Insecurity, inflation, and violations of civil liberties have dominated the demands of Venezuelan protesters since they gained momentum in February. However, a new priority has joined the list: education.
The central government has started a “National Consultation for the Quality of Education” — a survey in all schools that will serve as feedback to reform the educational curricula and the education system overall. Minister of Education Héctor Rodríguez has explained that “[government officials] are asking the children how they want their school, how they imagine their teachers,” and the questions will be made available to the public.
In September, the results will also be available and ready to guide the structure of a plan to reform the education system. The government has pushed forward this initiative to “solve all and each one of the existent flaws with the cooperation of each stakeholder: parents, representatives, students, teachers and neighbors.”
Both students and parents are set to be surveyed. Reflecting widespread suspicion, however, opposition Representative Neidy Rosal has rejected this consultation.
“They [students] are underage, and their decision is not above their parents’, because children are not mature enough and do not have the knowledge to decide on a topic as delicate as education; this is a matter of parents and representatives.”
Further, the participation of third-party actors such as neighbors has provoked concern among Venezuelans. Lawyer and university professor José Ignacio Hernández notes that this consultation conceives education as a joint responsibility between the parents and the community, which includes communal councils, workers, and the government. For Hernández, the consultation is simply unconstitutional.
Since the consultation is a step towards a final and complete reform of the education system, many opponents consider it the last step before the complete adaptation of education to the socialist model, as established in the Plan for the Fatherland, and push forward of Resolution 058 (R058).
Civil society organizations, parents, and school associations have rejected this consultation, and labeled it an excuse to push forward the R058 — a reform passed by the Ministry of Education in 2012. Even though two years have passed since R058 was approved, the state has had a hard time putting it into practice, particularly in private schools. Complications and ambiguities in the resolution, as well as opposition by parents and representatives in many schools, have made it even more difficult.
R058 and Implications for Schools in Venezuela
With this reform, the supervision, evaluation, and training of teachers, the maintenance of the schools’ facilities, and the School Nourishment Program — responsibilities that were once owned by the state — are now transferred to a new figure called the Education Council.
The law implies many changes in the dynamic of the education system, however, the most controversial one has been the participation of third parties in the schools’ major decisions. Mariano Herrera, director of the Center for Research on Culture and Educational Affairs, believes this resolution leaves out the parents’ exclusive authority in their children’s education. Aside from generating more bureaucracy (the resolution creates 11 regulating committees), the reform establishes Education Councils, formed by teachers, students, school employees and even communal councils.
Herrera also warns that the most threatening aspect of this resolution is the participation of communal councils that could bring political activism to the education scope, and divert the schools’ true nature. This process portrays schools as eventual centers for social and political activism with the participation of community organizations.
“The school is for kids,” he says. “It dismisses its pedagogic aspect, and substitutes it for unrest, and eventually, propaganda.”
This is not the first time the government has paved the way to politicize schools. According to Herrera, the process of indoctrination is actually made through text books that the state has made mandatory and distributed for free in public and private schools. That includes an edition of the constitution for kids, which portrays Hugo Chávez as a hero right next to Simon Bolivar, the liberator of Venezuela. Herrera describes Chávez’s personification in these textbooks “as a messiah sent by celestial authorities.”
In this regard, Pablo Sánchez — a member of the student movement and former member of the Federation of Students of Middle School — told the PanAm Post the implications of R058. According to Sánchez, this law not only constrains the parents’ right to choose the type of education they want for their children, but most importantly, it takes away from them the leading role in the decision-making process. Now the state, alongside the “community” — through communal councils and school employees — will decide as well the future of each child’s education.
Sánchez explains that this community involvement has broad ramifications.
“Last year, a group of citizens from Táchira state notified us that the ELN [Colombian paramilitaries] had access to the schools in the region. We also received warnings of threats that school authorities have faced from the ‘community.’ [This conflict arises] when they receive textbooks from the Bicentenary Collection or when the schools are forced to eliminate the student bodies, and instead form education councils.”
The student leader notes that back in 2012, when Resolution 058 was passed, the reaction was not as strong as it is now.
“Now the rejection of the R058 is at the forefront of public opinion. Before, we were alone in this struggle. I hope that now the society will show more support to all those affected by this measure.”