Nine years of education are compulsory. The school year extends from September to June–July.
Under the social programs of the Bolivarian Revolution, a number of Bolivarian Missions focus on education, including Mission Robinson (primary education including literacy), Mission Ribas (secondary education) and Mission Sucre (higher education).
Education in colonial Venezuela was neglected compared to other parts of the Spanish Empire which were of greater economic interest. The first university, now the Central University of Venezuela, was established in 1721. Education at all levels was limited in both quality and quantity, and wealthy families sought education through private tutors, travel, and the study of works banned by the Empire. Examples include the independence leader Simón Bolívar (1783–1830) and his tutor Simón Rodríguez (1769–1854), and the educator Andrés Bello (1781–1865). Rodríguez, who drew heavily on the educational theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was described by Bolívar as the "Socrates of Caracas".
Free and compulsory education for ages 7 to 14 was established by decree on 27 June 1880, under President Antonio Guzmán Blanco, and was followed by the creation of the Ministry of Public Instruction in 1881, also under Guzmán Blanco. In 15 years from 1870, the number of primary schools quadrupled to nearly 2000 and the enrolment of children expanded ten-fold, to nearly 100,000.
In the early twentieth century, education was substantially neglected under the dictator Juan Vicente Gómez, despite the explosion of oil wealth. A year after his death, only 35% of the school-age population was enrolled, and the national literacy rate was below 20%. In 1928 a student revolt, though swiftly put down, saw the birth of the Generation of 1928, which formed the core of the democracy movement of later years.
Of Venezuelans aged 15 and older, 95.2% can read and write, one of the highest literacy rates in the region. The literacy rate in 2007 was estimated to be 95.4% for males and 94.9% for females. In 2007 primary education enrollment was around 93%.
According to Francisco Rodríguez of Wesleyan University in Connecticut and Daniel Ortega of IESA, there has been “little evidence” of “statistically distinguishable effect on Venezuelan illiteracy”. The Venezuelan government claimed that it had taught 1.5 million Venezuelans to read, but the study found that "only 1.1m were illiterate to begin with" and that the illiteracy reduction of less than 100,000 can be attributed to adults that were elderly and died.
Many children under five attend a preschool. Children are required to attend school from the age of six. They attend primary school until they are eleven. They are then promoted to the second level of basic education, where they stay until they are 14 or 15. Public school students usually attend classes in shifts. Some go to school from early in the morning until about 1:30pm and others attend from early afternoon until about 6:00pm. All schoolchildren wear uniforms. Although education is mandatory for children, some poor children do not attend school because they must work to support their families.
Venezuelan education starts at the preschool level, and can be roughly divided into Nursery (ages below 4) and Kindergarten (ages 4–6). Students in Nursery are usually referred to as "yellow shirts", after the color of uniform they must wear according to the Uniform Law, while students in Kindergarten are called "red shirts".
Basic education comprises grades 1 through 6, and lacks a general governing programme outside of the Math curriculum. English is taught at a basic level throughout Basic education. Students are referred to as "white shirts". Upon completing Basic education, students are given a Basic Education Certificate.
Middle education (grades 7-9) explores each one of the sciences as a subject and algebra. English education continues and schools may choose between giving Ethics or Catholic Religion. Students are referred to as "blue shirts". Venezuelans can not choose their classes.
Once a student ends 9th grade, they enter Diversified education, so called because the student must choose between studying either humanities or the sciences for the next two years. This choice usually determines what majors they can opt for at the college level. Students are referred to as "beige shirts". Upon completing Diversified education (11th grade), students are given the title of Bachiller en Ciencias (literally, Bachelor of the Sciences) or Bachiller en Humanidades (literally, Bachelor of Humanities). Some schools may include professional education, and instead award the title of Técnico en Ciencias (literally, Technician of the Sciences)
Venezuela has more than 90 institutions of higher education, with 860,000 students in 2002. Higher education remains free under the 1999 constitution and was receiving 35% of the education budget, even though it accounted for only 11% of the student population. More than 70% of university students come from the wealthiest quintile of the population. To address this problem, instead of improving primary and secondary education, the government established the Bolivarian University system in 2003, which was designed to democratize access to "higher education" by offering heavily politicised study programmes to the public with only minimal entrance requirements. Autonomous public universities have had their operational budgets frozen by the state since 2004, and staff salaries frozen since 2008 despite inflation of 20-30% annually.
