Photo: AP, retrieved

The Offspring song Why don’t you get a job? comes to mind when I wonder if today’s elementary education is Venezuela’s future. The government is condemning the country to be a source of cheap labor with forgotten schools, post-apocalyptic factories and pregnant teenagers, something that won’t be easy (or quick) to solve with a change of regime.

We live in a quiet mountain near Nirgua, a small farm-town of Yaracuy state. I’m a retired journalist and my husband a retired engineer. We came here looking for nature, organic seeding and raising our kids far from the chaos of the city. Yet looking to enroll the children in the nearest public school, I found a horrifying panorama: there’s a revisionist study of historical figures and basic math operations. And that’s all they teach you.

Children must spend eight hours (with their respective meals if they’re lucky) at dull classrooms more akin prisons, with cracked walls, peeling paint and a poor feeding program. To promote learning and the fun of acquiring knowledge, there are no libraries, computer classrooms, playgrounds or even running water.

While today’s global tendency is to provide new technologies for the educational system, how will a Venezuela without educated thinkers, technicians and innovators be? Is it government policy to get kids used to cheap labor?

If you come from a poor family and your only chance in life is your education, and if they do not give you these fundamentals, nothing will save you.

“The future of countries resembles the present of their schools” said the former Education Secretary of Miranda State, Juan Maragall. Last year, he described Venezuela as a “black sheep” when it comes to school performance: “In 2010, when we applied the Pisa international tests in Miranda to evaluate 15-year-old students, 80% had unacceptable levels in math, and the world average is 12%. That’s critical, if you don’t have mathematical thinking, you can’t have scientific or logical thinking, you have many personal and professional limitations.”

To take a look at any of my daughter’s friends notebooks is an act of intestinal fortitude; none of them knows how to write correctly in their native tongue, despite being in the 4th or 5th grade. They’re capable of receiving one subject a day. Maragall says that “if you’re not fully literate by the third grade, schooling is bound to fail.” I’m tutoring three girls between eight and nine years old, who ignore the basics of reading and writing in Spanish.

Andreas Schleicher is coordinator of The Programme of International Students Assessments (Pisa) and, speaking of Latin America’s low school performance in 2014, he stated: “We do not say that science, math and reading are the only things, but they are important foundations. If you come from a poor family and your only chance in life is your education, and if they do not give you these fundamentals, nothing will save you.” Unfortunately, Venezuela does not participate in Pisa tests and we cannot know our actual records of school performance.

Source: Improving learning outcomes worldwide: How PISA can help, April 2013

The line chart above presents the relationship of national wealth (as expressed by GNI per capita) with reading performance in Pisa; it shows Miranda State reading performance as a relevant sample of the educational situation of the country: In 2013, Venezuela was classified as a non-high income country (GNI < 12.476 USD per capita, according to World Bank Indicators of 2011) and an okay reading score close to 425 points, greater than Trinidad and Tobago and Qatar, both considered as high income countries that year. Costa Rica, the Russian Federation, Turkey, Lithuania, Serbia, Chinese Taipei and others classified as non-high income countries as well, with a considerable higher reading performance than ours.

When the Ministry of Education gives a Canaimita mini-laptop to a poor Venezuelan child, how does the State make sure it will benefit his educational development? With no internet supervision or filters to avoid adult content, these computers are surely misused, an unaddressed fact on the 39th session General Conference of Unesco on November 2017, by Elías Jaua.

Some of the main features of the best American public elementary schools, like highly effective environments at stimulating learning and fostering personal growth, institutional attention to variety, innovation, fun and strong parental involvement, and a highly-motivated faculty, staff and students, might provide us with a compass on how to improve.

One thing’s for sure: changes won’t happen as long as chavismo is in power.

