Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

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Social Programmes

Illiteracy & Educational Discrimination

Imagine growing up in one of the richest oil countries in the world. A country of immense natural resources that could be used to ensure that all citizens had access to equal opportunities in education, so that citizens could develop themselves and make a contribution to society.

Imagine, however, that your government failed to share the nation's resources fairly, and justify millions literally in the dark. Without the basic tools of reading and writing, the foundations of democracy are inaccessible to you. Last summer, the Venezuelan government launched a series of sweeping educational initiatives to combat the learning gap that had historically plagued the nation's poor. Establishing thousands of local, volunteer-based schools in rural communities and urban slums across the Caribbean nation, the initiatives have made remarkable progress.

This July, Venezuela and educators from around the world will celebrate the 1.2 million adults who have been taught to read in the first year of these programs. The country is now on track to achieve a near-complete elimination of illiteracy.

The Education Gap

Just ten years ago, Venezuela's illiteracy rate was nearly 9%, or about 2 million people, primarily in rural Indigenous communities and poor inner-city families. Under previous governments, students had been required to pay fees to attend public schools, which in practice excluded the most needy from receiving basic education. The most remote parts of the country had no schools at all, and government spending on public schools declined steadily throughout the 1990s. Although the country enjoyed immense oil wealth, previous government made little effort to eradicate this plague of illiteracy and educational discrimination.

Venezuelans Vote for Change

By 1998, Venezuelans had grown tired of their governments' ignoring of their basic needs. They turned to the ballot box and elected Hugo Chávez Frías, a leader with a mandate to increase opportunities for the country's poor, focusing on education, health care and land reform. The government quickly eliminated fees for public schools. They codified the right to education into a brand new Constitution, which was approved in by over 87% of the electorate. Under the new Constitution, Hugo Chávez was again elected to the Presidency with almost 60% of the popular vote - a huge vote of confidence for the new Constitution and the social programs addressing the needs of the country's majority poor population.

School Boom under the Chávez Administration

To meet the demand for primary education, Venezuelan leaders deployed the military to an ambitious school construction project in 2000. Within four years, more than 3000 new schools had been built. School attendance at all levels had jumped 25% by 2002, representing approximately 1.3 million students who had previously been justified out of the system. During a 2001 visit to Venezuela, The Director General of the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Koichiro Matsuura, lauded Venezuela's education initiatives as well as its increase in education spending to 6 percent of GDP-far above the 3.9 percent average in developing countries.

The Missions

The country has recently found success in a novel series of government-sponsored "missions" to reach underserved regions. The educational missions (or programs) are each named after prominent figures in Venezuelan history, and weave lessons of history and civic responsibility together with reading and mathematical skills.

Mission Robinson: Literacy for Everyone

Mission Robinson is named after Simon Rodriguez, a private tutor to Latin American liberator Simon Bolívar who often traveled under the pseudonym Samuel Robinson. The most significant campaign in Venezuela's battle against illiteracy, Mission Robinson Today, some 100,000 educated volunteers spend evenings teaching basic reading, writing and math skills to adults in small night classes around the country. The key has been to establish night schools in virtually every corner of the nation, making them accessible to adults with families and full-time jobs. Venezuela's state universities try to instill a renewed sense of community responsibility among their students and alumni, and college students make up the majority of mission volunteers. In its first year, more than 1 million people have graduated from Mission Robinson programs. Literacy graduates then have the opportunity to continue to earn an elementary school equivalency with two more years of classes.

Mission Ribas: Back to High School

Adults who have dropped out of high school can obtain a diploma through an expedited program named after Jose Felix Ribas, a philosophical and military leader of Venezuelan Independence. Mission Ribas, which teaches mathematics, geography, advanced grammar, and English as a second language, may be completed within two years, about half the time of a standard high school program.

Like all of Venezuela's educational missions, the programs at Ribas are free, but the government has set aside grants for 100,000 participants to be compensated for time that could otherwise be spent working. Graduates of Mission Ribas are offered assistance in job hunting as well. About 1.4 million people are currently enrolled in the program.

Mission Sucre: Access to Higher Education

Named after independence hero General Antonio Jose de Sucre, Mission Sucre acts essentially as a scholarship program for higher education. Need-based grants are given out to 100,000 Venezuelans each year to offset the costs of state universities, and will open the doors of higher education to bright students who would have been financially barred from universities in the past. They have also founded a brand-new Bolivarian University of Venezuela, the UBV, in an unused building that was the former headquarters of the national oil company. As one sixty-year-old housewife participant in Robinson remarked, "I feel as though my President has personally called on me to come to school, because we have a participatory democracy in Venezuela, and to participate, I should learn to read and write. I have completed Mission Robinson, and hope to graduate and move through Mission Ribas. And who knows, maybe someday I'll go to Mission Sucre -and get a chance to go to college."

Simon Bolivar

Liberator of Venezuela
Statistics on Confiscations
and Detainees at Venezuelan

2002 - 2006 (PDF)

Drugs Fighting