By Patricia Panchaud
Special to CSMS MagazineVenezuela is located north of South America. It is a country full of land that is very beautiful. The country has numerous beautiful beaches, mountains, plains and nature that are out of this world. Caracas is the capital and more populated city in Venezuela. It is located close to the Coast (La Guairá Port), but at an altitude of 800 meters (2400 feet), which gives it a unique climate.Caracas is located under the Avila, a mountain that reaches 2600 meters (7800 ft.), where the Humboldt Hotel (currently out of service, undergoing arrangements) is located, which you can reach by cable car. Definitely for tourists, it is the best activity around the city, because of the beautiful view and the nice and cool weather. If you like hiking you can also make a three to four hour excursion, and return by cable car (or walking).Venezuela was a former Spanish colony, which has been an independent republic since 1821. It also states, today, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is known widely for its petroleum industry. The food in Venezuela looks and seems to be quite tasty. I read over several recipes and most seem to have beef and pork in them. Venezuela also has what seem to be several problems. About 10 years ago, more than 50 percent of the Venezuelan population was in poverty, much of it was severe. Today, nine years later, it is estimated that poverty stands at around 30% and severe poverty has been halved to approximately 9%. Moreover, now the extreme poor do not fall through the cracks of society as they once did. A number of social programs, such as feeding houses (casas de alimentación), subsidized food stores (Mercal), and emergency distribution of milk (currently in very short supply); workers taking over abandoned enterprises or setting up cooperatives of production; an agrarian reform (that at this time only transfers poorly used or unused land of large farms—latifundia—to people to farm the land); all have contributed to poverty reduction. The Feeding Houses, in the homes of volunteers and staffed by volunteers, provide the noon meal and afternoon snacks to close to one million Venezuelan young people as well as needy aged and infirm. This is a huge accomplishment in a total national population of around 28 million.Active assistance is given to campesinos to recover land—approximately 5 million acres have been turned over to be actively farmed, mainly as cooperatives. Some of these are privately worked (like fish farmers as well as the ocean fisherman) and cooperate on buying inputs and selling their products. Others, like Aracal and its 150 families, work the land in common and are paid according to the amount of work they do. Because agriculture was neglected by former governments and agricultural commodities were fairly cheap (for an oil-exporting country), a very high proportion of the food is currently imported. With the dramatic rise of world food prices caused by the competition with agro fuel production, increasing demand for grain feed meat in China, and droughts in a major exporting country prices have risen here as around the world. Imported food is, therefore, very expensive. In addition, price controls on locally produced food have caused farmers to produce less and unscrupulous middlemen to attempt to ship food to Columbia where they can get a higher price. (A huge quantity of food headed for Columbia was recently seized and the trucks confiscated.) The price of mild has recently risen 40% to induce dairy farmers to produce more. Thus food sovereignty is important issues in it, in addition to the many benefits of having people leave the city slums and return to productive employment in the countryside. Some 85% of Venezuelan’s live in the 5% of the north central part of the country. Populating other parts of the country with farmers and workers is a national goal.
Venezuelan educional system still facing some serious challenges
Another piece of information I found to be most troubling was the education process in which Venezuelan children have to endure. Consider the problems that government control of education can cause. It can force schools to choose sides in the culture wars. Reasonable people often disagree on how to handle controversial curriculum decisions, such as sex education, American history, or evolution. Choosing sides, which public schools often have to do, is divisive. Worse, many parents are helplessly left to send their children to a school that teaches values at odds with their own.Another problem is the lack of quality instruction in many schools. Because most parents have little choice but to enroll their children in the government-assigned school, there are few consequences for schools that fail to educate their students. The result is that many children attend schools with a poor track record of successfully teaching basic subjects like reading and math. Of course, some American children are fortunate to have alternatives to the government-run public school system. Six million kids are enrolled in private schools. More than a million children are taught at home. Parents and teachers would protest in the streets if the U.S. government followed Venezuela and seized control of private schools and forced all children into a government-run school system.In recent years, a growing number of kids are being allowed to use their share of public-funding for education to attend a school of their parents’ choice. Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., now have programs to help families choose private schools for their children. And many states and school districts now offer more choice within the public school system through open enrollment policies or strong charter school laws. But millions of children still lack the opportunity to attend a school of their parents’ choice. If all parents were able to pick their children’s school, schools would have to offer quality services to attract students. The best schools and teachers would thrive and become models for other schools; low-performing schools would be shuttered and replaced. Controversial issues wouldn’t have to be decided by government, since parents would have the ultimate say in how their children are taught.Universal school choice would address the problems of government-run education. And one can only begin to imagine what types of innovative schools and learning models could be possible if all parents had the power to decide how their children are educated.Perhaps the greatest need is to educate others, especially in the U.S., so they can understand the significance of what is happening in other countries like Venazuela. Even though it is fraught with significant dangers and not assured of success, this process is a most exciting one for Venezuela as well as the rest of the world. A better world is possible!!! Teachers who have ESOL Students in their classes would benefit by educating themselves with information about Venezuela. A few things that might help when teaching would be, children who come from this area might be a little anti-social due to the fact that they are under such lock and key so to speak. Chavez recently announced plans for a new “Bolivarian” curriculum for all of Venezuela’s schools. Criticizing the old school model as “colonial, capitalist, and soul-destroying,” Chavez promised a new model: “We want to create our own ideology collectively.” Education Minister Adan Chavez—the president’s brother—will develop the curriculum. The new textbooks, Adan Chavez promised, will be geared to educate “the new citizen.”Note: Patricia Panchaud is an education major at Nova southeastern University.Also see Make our society a better place What we need to teach our ESOL students about Nonverbal communicationIndian Culture: Vibrant and thought-provokingRole of alternative languages in our society