Mérida, September 15, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)- Venezuela's national preschool program known as Simoncito has been expanded to serve 70% of Venezuelan children, and a new drug prevention program will be launched in high schools this year in cooperation with the National Anti-drug Office, Venezuelan government officials announced over the weekend.
"This year enrollment in pre-school education reached more than a million and a half children," President Chávez declared on his weekly Sunday talk show Alo Presidente. "Ten years ago, it was practically non-existent. Now, attention to this age group reaches 70.03%, and we must continue expanding the network of Simoncitos," he added.
Chávez kicked off his talk show by inaugurating a new Simoncito facility, which has the capacity to care for 240 children. Touring the facility, the president described how it would provide not only daily meals and space for children between the ages of three and six to play and participate in classroom activities, but it will also offer infant care, maternal health and nutrition instruction for pregnant mothers.
The educational philosophy of the Simoncito preschools, which are among Venezuela's many federal social programs known as "missions," is based on Article 103 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which was passed by popular vote in 1999. This article establishes that it is the state's duty to provide free, high-quality education from the "maternal" years through undergraduate university level.
"Simoncito" means "Little Simón," a reference to Venezuelan independence leader Simón Bolívar, after whom the Bolivarian Revolution led by President Hugo Chávez is named.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan Minister of Education, Hector Navarro, announced that his ministry is teaming up with the National Anti-Drug Office to launch an anti-drug education and prevention program called "Planting Values for Life" in high schools this year.
"It is in the schools where we must do the fundamental work... the idea is to promote attitudes against drugs and prepare communities too. That is why members of community councils are participating in the program," said Minister Navarro. "In other words, it is the projection of the curriculum beyond the walls of the classroom."
The program will first be launched in Caracas and the states of Barinas and Anzoategui this year.
The coordinator of the new joint project, Silvia Vidal, said the program aims to promote "novel strategies" to "plant the seed of prevention" in the national curriculum.
"The objective is to be able to say that Venezuela, just as it was declared an illiteracy-free territory, is drug-free, and the best way to do this is to bring values to children in their first years of formation," said Vidal.
Minister Navarro said the program shows that the U.S. officials who have criticized Venezuela's anti-drug policy for being insufficient are mistaken. "The issue of drugs is being used as political tool to attack Venezuela," he said.
In addition, Minister Navarro recently announced that the state will invest 9 billion bolivars (about US$4.5 billion) this year to repair old schools and construct new "Bolivarian" high schools, which are based on an "integral" approach to education that includes the involvement of community councils.
The investment is part of the Simon Bolívar National Development Plan and is the largest yearly investment in educational facilities in the history of the country, the minister said.
"I am personally traveling around the country to verify the state of the projects along with the communities," said Navarro. "The participation of the community councils is fundamental."
President Chavez said Sunday that the new schools will be equipped with computers obtained through trade deals he signed this year with Portugal, and also previous deals signed with China, in exchange for cheap Venezuelan oil.
Article 103 of the Constitution also requires the Venezuelan government to comply with United Nations recommendations for public education. According to the Minister of Planning and Development, Haiman El Troudi, Venezuela is on track to satisfy the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for the universalization of pre-school, primary, and secondary education by the year 2015.