A few days before the start of the 2023-2024 school year in Venezuela, Mildred Rojas, representative of a 4th year high school student at a high school in Guacara, Carabobo State, is haunted by a question: “What will happen to education in Venezuela?” Her concern is that students are not receiving quality education as a result of the crisis faced by teachers and educational establishments.
Last school year, her daughter received classes only twice a week throughout the year at this high school because the teachers divided the week between teaching classes, protesting in the streets and pursuing other jobs to obtain extra income that would allow them to survive.
“We have excellent teachers, but unfortunately they do not receive the salary they deserve. At home we reinforce and complement what they send my daughter as homework in class (…) It affects me as a mother, because in this country if teachers were well paid, education here would be like in years past,” she stated.
The concern of this representative coincides with the position of the President of the Venezuelan Federation of Teachers (FVM), Carmen Teresa Márquez, who foresees that this new school year will be very similar to the previous one if Nicolás Maduro’s regime of does not respond to the demands regarding salary, restitution of benefits, schools’ maintenance, social programs, public services, among other problems that contribute to the decay of educational quality.
Márquez stated that she is concerned about academic achievement, because the students performed poorly in the 2022-2023 school year. She pointed out that the areas most affected for several years now are mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology, because they do not have enough qualified and experienced teachers.
She explained that more than 130,000 teachers have left the country and there is another large number of teachers who did not emigrate, but have changed jobs, because they earn more in any other profession than what the Ministry of Education or the State Government pays them.
“The children did not come out prepared, it is impossible for the students that attended classes only one or two days a week to have acquired sufficient knowledge in their grade. That worries us and we do not want to leave children without classes, we want the educational problem in the country to be solved (…) The Government has paralyzed education because it does not pay teachers, there are no services in schools, there are no schools in good condition, there is no Food Program,” stated Márquez.
The 2023-2024 school year will begin on Monday, October 2nd, as reported by the Vice President of the Republic, Delcy Rodríguez.
Thus the president of the FVM called on parents and representatives to support students in their educational process, as well as support teachers in their fight for better salary demands.
She indicated that the union has not issued any guidelines on whether the “mosaic schedule” will be maintained, where teachers go to the schools two or three times a week. She clarified that in this new school year, the class schedule will be agreed upon by the teachers, parents and authorities of each campus.
“Teachers cannot attend classrooms, because they cannot pay for the bus fare. If they pay fare, they don’t eat; and if they eat, they don’t pay a ticket. The teacher are in critical condition,” she stated.
According to article 103 of the Constitution, every person has the right to a comprehensive, permanent, quality education, under equal conditions and opportunities. The article states that: “education in State institutions is free up to the university undergraduate degree. To this end, the State will make (education) a priority investment, in accordance with the recommendations of the United Nations Organization. The State will create and sustain institutions and services sufficiently equipped to ensure access, permanence and completion in the educational system.”
The president of the NGO ‘Padres Organizados de Venezuela’ (Organized Parents of Venezuela), Adelba Taffin, stated that Nicolás Maduro’s administration violates the constitutional mandate by not guaranteeing access to quality education, taught by the best professionals, under the adequate conditions so that the educational process develops in an ideal way.
She considers that in this new year the Complex Humanitarian Emergency that also affects education will continue to deepen. She highlighted that the most affected are the students and staff who work in official (governmental)/public) educational institutions, which is where around 87% of the country’s student population studies.
“The right to education must be guaranteed without any limitation or excuse, because otherwise what we are going to do is condemn our children and adolescents who study in official schools to ignorance, backwardness and poverty,” she remarked.
She denounced that the social programs that are associated with the guarantee of quality education, such as the School Feeding Program (PAE) and the provision of school supplies, uniforms and shoes, are not being fulfilled. Taffin explained that last year around 40% of the official schools received the PAE, but irregularly, not every day, in addition to the fact that the quantities were insufficient and the nutritional quality was very low.
Regarding the purchase of uniforms and school supplies, parents and guardians must look for ways to cover school expenses amid the precarious economic situation.
“I have two older daughters whose uniform fits another girl, the youngest is going to wear her sisters’ uniforms. I haven’t bought notebooks yet, I’m going to see what I can get and what prices they are at,” said Mildred Rojas, mother of a 4th year high school student.
Schools in “subhuman” conditions
On August 18th, 2023, Nicolás Maduro reported from the Military Community Brigades for Education and Health (Bricomiles) that they had rehabilitated more than 23,000 spaces for schooling nationwide.
According to figures from the president of the FVM, Carmen Teresa Márquez, at least 60% of the country’s educational establishments are not in conditions to resume activities, as a result of the marked deterioration of infrastructure. She reported that nearly 1,000 schools in the national territory do not have electricity. “In every state in the country, conditions in schools are subhuman,” she said.
For her part, the president of the NGO Organized Parents of Venezuela, Adelba Taffin, indicated that of the 26,000 schools in the country, only 30% are in condition to receive students. She said that the rest do not have permanent public services such as water and electricity, they do not have enough desks, they do not have computers or internet access and the laboratories and libraries are not equipped.
At the high school where Mildred Rojas’ daughter studies, located in the Guacara Municipality of Carabobo State, they ask representatives that, if it is within their means, they should collaborate with detergent, cleaners, pens, paper, among other supplies. “Before classes ended electrical outlets were only covered with tape, that is dangerous. A meeting was held asking the representatives for their collaboration to see if anyone had knowledge of electricity so that they could collaborate to fix the electrical part,” Rojas said.
The Venezuelan Federation of Teachers does not handle figures on school dropouts. However, its president assures that there are a large number of boys, girls and adolescents who have quit studying.
“The parent sometimes does not have the means to send the child to school, because he does not have food to give him and the child stays home. “We see a large number of children on the street, on corners, at traffic lights, cleaning windows, these are boys who refuse to get involved in bad things and prefers to be in a job of that type to be able to bring bread home.” she pointed out.
Adelba Taffin asked Nicolás Maduro’s administration to make the necessary investment so that the educational process is carried out efficiently and thus avoid school dropouts as the number of children who have never entered a school continues to grow.
“Everything is in the hands of the national government, because if the required investment is made, the infrastructure is rehabilitated, teachers are paid, and social programs are guaranteed, all this can more easily allow children to attend educational centers in better conditions. This is the way to reduce: dropouts, absenteeism, lack of reintegration into schools, and the situation of inequality that exists between children whose parents cannot pay for a private education and those who can do so will end,” she stated.
Carmen Teresa Márquez regretted that the education authorities have not responded to the union’s requests. She pointed out that on July 19th they delivered a document to Vice President Delcy Rodríguez in which they asked for a decent salary, social security, restitution of bonuses that were violated by Onapre, solving the situation of infrastructure and services in schools, compliance with the PAE, but they have not received an effective response.
“We want a salary increase, not bonuses. Salary that has to do with social benefits, it affects the payment of the vacation bonus and the yearly bonus,” she reiterated.
She affirmed that they are willing to have a “sincere dialogue” so that the crisis in the educational sector is resolved and the right to quality education is guaranteed.