Eyewitness Caracas: Education is key part of Bolivarian Revolution

By Peter Gilbert, FIST organizer
Caracas, Venezuela

Many of the radical changes in Venezuelan life since President Hugo Chávez took office have involved the educational system. Access to schooling is now being extended to all persons, not just the rich. In addition, the very philosophy and politics behind education is similarly developing.

Changes are evident at every level of the educational system, from the basic literacy programs of what the Venezuelans call “Mission Robinson,” through advanced technical or medical school.

Before the Bolivarian Revolution brought about these changes, the Vene zuelan system was similar to that of the imperialist countries of the U.S. and Europe. Education was available for the wealthy, and illiteracy was widespread among the poor.

When education was made available to workers, the rich viewed it as an “investment” in the economy, not a social right. The Venezuelan ruling class saw education as a way of producing a more skilled, more valuable workforce.

The new Bolivarian Constitution guarantees access to education as a basic right. The perspective on education is shifting to providing a service to the people, not merely an investment in the economy.


The literacy programs like Mission Robin son are overtly political at every level. Increased literacy rates allow a greater part of the population to engage more fully in the political process. Already political consciousness, even among children, is remarkably greater than that of many adult workers in more “developed” countries.

Ingrid Castillo, a professor at the Bolivarian University, told Workers World that even the names of the educational programs are chosen “to remind Venezuelans of the history that the U.S. has robbed from them.” Mission Robinson is named after the tutor of Simon Bolivar—“the Liberator” who won independence from Spain for Bolivia, Panama, Colom bia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela in the early 19th century.

Participants: from 13 to 80

Participants in Mission Robinson range from 13 to 80 years old. Classes are held in the afternoons and evenings to allow workers—whether they work in a factory or at home — the greatest chance to study. The missions are consciously placed near their homes and workplaces.

One, in the Santa Rosalia neighborhood here, occupies some formerly vacant land in the local cemetery. As the Cuban woman directing the adjacent medical center announced, “We Cubans make a revolution even among the dead.” One hundred twenty students study here, with between eight and twenty per instructor.

The structure is modeled on the Cuban system. This means students are given great control over the curriculum. Fre quently they choose to study sewing or carpentry as well as basic reading and writing.

The Bolivarian University in Caracas is not only a bastion of revolutionary spirit, but is pioneering new models for higher education. With a philosophy they call the “municipalization” of education, students study in and for their communities. This contrasts with the usual university education in capitalist countries, where students often become alienated from their communities.

One key example of this municipalization is the Mission Sucre, where medical students learn by working in their own communities alongside Cuban and Vene zuelan physicians. Recently one of these medical students successfully treated a U.S. participant in the World Youth Festival who was suffering from a liver infection.

In another example of municipalization, students who are enrolled in the Bolivar ian University’s newest program in ecological agriculture have to spend more time in the fields than the classrooms. As one student, Jose Hernandez, described the program, emphasis is not on telling the farmers what to do, but learning from them. They have learned sustainable techniques from their parents and grandparents that we can document and share with farmers around Venezuela.”

Many contradictions still persist in the educational system. The new missions exist alongside the older hierarchical primary school system. The Bolivarian University, for example, looks across the street at the older more conservative university attended by the elite. Some officials in the Ministry of Education have yet to see the need to introduce new teaching methods, but overall, great gains are being made.

As Karen Centavo, a second-year student at the Bolivarian University, exclaimed, “The youth are the core of the revolution; the revolution is born within the youth; we are the hope for the future, initiatives must come from youth, [we] must respond to criticism, [education] is a fundamental part of the process.”


Post a Comment

<< Home