Never the name of Venezuela had been so known by all the humanity, but unfortunately for its inhabitants, it´s not for a good reason. Venezuela today is synonymous with hunger, misery, despair, violence, chaos and horror. For the first time in the recent history of mankind, it is seen as an apparently “normal” country that became the new Cuba in less than 5 years, without that debacle being due to war or natural disasters. The catastrophe has caused the worst migratory wave of refugees in the history of Latin America, and comparable with the Syrian wave in its magnitude.
Few know that Venezuela once was a rich and powerful country, a country that touched with its fingers, for a brief moment, the First World prosperity. Few know that Venezuela before Chávez was one of the most advanced and best educated countries in the continent. Venezuela had one of the highest HDIs in Latin America, and the democratic governments of the 1958-1999 period worked hard to educate an illiterate country.
The Venezuelan educational system consists of 9 years of basic and compulsory education, 2 years of secondary education and finally, the vast majority of undergraduate careers in public universities last for 5 years, although in private universities the undergraduate careers usually last 4 years.
In 1998, the schooling rate reached 64.15%, illiteracy dropped from 40% in 1958 to 7% in 1998, there was a school enrollment of 6,184,835 students (in a country populated by 23 million at that time), and there were 796,350 university students in that year. 130 new universities were born in just 41 years. Venezuela could be proud to be one of the best educated countries in America, and even today, the Venezuelan diaspora is composed mostly of university graduates.
Education was public and free since 1870 by decree of President Antonio Guzman Blanco. The aggressive education campaign of the Venezuelan democracy removed millions from poverty and gave them the opportunity to become skilled workers.
Chavez governments claim to have fought against ignorance, but actually destroyed all the achievements of previous civil governments in education. It´s true that now gross school enrollment is higher than that of the democratic era, but the quality of education received by students is much lower than that of the Old Republic because the teachers of public schools and universities are among the lowest paid workers from the country. According to Chávez himself, what mattered was that everyone could enter in the university, if they later deserted or left poorly prepared, it was irrelevant.
Venezuelan colleges fell dramatically in the international rankings compared to 1998. Right now, according to the QS World University Rankings by Subject, the best university in the country, the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), is ranked 28th in the Latin American ranking, outside the TOP 25, when formerly it appeared in the TOP 10.
As if all this weren´t bad enough, the Chávez government opted to pay miserable salaries to university professors because, being part of the middle class, they are mostly anti-Chávez. Right now a professor who has already completed his doctorate earns 16$ per month, the equivalent of two minimum salaries, while in the rest of Latin America, professors earn 3000$ per month as minimum.
Venezuelan teachers work for the love of art, and depend on other jobs or the remittances of their relatives who have emigrated. In private colleges, which do not depend on the state budget, unfortunately it is not very different due to hyperinflation and the collapse of the value of the bolivar that has made Venezuela the cheapest country in the region. If you have dollars, of course.
Of course, this is reflected in a profound professorial defection. Only in the period 2016-2017, 1400 professors of the prestigious UCV resigned their jobs, packed their bags and emigrated from the country. And of course, this in turn is reflected in the students, who are also going hungry and have no choice but to look for work to help their families or emigrate.
Only in the Zulia´s University (LUZ), 15,000 students deserted in the period 2015-2017. LUZ had an enrollment of 60,000 students before the beginning of the economic depression. LUZ is a public university, but the high costs of private universities have also boosted their own dropout rates.
According to the latest Survey on Living Conditions (ENCOVI 2017), conducted by three colleges in Caracas, at least 39% of the 7,330,000 Venezuelan students attend classes irregularly due to hunger, power failures and failures in the water service. Dropping out of school increased by 8% since 2014.
In a country where 48% of households are poor and most eat less than three times a day, it is important that public schools can provide a meal for their students to be able to learn. Since the times of the Old Republic, there is the School Food Program (PAE), which was responsible for providing breakfast and lunch to high school students. Theoretically, the PAE still exists, but the corruption and fiscal deficit led to the fact that children don´t have access to any lunch, or in their defect, they can only eat an insufficient dish, without chicken or meat or any animal protein.
In public universities, the free canteens available to students suffer from the same problems, and have even suffered periods of closure of several months due to infrastructure problems, lack of food or labor conflicts.
The economic situation of high school teachers is even worse than that of university professors. Many times they don´t have money to pay for public transport tickets to go to school and return. According to the Venezuelan Federation of Teachers (FVM), only 25-30% of the 350,000 teachers registered in the Ministry of Education are teaching right now.
Private schools aren´t saved either, because due to hyperinflation and maxi-devaluation, many middle-class families have left private schools to enroll their children in a public school. As a result, private schools have less money to pay a good salary for their teachers, which only fuels even more the escape of teachers as refugees.
In summary, the Venezuelan education system today only causes despair, depression and a deep pain to see how one of the best educational systems in Latin America is now at African levels. As a Venezuelan, I can only say one thing: God, please help us.