Venezuela Prepares Return to Classrooms as Teachers’ Unions Call for Prudence

The effort to return to in-person instruction comes as the country ramps up its COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

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President Nicolás Maduro holds up a copy of his government’s plan for a return to in-person classes. (Vicepresidencia)
President Nicolás Maduro holds up a copy of his government’s plan for a return to in-person classes. (Vicepresidencia)
By José Luis Granados Ceja
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Mexico City, Mexico, October 20, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – President Nicolás Maduro announced the government’s strategy to resume in-person classes for nearly 9 million students by the end of the month, though teachers’ unions argued for a gradual return instead.

Dubbed the “Bicentennial Victory” plan, the government’s strategy includes provisions for biosecurity measures but also calls on civil society groups to help convince students to return to school after an 18-month absence due to pandemic-related measures.

The head of the Venezuelan Federation of Teachers, Orlando Alzuru, said that schools and teachers may not be prepared for a return of the entire student population at once.

“It cannot be 100% of the students, it must be evaluated in parallel with the pandemic,” Alzuru told local media.

Alzuru said most education workers did not respond to a call in September for a return for administrative tasks and a sizable portion of teachers had not yet been vaccinated.

Education trade unions have likewise staged mobilizations in recent months demanding improved wages, with incomes as low as US $10 a month forcing many to pick up second jobs.

Meanwhile, teachers unions from various states warned that school facilities were also unprepared for students to return.

Richard Rivas, head of the Aragua teachers’ union, claimed that 80 to 90 percent of schools in the state were not ready to receive students.

President Maduro, together with Education Minister Yelitze Santaella, met with representatives from the education sector at the Miraflores palace to discuss the government’s strategy for returning to classrooms. Maduro said that it would continue to invest in school infrastructure and that it would run a campaign to motivate students to return to the classroom.

The effort to return to in-person instruction comes as the country ramps up its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, with the president announcing that over 53 percent of the population had been vaccinated and that the government had successfully imported sufficient doses to cover 80 percent of the population. Authorities have urged people over 18 to go to the nearest vaccination centers after the initial stages focused on priority groups.

Venezuela in particular has faced extraordinary challenges to vaccinate its population as a result of unilateral US economic sanctions that placed additional hurdles for the government to procure vaccines, with the country’s COVAX shipment infamously held up due to “overcompliance” of financial sanctions.

"It seems incredible that for things as important and simple as buying a vaccine you have to debate about international law, independence and sovereignty, and about the functioning of the world," said Maduro during a televised address on Sunday.

Despite the challenges in acquiring coronavirus vaccines, the country kicked off its campaign in February with Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm, later adding Cuba’s Abdala. The government expects to begin vaccinating children 3-years-old and older starting in November and is reportedly exploring what vaccine to purchase for booster shots in 2022.

Maduro also announced that the country would suspend its 7x7 model that saw a week of strict lockdown followed by a week with more relaxed measures. Instead, barring any outbreaks, the country would abide by looser measures from the start of November until the end of the year as part of an attempt to boost economic activity.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Mérida.

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