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  1. I actually put Andreas Schleicher in contact with Juan Maragall thanks to Juan Nagel’s help. Back then I found out or rather got the confirmation of a lot of sad things. I asked from 2007 onwards to different groups in Venezuela – university professors, teachers’ federations, to help in bringing this Pisa test to the country. Most did not want out of fear of the government or because they themselves saw transparency as a threat or an insult to Venezuela.

    I actually found out Venezuela had taken part in other tests before Chavismo got to power and results were almost the worst in the Americas, only competing back then with Haiti and Bolivia. Of course, the results were kept hidden from the public.

    I am sure Bolivia fairs much better now than Venezuela. And it is not about you or me, it is about the median Venezuelan.
    One of the obsessions Venezuelans had was to invest much more on university education than secondary and primary. This was absolutely shortsighted and actually stupid.
    Regarding Miranda’s results: they were bad and yet I am sure national schools would have had much worse results.
    And that is why the regime and not only it would hate us if we started to tell Venezuelans in San Felipe or Calabozo, Los Teques or Maturín what they are missing,
    how much their kids are lagging behind the rest in Latin America, not to mention the whole world.

  2. The average level is shamefully low but there have always been elite academic institutions that can often deliver a high quality first world education in quite a few fields of study ………they feed on an elite stream of students that can meet the highest world standards , but if you take into account the general educational level which is prevalent in most of the country the showing is dismal to appalling…., the thing is , how can it be improved …..usually what most helps is not just the academic part but the home character formation part which translates into better academic results than average , lots of studies supporting that ……and in Venezuela the social fabric of most kids home life is in shreds from negligent parenting or general indifference to the value of a better education among many of our marginals ……., so the task ahead is larger than might appear because it has to go to the roots of our cultural values as a people ..

  3. This is probably THE most important topic to address when trying to understand failed 5th world countries. How did a rich, prosperous country like Venezuela transform itself so quickly into one of the worst “shitholes” on the Planet? The fundamental reason was an abysmal Lack of Real Education.

    The tragic Chavista popular phenomenon, that “socialism” or “populism” disaster emerged due to the alienation of a majority of the populace, vastly ignorant and excluded from the Economic engine. After 4 decades of previous MUDs ‘democracies’, millions of average “pueblo” people felt excluded, jealous indeed at ‘los burguesitos’, a classic dichotomy between a minority of powerful “Have’s” and the “Have Not’s” . That’s exactly what Chavez was able to capitalize on with his evil lies and charisma, the vast resentment of the under educated, left out populace. He created the phantoms of “Capitalism”, “Imperio” “Guerra Economica” “Poder para el Pueblo”, he exploited those feelings against ‘los sifrinos’, ‘la Oligarquia”, and invented the bullshit “Revolucion del Pueblo”.. The rest is Rio Guaire History..

    But why was Chavez able to fool so many people so easily? (he flat out lied in the early 90’s, posing as a Capitalist for the people himself). Why was he so successful in manipulating the masses with such obvious Mega-Mojones Galacticos, such blatant populism, empty promises? Not just because the Oil prices were so high that they could Steal Trillions and there was still something left for freebies to bribe the poor, ignorant Chavistas. It was mainly because the majority of the population was incredibly ignorant, gullible, uneducated. That’s why. And that’s why Chavismo has been able to perpetuate itself for almost 2 decades in power now. More than through Repression, Media control, Food control, it’s Astronomical Ignorance of the people that keeps them in power, more and more isolated from the civilized world.

    Thus, Massive Ignorance led to economic alienation, resentment, welcoming Chavismo and to massive Mega Corruption, at all levels of society. Trickle-down Corruption Economics is what happened, if you will. From the obreros and the campesinos to the syndicates to lower management to upper management. Not just the Chavista politicians. Enchufados Everywhere, corrupt (not all but MOST), leeches, complicit, by the Millions. The same average, uneducated people that were alienated before (but not nearly as poor) were incorporated into the Desfalco Nacional (National Pilferage, at all levels) That, or ultimately forced out of the country and the Guisos, when there wasn’t much more left to steal. To this day, Massive Ignorance is what keeps Chavismo afloat. Just listen to most Chavistas talk in the streets, and even their top politicians, their abysmal cluelessness and enormous lack of education is flagrant the very second they open their mouths. Which allowed the Brain-Wash, the corruption, the mental decadence and lack of moral values, the destruction of the economy, and ultimately created the complete Disaster of Klepto-Narcozuela today.

