Bolivarian revolution makes education a priority Tuesday, April 29, 2008
By: Johan Zapata
Quality schools no longer a privilege for the rich
"An ignorant people is the blind instrument of its own destruction." Those were the words of Simón Rodríguez, the tutor who educated Simón Bolivar—hero of the Latin American liberation struggle.
President Hugo Chávez visits a classroom in Venezuela.
Over the past nine years, President Hugo Chávez has prioritized education in order to advance the country toward socialism. In 1998, before Chávez was elected president, 9 percent of the national budget was allocated to education; this year, 22 percent—over $14 billion—will be spent on education.
At first, the advances came through the creation of the educational "missions," or social programs. Mission Robinson I was dedicated to helping teach every Venezuelan to read and write. Mission Robinson II was created to help Venezuelans of all ages reach at least sixth grade level, prioritizing those whose economic circumstances had forced them to quit school. Mission Ribas helped Venezuelans who needed to complete their high school education. Mission Sucre was created to prepare individuals for careers through short educative programs prior to entry into universities.
These programs have put Venezuela on track to join Cuba in the top ranks for literacy in Latin America. Cuba has played a key role in the education programs, by developing the Mission Robinson I program and providing many teachers. Over 50 percent of the Venezuelan population is studying. Every year since the creation of the missions, the Bolivarian government has increased social spending in education and health care,making them top priorities.
In May 2007, Chávez announced the creation of Mission Alma Mater with the intent of expanding the university structure in Venezuela. This new mission would focus on "continuing to open spaces for youth to assure free, high quality higher education to everyone," said Chávez.
Mission Alma Mater will oversee the construction of 11 national universities, 13 regional universities and four technical institutes between 2007 and 2012. One of the new national universities being built is the University of the South, which will be open to all Latin Americans. This year, the Bolivarian government is allocating $560 million to the building of new universities and $465 million to existing universities.
In order to carry out the new initiative along with all the prior missions, Chávez announced the creation of a 14-member Presidential Council on education reform. This council would not only oversee the expansion of the educational system but also the new revolutionary content of Bolivarian education.
"We want to create our own collective, creative and diverse ideology," said Chávez. By this, he means uprooting the old capitalistic ideology and replacing it with a new Bolivarian socialist ideology.
Overcoming educational barriers for the poor
Bolivarian education is based on four pillars: learning to create, learning to coexist and participate, learning to value and learning to reflect. The latest education reforms seek to do away with the old colonial, Eurocentric, capitalistic and consumerist education. In its place is the new model based on unity, brotherhood, solidarity, respect and socialism.
This method teaches individuals to cooperate with each other instead of competing, to place the collective before the individual, to appreciate the environment and help preserve it and to learn the importance of Latin American cultures, customs and history.
This education starts during early childhood. Before the Bolivarian revolution, kindergarten was optional; now, it is mandatory for every child. The government has taken the task of building "Simónsitos" kindergarten units throughout the country to provide access to all Venezuelan children.
The elementary curriculum does not just tackle academic subjects; it also involves students in poetry, dance, theater, community activities, environmental initiatives and sports. These programs are continued through high school where students are assisted in finding their field of interest and pursuing this field within their communities and local universities.
The Bolivarian approach rejects education as a path to wage-slavery to meet the needs of capitalist production. It makes education the responsibility of the government no matter the race, class or gender of the student. This educational model aims to unify the people under a social project—the Bolivarian revolution—and break up the social stratification built into the old educational system.
In 2006, Andrés Eloy Ruiz, the rector of the Bolivarian University of Venezuela said: "The education imparted in the Fourth Republic [preceding the Bolivarian Revolution] was conceived for small groups. It was not intended to even out differences, to provide to the student who did not have access to books at home the same knowledge as the kid who did. Instead, the education we had here—and that we are today eliminating—was one that actually acted as a multiplier of differences."
In 2007, the Chávez government abolished the practice of entry exams into universities. The exams favored middle- and upper-class Venezuelans who had access to better education than the poor. The Bolivarian government has made education a constitutional right, granting free access to schools and providing scholarships to any student who needs financial assistance for food and shelter.
Human development a cornerstone of revolution
This system of education is structured to elevate the whole of society not just a small elite. Teachers are respected and integral parts of the new system; in 2008 all teachers in Venezuela received a 40 percent pay increase. All university employees received 28 percent to 34 percent pay raises in 2007.
The Bolivarian model shows that it is possible to prioritize the educational enrichment of the population over the narrow need for laborers fit for capitalist exploitation. Such a model, however, could not thrive outside the context of a revolutionary transition to socialism.
The success of this system cannot be fully measured by the progress of the last four years, nor by the increases in teachers’ salaries or the size of the education budget. Its success will rest on the long-term education of the Venezuelan people and the development of the collective consciousness of the working class—victories which will be reflected in the advancement of the Bolivarian revolution.