Preprimary & Primary Education
Preschool education in Venezuela is free but not compulsory. There are many public and private institutions caring for children between the ages of three and six. They include kindergarten, day care, and nursery schools. In recent years the urban areas have witnessed a boom of private institutions caring for preprimary students. Some of these schools offer bilingual education and follow the strictest educational curriculum, comparable to those in developed countries. Due to the high cost of these institutions, the students who attend them have customarily been from the middle and the upper middle class.
Under the present educational system, primary education lasts nine years. All instruction is in Spanish, but there are a number of bilingual schools that also teach in English, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese. The majority of primary schools in Venezuela are coeducational, and both men and women teach at this level. Approximately 2.7 million students, about 86.6 percent of the relevant school population, were enrolled in the primary system during the 1982-1983 school year. Most of the children in the primary schools fall within the 6 to 14 year old range. In the decade between 1974 and 1984, enrollment grew from 1,924,040 to 2,660,940, which is about 75 percent urban and 25 percent rural. About 88.4 percent of primary students are in public schools and 11.6 percent in private schools, but private education is largely urban. All institutions must be registered and supervised by the Ministry of Education. There are four classifications of public (official) schools: national, autonomous, state, and municipal. National schools enroll the largest number of students (81 percent urban), followed by state schools (54 percent urban), municipal schools (82 percent urban), and autonomous schools (88 percent urban).
According to the national census of 1950, only 50 percent (972,467) of the children of school age were enrolled. About 50 percent of the students that were ten years old or older were illiterate. However, there has been a steady progress in the number of students enrolled since 1958. In 1956-1957 there were 694,193 children in elementary schools, 561,367 in the public schools, and 132,826 in private schools. In 1961 the total elementary enrollment had risen to 1,254,255. In the 1980s and 1990s these figures had sharply increased; so had the number of school dropouts.
According to the Ministry of Education students registered in basic education from grade one to grade nine for the academic year 1988-1989 totaled more than 3.7 million. This number steadily increased each year, reaching almost 3.9 million in 1989-1990, approximately 4.0 million in 1990-1991, and nearly 4.2 million in 1991-1992, where it remained for the next several years before dropping slightly again in 1995-1996 to approximately 4.1 million. However, the next year (1996-1997) it went back up to approximately 4.2 million again. And the next year (1997-1998) it increased yet again, to more than 4.3 million.
As for dropouts, according to the Ministry of Education, student desertion in basic education from grade one to grade nine for the academic year 1985-1986 totaled 286,677. This number increased the following year (1986-1987) to 346,310. For the next several years it decreased steadily, hitting 249,343 in 1989-1990. After that it steadily increased each year, approaching half a million in 1994-1995. The number then declined dramatically the following year (1995-1996) to 226,291. In the academic year 1996-1997 student desertion in basic education from grade one to grade nine totaled 253,873.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Venezuelan educational system was undergoing sweeping reforms led by the administration of President Hugo Chávez (1999-2006). An experimental phase started in September of 1999 and includes 525 "Bolivarian schools" all over the country. The purpose of this program is to create a new educational philosophy inspired by the ideas of Simón Bolívar. According to this philosophy, there must be a permanent dialogue between the school system and the needs of the social community. The "Bolivarian schools" emerge as an answer to the educational crisis in Venezuela, and they intend to rescue the Latin American tradition concerning state-run education. In addition, these schools will have as one of their prime objectives to promote the advancement of the community and to teach more thoroughly the legacy of Simón Bolívar. The administration of President Chávez considers that under the old system "education" and "culture" were viewed separately; culture was considered an extracurricular activity and not an integral part of the educational agenda. The Bolivarian schools will try to bridge this gap by bringing forth a system that integrates these two elements. These schools aspire to create a leading model throughout the country in terms of technology, science, performing and visual arts, and sports. According to the Chávez administration, the teaching philosophy of the "Bolivarian schools" can be summarized as follows:
- To be a model of integral attention for social equity.
- To provide participation, autonomy, and democracy.
- To provide a school system that values and respects students, the culture, and the community.
- To be a model for permanent teaching improvement.
- To be aware that the Bolivarian Schools are for the community and with community participation.
Since this project remains in an experimental phase, no data is available regarding success, difficulties, results, or areas where innovation is needed.
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