Higher education institutions are traditionally divided into Technical Schools and Universities. Technical schools award the student with the tile of Técnico Superior Universitario (literally, University Higher Technician, to distinguish from Technicians of the Sciences) or Licenciado (literally, Licentiate) after completing a three-year programme. Universities award the student with the title of Ingeniero (literally, Engineer) after completing a five-year programme. Some higher education institutions may award Diplomados (literally, Diplom) but the time necessary to obtain one varies.
Post-graduate education follows conventions of the United States (being named "Master's" and "Doctorate" after the programs there).
According to the QS Latin American University Rankings 2014 the top 5 universities in Venezuela are: #1 "Universidad Central de Venezuela", #2 "Universidad Simon Bolivar", #3 the Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas, #4 "Universidad de Los Andes" in Mérida and #5 "Universidad Metropolitana de Caracas"
In 2009 the government passed a law to establish a national standardised university entrance examination system, replacing public universities' internal entrance examinations. Some universities have rejected the new system as it creates difficulties for planning. The system has still not been formally implemented by the State. The previous line is a good example of the Venezuelan Government's official line toward the autonomous universities where democratic elections have failed to give the state party any significant victories.
Venezuela within the PISA programme
The government of the state of Miranda joined the PISA programme in 2010 and the first results were published in December 2011. Initial results show pupils in schools managed by the regional government achieved a mean score of 422 on the PISA reading literacy scale, the same level Mexico got.
Revolutionary Reading Plan
On 14 May 2009, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez approved lists of books for schools to educate young citizens on socialist ideology. The "Revolutionary Reading Plan" will feature theorist Karl Marx, revolutionary Che Guevara, and liberator Simon Bolivar. According to Venezuela's culture ministry, the compulsory book list is being designed to help schoolchildren eliminate "capitalist thinking" and better understand the ideas and values "necessary to build a socialist country."
Exodus of education professionals and graduates
In 2014, reports emerged showing a high number of education professionals taking flight from educational positions in Venezuela along with the millions of other Venezuelans that had left the country during the presidency of Hugo Chavez, according to Iván de la Vega, a sociologist at Simón Bolívar University. According to the Association of Professors, the Central University of Venezuela lost around 700 faculty members between 2011 and 2012 with most being considered the next generation of professors. About 240 faculty members also quit at Simón Bolívar University. The reason for emigration is reportedly due to the high crime rate in Venezuela and inadequate pay. According to Claudio Bifano, president of the Venezuelan Academy of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, most of Venezuela's "technology and scientific capacity, built up over half a century" had been lost during Hugo Chavez's presidency. Bifano acknowledges the large funds and scientific staff, but states that the output of those scientists had dropped significantly. Bifano reports that between 2008 and 2012, international journals declined by 40%; with journals matching the same number as 1997, when Venezuela had about a quarter of scientists. He also says that more than half of medical graduates of 2013 had left the country.
According to El Nacional, the flight of educational professionals resulted in a shortage of teachers in Venezuela. Director of the Centre for Cultural Research and Education, Mariano Herrera, estimated that there was a shortage of about 40% of teachers for mathematics and science classes. Some teachers and schools resulted to teaching multiple classes, and passing students out of convenience. The Venezuelan government seeks to curb the shortage of teachers through the Simón Rodríguez Micromission by cutting the graduation requirements of educational professional to 2 years.
In a study titled Venezolana Community Abroad. A New Method of Exile by Thomas Paez, Mercedes Vivas and Juan Rafael Pulido of the Central University of Venezuela, over 1.5 million Venezuelans, between 4% and 6% of the Venezuela's population, left the country following the Bolivarian Revolution; more than 90% of those who left were college graduates, with 40% holding a Master's degree and 12% having a doctorates and post doctorates. The study used official verification of data from outside of Venezuela and surveys from hundreds of former Venezuelans. Of those involved in the study, reasons for leaving Venezuela included lacking of freedom, high levels of insecurity and lacking opportunity in the country. Paez also explains how some parents in Venezuela tell their children to leave the country out of protection due to the insecurities Venezuelans face.
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