As the school year started this week, new public schools and institutes were inaugurated nationwide in Venezuela.
Calling for the national educational system to be more “inclusive and demanding”, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez inaugurated two newly renovated schools in the states of Portugesa and Lara to open the scholastic year last Monday.
Chavez demanded a rise of the bar in terms of education in Venezuela, stating that although the South American nation occupies one of the highest places in terms of education in Latin America and the world, “we can’t sit on our laurels. We have to keep improving”.
In the state of Lara, the Venezuelan leader visited the Hector Rojas Meza Educational Unit where he delivered 46 mini-laptop computers to first and second grade students.
The computers are part of a government program called Canaima, which, according to the Minister of Education, Jennifer Gil, will make 768 thousand units available for free to first and second graders this year to aid in their studies.
The mini-laptops contain multimedia educational programs designed to complement students’ curricula in the areas of culture, language and communication, social sciences and history, as well as science and technology.
“This wouldn’t be possible in capitalism,” Chavez declared referring to his government’s socialist education policies. “Even though the wealthy hate me more and more each day, I’ll continue to work for the people,” he affirmed.
Education has been one the Chavez government’s top priorities over the past eleven years.
In addition to strengthening the public education system, various social programs, known as missions, have been created to provide educational opportunities to those denied the chance to study due to economic and social disadvantages.
The three missions Robinson, Ribas, and Sucre have served as the backbone for the government’s education initiatives over the years.
Mission Robinson – a national literacy campaign – has converted Venezuela into one of the leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of literacy with 95.2% of the population now able to read and write. Mission Ribas has provided secondary education to adults while Mission Sucre offers university level training.
Apart from being completely free of charge, many of the missions provide small scholarships to students to continue with their education.
Bolivarian institutions have also been created from the primary to the university level, increasing the number of students enrolled in educational facilities as well as the retention of those students.
According to the Education Ministry, scholastic matriculation has increased by nearly 1.5 million and the desertion rate of primary students has fallen from 2.5% to 1.7% over the eleven years of the Chavez administration.
UNESCO has also recently placed Venezuela fifth in the world and second in Latin America in terms of university matriculation at 83%.
Earlier in the day on Monday, the Venezuelan President also inaugurated the Bolivarian Ecological High School Pedro Arenas Bolivar in the state of Portuguesa.
The new high school is the product of a 7.4-million bolivar ($1.7 million) investment from the state, has the capacity for 1,200 students and, owing to its rural location, is focused on agro-ecological training.
During the inauguration, Chavez granted 500 scholarships to the students with the most economic need in the school and handed over the keys to two new school buses.
“I’ve got two keys here, two keys that I’m going to give to the Director of the school. They’re for two buses which will provide transport for the high school,” announced Venezuela’s President.
In total, the beginning of the 2010-2011 scholastic year has seen the inauguration of 10 new high schools throughout the country, officials reported.
Venezuela has also invested in educational programs beyond its borders as part of its membership in an integration bloc called the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), which operates on the principles of cooperation, solidarity, and human development.
In September, Venezuela and Cuba teamed up to invest US$5 million in a new literacy campaign for as many as 240,000 Haitians. 9,000 literacy training centers will be built in different regions of the earthquake-ravaged nation. Each course will consist of 65 lessons taught over 22 months using Cuba`s largely audio-visual method for literacy training, known as “Wi mwen kapab” [Yes, I can].