    And that’s exactly what the Castro-Chavista sinister Master Plan recognized and called for. Grab the resentment of such clueless, manipulate the lost, uneducated masses, wash their ignorant brains with populist crap and lies, incorporate them into the Thievery Corporation (one of my favorite bands, btw) that is Kleptozuela nowadays. Make them complicit and highly clap-dependent, Guiso-dependent, hooked on Chavismo. It take very high levels of sheer Ignorance and horrific levels of under-education as described on this post to accomplish that, and sustain it for so long. The Master Plan working exceedingly well. Poor, ignorant zombies is mostly what’s left after the massive immigration of the few, educated millions of professionals we had. Perfect for them.

    You can imagine that the future is very, very bleak. Regardless of what happens, whether Kleptozuela remains Narco-Cubazuela for many decades to come, except even worse, or if the MUD somehow comes back. (Violently, most likely). It will remain a veritable mess, for a long, long time. There’s a real Generational gap of under-nourished, extremely uneducated people, with horrible work habits, highly corruptible, populacheros, clueless. An entire wasted, worthless generation is what’s up for Kleptozuela. It always come back to EDUCATION. Won’t be any different in the future, as this post grimly describes. People have been even worse educated the past 2 decades, (plus brain-washed), than they were before!

    Venezuela is dead. And what really killed it was its own massive ignorance. Blame it on the previous MUDs.

  4. My personal experience with the locals is that their writing skills are decent but their math skills often suck.

    Woman: How much are the eggs?

    Me: 6,000 bs per egg senora.

    Woman: Give me 20,000 bs in eggs then.

    School attendance this year is way down from previous years. The cost of clothing, shoes, transport, and lack of food have taken a heavy toll. And those that do attend classes, to me at least, appear to spend about as much time in the streets as they do in the classroom.

    Hard to believe there’s much educating going on in Venezeula right now.

      • Nah. Just accept the extra 2000, and charge her interest on it, like a good socialist would do. (Joke. A capitalist might set it aside in an investment account and give her a share of returns until it got to 6000, and let her add to the principal. Like a bank. That’s not so much a joke, btw. Some guy in Bangladesh opened up a bank making the equivalent of like two dollar loans to people who wanted to get out of rattan-weaving slavery and open up their own businesses where they could keep the profits. After a few years of this, 98% of the loans were repaid, which pretty much a world record, and something like $200 million was in the bank. Chicken feed for us, but an enormous amount over there. The guy won a Nobel prize.)

  5. The materials we would bring to occupy a child on the airplane to Venezuela- a handful of thoughtful books, some paper, some writing materials- was obviously from my observation vast riches compared to what many of the child’s Venezuelan peers would see. And they want to learn, these kids. They are desperate with curiosity.

    The adults, spending their oil riches on enormous gasoline subsidies, bloated and mismanaged bureaucracy, and propaganda, have failed them.

    It is not strictly an issue of class, either. There are well to do homes that have hardly a book in them, and there are fancy bookstores empty of anything interesting to read.

    And then…where are the public libraries? Has anyone seen one of those? A system of public libraries where parents could take their kids from pre school to high school could ALONE rescue a country like Venezuela.

    It is a topic to get the blood boiling….

    • Cannuck, as kids we had National Geographic, World Book Encyclopedia, and too many scientific magazines and journals to recall. I wonder if today it’d be the same with internet access.

      I do recall that when I first visited the country in 1992, the guy I’d hired as my country manager told me that he’d never seen a single book in the numerous homes he’d visited.

      • My parents got me World Book in like 1965! It was an expensive set and had to be financed!

