Photo: Contexto Diario retrieved.

Three weeks ago, Carmen Hidalgo accepted being part of the body of teachers in a private high school in San Bernardino. “Every time I took my daughter, the owner, who was always at the door, asked me if I wanted to teach. He told me they needed teachers for biology, literature, physics and guidance. I laughed and told him I graduated in a different area and I was no teacher, but as the first term passed, I accepted and took my daughter’s class, third year.”

Carmen was told the task was temporary. “I don’t think (they’ll find someone else), the pay isn’t very attractive. They’re putting out the call for new teachers and nobody comes, only parents.”

“I spend Bs.S. 90 to get to school, that’s two thirds of my monthly salary,” said Érika Sánchez, recently graduated from the Libertador Experimental Pedagogical University, the top school for aspiring teachers. “That’s why I miss classes so much.”

Declining education

Professor Orlando Alzura, from the Venezuelan Federation of Teachers, says that the crisis intensified in the last two years and, this year in particular, there was a serious breakdown after the economic measures of August 17. Misery pushed many to leave their posts.

I spend Bs.S. 90 to get to school, that’s two thirds of my monthly salary.

Now it’s hard to find a teacher. The salary is between $0.3 and $0.5 at the moment; the Education Ministry’s insurance for Hospitalization, Surgery and Maternity (HCM) only covers Bs.S. 200 (a soda can), and funeral insurance is merely Bs.S. 150 (a cup of coffee). There are no incentives for teaching at schools that may be at dangerous slums.

There are 350,000 teachers in the Education Ministry’s payroll. Of that total, Alzuru estimates that only between 25% and 30% are teaching.

“And they’re not all leaving the country, some don’t go to school because they can’t pay for transport. That happens in both the public and private sectors.”

People who work in schools of low-income areas, like La Vega, Antímano, El Valle and Gramoven, don’t have it easy.

“Perhaps there’s lots of vocation, but no alternatives,” says Érika Sánchez. “Our pay is bad, there’s no transport, we get to school and classes are suspended because there’s no water, no power or there are worms everywhere because of trash. Then you see the classroom dwindle from 30 to 15 students. They don’t attend for our same reasons: they can’t pay the bus and they have no food.”

When the School Food Program was around, attendance was better. “I saw children eat half of what they got and take the rest home for their parents. That’s a reality. The program is irregular now, there could be only rice, pasta or perhaps just a buttered arepa.”

Recycling teachers

Lila Vega, member of the parents and representatives’ network, says they’re training professionals in fields that match school subjects. They’re inducted into teaching and hired.

“Perhaps there’s lots of vocation, but no alternatives,” says Érika Sánchez. “Our pay is bad, there’s no transport, we get to school and classes are suspended.”

In La Vega, the San Alberto Hurtado network trains people from the community itself. One of them, Yenny Mantilla, is a full-fledged teacher now, on her sixth semester at college. There’s also Ada, a parent and worker who also became part of Canaima School.

Last year, the government tried to solve the situation with the “express” graduation of teachers from the Bolivarian University, but there’s no guarantee or quality of training. Professor Alzuru believes there can’t be improvisation in education.

“A person needs proper training to teach, and what we see now is that [the government] doesn’t care about training: the Central University’s Education school has no budget; its counterpart in Zulia already shut down and in the Los Andes University, it’s going the same way. We have less and less teachers, there are no candidates and with a minimum wage of BsS. 2,600, when the food basket surpasses BsS. 46,000, they prefer to leave school.”

Carmen, Yenny and Ada are now heroines, but who knows for how long.

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