MARACAIBO, Venezuela (ViaNews) – The sufferings of Venezuelan economy are hardly unknown these days.
Inflation over 10,000 %, massive scarcity of basic products, an insignificant salary, rising dollar black market, cash almost inexistent, and so on.
These issues are not isolated in the void. They bring deep social hardships. The critical impoverishment of many Venezuelans who struggle to eat on a daily basis and a diminishing and continuously emigrating middle-class serve as a proof.
But, as María Félix Carrasquero –political scientist specialized in education policy- says, there are hidden parts of the crisis most people do not see. “It’s a mess. We usually see a crisis as a whole and ignore the parts”.
“Public education has been in a terrible state for years, and now is even worse. Private education is also suffering from inflation, lack of teachers, families that cannot pay the school, government pressures and many other problems that make the situation unsustainable”.
Students and teachers situation
There are no official statistics on student desertion, but according to Mariana Fernández, head of the network of archdiocesan schools (a group of schools funded and directed by Maracaibo Catholic Archdiocese) it is close to 60 %. “In most cases, students start missing classes because the country does not count with an organized school bus route and most parents don’t have enough money to take them to school, or because the parents leave the country looking for better living conditions and leave the children with their grandparents”. There are also a significant number of children leaving school to work to help sustain their families.
Teachers’ situation is not better. According to CENDA (Centre of Analysis and Documentation for the Workers) in April, the Familiar Basic Basket was around 75 million of Bolivares. This statistic states the income a family of two parents and three children needs to sustain themselves in terms of food, transportation, rent, personal items, etc.
To put it in perspective, a teacher in Venezuela usually earns between 1 and 2 minimum wages. Minimum wage in Venezuela plus alimentation (food) ticket (a bonus given to all workers by law) is 2 and a half million of Bolivares, which means a family where both parents are a teacher would need to earn 15 times their wage to be able to sustain the basic needs of their family.
“Minimum wage in Venezuela with the alimentation bonus is of 2 and a half million bolivares. You have to consider that a kg of chicken is around 3 million bolivares and a kg of cheese is around 2 million bolivares, and an egg carton around a million and a half. The hyperinflation the country is suffering accelerates the malnutrition symptoms many professors are presenting”. Daniel González, university scholar and one of the heads of EducaZulia, a Zulia state-based NGO on education, said to ViaNews.
This easily explains the exodus of Venezuelan teachers. “Teachers are leaving Venezuela through Colombia to countries like Ecuador and Chile, searching better life conditions because almost all teachers earn minimum wage, and that is not enough to even buy a kg meat per week,” Fernández said.
Another issue is transportation. Public transportation in Venezuela works exclusively in cash, which has been almost non-existent in Venezuela for about 6 months. There is a black market of cash where it is sold at 150-170 %. For example, to buy 100,000 bolivares in cash, a person must pay, 250,000-270,000 via electronic transfer. “Teachers do their best to keep some cash to go to work. In Venezuela, the number of basic education teachers who own a vehicle does not reach 3 %. Teachers spend the money they do not even have to go to school”.
“Many teachers have other works to sustain their families. The cost of public transportation is too high for professor wages. Teachers can spend around 600,000 and 700,000 bolivares a month in transportation if they live far away from the school they work at. This leads to teacher absenteeism in classes and them to quit their jobs”. González said.
Numerous teachers miss work on days they may find price-regulated basic products at a supermarket to have something to eat.
“In private schools, parent organizations have organized to give bonuses, food boxes to teachers to help reducing teacher absenteeism”.
And what about public schools? According to González, Resolution 114 of Education Ministry expressly prohibits that teachers are helped with bonuses given by teachers in public or subsidized schools. “It is a State abuse. The government cannot prohibit the parents to help teachers to have better living conditions. It is an abuse of Teacher State”.
María Félix Carrasquero says that as Venezuelan State has dictatorial and totalitarian characteristics, ideologization in education is key to achieve their political goals. “Education has been progressively politicized. First, it was public education, and now Government’s been trying to do the same in private education”.
Government has started to use young people formed in Bolivarian schools, where –according to Daniel González- they are indoctrinated in socialist and Chavista ways. “They are substituting teachers that leave schools. They impart ideologized classes to children. For example, in history, a Chavista vision of Venezuelan history is taught. They foment a personality cult to Hugo Chávez with an exaltation of Marxist and socialist principles”.
“Bicentenarian Curriculum deforms history, impoverishes chemistry, physics and math texts. Ministry of Education supervisors intimidate schools that do not use those books”.
Bicentenarian curriculum is a government attempt to change the education scheme and content throughout Venezuelan public and private education. Some, as González, believe this is an attempt to politicize Venezuelan education system.
But another issue has been disorganization, according to Mariana Fernández.
“Teachers in public schools have to work with random curriculums. In the past few years, they were promised a new curricular structure that never arrived. There are three or four different curriculums in public schools at the same time. Contradictory guidelines are given and every year a new program arrives but is never continued.”
“In my opinion, the ideologization in education has not advanced much. It has little structure and organization within the planning of the Ministry”.
What about the future?
“We can hardly be optimistic by the foreseeable future. Things are not going to get better” Carrasquero says.
As Venezuelan economy, basic education future seems grim. Daniel González states he believes that “with the implications of hyperinflation, Venezuelan economy will remain collapsing”.
“If someone wants to work in education, he or she must understand that it is not a job that will allow a decent standard of living. It can only be seen as a social work, something you do for love and vocation, but only that”.