of Latin America by far. That is one of the reasons why the chavista government decided to take Venezuela out of international evaluation tests as soon as it came to power and that is why it just prefers to tell Unesco how great Venezuela is doing now. The government propaganda machine then talks to the whole world about the Unesco reports...that are nothing more than reports on hear-saying (primarily from the government).

State universities have been using internal admission procedures to select their students: there are just too many people wanting to go to university and just a tiny minority have the necessary skills to do so. The admission procedures are mostly tests to find out who the most promising are. As public schools are in worse shape than private ones, there is a higher proportion of pupils from private schools getting into state universities. Pupils from private schools make out hardly 20% of all pupils, but they represent over 50% of all students and, in some universities, much more.

On one side we have the government telling universities the government is going to select students and that universities must accept them all and just make up for the low quality by adding "introductory courses". On the other side, most university representatives say they have the right to choose students and if they don't do that, quality will suffer more than it is suffering now. Those university representatives are as selfish and blind as the government. Simply put, everyone is trying to put responsibility somewhere else.

It is incredibly sad that neither students nor university professors know how to bring forward alternative solutions to the government's short-term "solution".

Everybody in Venezuela needs to understand this:

  1. Pregraduate studies in Venezuela are shorter than anywhere in the developed world or even in most developing countries. In Venezuela students have to do one year less than in Chile or Argentina, Peru or Mexico, Colombia or Germany.
  2. Salaries for primary and secondary school teachers in Venezuela are so low that only the saints or those who can't find jobs anywhere else work as basic or secondary school teachers. Right now Venezuela's education budget goes primarily and more than elsewhere to universities. Without a solid basis - id schools -, universities are built upon very wobbly stuff.
  3. Venezuelans must have the courage to go back to open evaluation tests of their education system. That is required to bring about some measure of transparency and to find out how our education is compared to that of to the rest of the world. I ask everybody here to spread the idea: we need to take part in the PISA programme as almost all other countries in South America and many more are doing now. We need to demand that from parties and the government.
  4. It is not good to try to fix up the great deficiencies of poor pupils by simply adding courses at university level. University teachers should be used for higher-level work, whereas pupils should arrive at the university with levels that are at least as good as or better than those in chile or Argentina. Pupils need better teachers and schools before thinking about getting to university level.
  5. If the education minister cannot guarantee that public schools offer the same level of education as private schools, he must resign. We must ask him to resign until he does. Do we want social justice? At the same time as those extra courses are added to universities, the ministry of education should do everything that is required to improve the quality of primary schools in poor areas so that pupils from there become as good as those from the posh ones.

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