        And they subscribed to their Year Book up through when I graduated high school in 1974.

        • It was about the same time for us Ira, perhaps a year or two earlier. I recall the salesman asking me what interested me and I said, “birds”. He grabbed the B book and opened it to the bird section. I bet I read every word of that section a thousand times.

  6. When one of my nieces arrived in Miami last year, my wife and I went through the closets for old learning materials, but brand-new, that my sons never used, for her 10-year-old son.

    Tons of stuff like notebooks, folders, pens/markers, protractors, compasses, etc. Those two boxes must have weighed 50 pounds each.

    Now, if someone gave me this stuff when I was 10, I would have said, “EECH! Where are the toys?” But this kid’s face lit up like a Christmas tree.

    Boy, do we take things for granted in the First World.

  7. I notice on the chart that Chile leads SA nations in reading ability and in national wealth. According to Wikipedia, It also leads in rankings of human development, competitiveness, income per capita, globalization, state of peace, economic freedom, and low perception of corruption, and has the lowest homicide rate.

    It seems to me that Chile might be a logical template for a post-Chavismo Venezuela. Yet if you mention Chile in polite company you are met with stone-faced silence or are lectured on the horrors of the CIA and the Penochet years. I think it is the mere thought of giving some credit to Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, the “right-wing,” and the “decade of greed” that makes certain people so uncomfortable.

    • Right. Thanks to Pinochet Chile part of the 1st world now, best country in all of LatAm by far. Meanwhile, Venezuela kicked its Pinochet out, MPJ, and got Chavismo instead. Otherwise, it would be even better than Chile. Tough Love is what some of these countries require for a while..

    • Self-hate necessarily turns to hate for anything excellent, anything that reminds them of their own failings. Naturally, then their hate turns to destruction of anything excellent.

      • You nailed it:

        Psychology truly is the basis for political leanings and motivations. It has nothing to do with the best systems, beliefs, policies to advance the people.

        It has to do with justifying one’s belief systems. And neither the left or right is more guilty of this than the other.

        Except it’s the left which causes the most damage with this kind of psychopathy.

      • Brilliant, vous. Brilliant.

        It dawned on me that insisting on individual freedoms is not “partisan politics”, it’s not “right-wing”, nor any other label. It is very simply individual freedom, a repudiation of the socialist’s “You must agree with me”.

        Part of the trouble is getting group action out of a bunch of people who are individually free, enjoying life. The socialists, on the other hand, are all about “uniting [against the enemy]” so those types naturally coalesce and foul the waters. Free individuals see how wrong that is, but it’s somehow hard to believe that anyone would push a socialist agenda, and hard to realize that we have to actually organize and waste time trying to rescue idiots whose modus operandi is lying, half-truths, obfuscation, theft, and destruction. Rescue ourselves from being trampled, and rescue them from their totally failed “ideology [insanity]”. They’ve already killed over 100 million people the world over, and have brought entire populations to backwards poverty and misery, refusing to “allow” individual thought and action, as if they were rulers of the universe. And still these fools crawl on the ground to kiss Karl Marx’s boots, and want more? “Thank you, Master! May I have another, please!” (Yich.)

  8. The country is flat broke and most of the resources left should go to the students most likely to make good use of the education given them and to salvaging the most promising educational institutions ……., trying to get every body a decent education is beyond the countrys means and for many of the students a waste ot time . We also have to be more selective in funding the kind of professional disciplines that bring the greatest benefit and allow the rest to fend for themselves ………some restriction should be placed on letting professionals whose education has been paid for publicly from leaving the country at least for the 1st years ….., also private education should fostered even by giving a per capita bonus for every deserving student offered a seat …… Vocational educational courses should be prioritized over university education except for the very best students or those of paying for their own superior education ……!! A test should be given every student to gauge which of them are most likely to complete their education and exclude giving educational opportunities to students which flunk those tests unless they pay for their education …….


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