Caruzo – Venezuela Prepares Students to Go Back to ‘Normal’: Hungry Kids, Crumbling Schools, and No Future

Parents of students are seen at the "Tito Salas" public High School during the 2020-2021 school year registration day in Las Minas de Baruta neighborhood, Caracas, on October 7, 2020, amid the new coronavirus pandemic. - With students that have to catch internet in the streets and teachers who earn …
CRISTIAN HERNANDEZ/AFP via Getty Images

CARACAS, Venezuela — Socialist Dictator Nicolás Maduro announced on May 25 that a possible reopening of Venezuelan classrooms may occur in October 2021 after over a year of coronavirus lockdowns.

The return to school would finally restore a modicum of normalcy to a country still undergoing a quasi-permanent Chinese coronavirus lockdown but, despite what Maduro and the socialist regime claim, a return to “normal” for Venezuelan teachers and students is anything but.

After more than 22 years of Bolivarian Revolution and over a year of lockdowns, the definition of “normal” has collapsed for schools just as it has for everything else. Crumbling schools without proper equipment, students facing hunger and deserting school en masse, and teachers clamoring for a living wage was the panorama before the pandemic — which remains unchanged in 2021. The current student desertion rate hovers over 50 percent.

For students, a return to school will mean returning to classrooms that often lack bare-essential supplies and access to basic utilities. An estimated 70 percent of schools don’t even have access to running water.

For parents, sending their children to class often means huge sacrifices, sacrifices that are part of the new post-collapse socialist Venezuela. Prior to the Chinese coronavirus lockdowns, reports of children passing out due to hunger were abundant — as parents who earn Venezuela’s absurdly low wages often can’t provide proper sustenance to their children.

In Venezuela, uniforms are mandatory for all classrooms, be it elementary or high school; these are a color-coded t-shirt depending on the student’s current level of education, dark blue pants, and dark shoes. New uniforms are beyond the reach of most parents these days. Today, a parent has to spend approximately $47 for a single set of regular uniforms plus the attire required for Physical Education classes.

School supplies, much like uniforms, are another financial obstacle to overcome. A simple notebook goes for anywhere between $5 and $10 — amounts that are higher than the current minimum wage of 10,000,000.00 Bolivars ($3.12). And that’s just for a single notebook. You’d still have to factor in other items such as pencils, erasers, workbooks, backpacks, and everything else.

The severe gasoline shortages that Venezuela continues to face are another obstacle. Unlike the yellow school buses that you often see in America — which we only get a glimpse of through television shows and movies — parents have to bring their kids to school by their own means, be it with their own personal vehicles or through public transportation.

For teachers, a return to class will first and foremost be a return to protests for their right to a decent wage, which the socialist regime continues to deny them. Many teachers still practice their profession out of goodwill or passion — but good intentions and a desire to impart knowledge to help future generations don’t put food on their tables and they often have to work other jobs just so they can afford something to eat.

Most of the teachers’ protests have been directed at the regime’s former Minister of Education, Aristobulo Isturiz, who passed away in April 2021 due to complications during open-heart surgery. Since then, Maduro has appointed the former Minister of the Social Work Process Eduardo Piñate — of whom Venezuelan teachers expect no improvements from – to replace him.

The return to classrooms will at least mean no longer having to struggle against increasingly elusive internet access as Venezuela, which ranks among the list of countries with the worst internet speeds in the world. Venezuela’s student body is ill-prepared to continue operating under a purely online e-learning modality. Most of the country has to rely on the socialist regime’s CANTV Internet Service Provider, which means over 60 percent of the country’s internet users experience connectivity issues on a daily basis, myself included.

The prohibitively expensive costs of hardware and computer devices to carry on classroom activities, the steep costs of private Internet providers in a country where the minimum wage is less than $3 per month, and deficient mobile 3G/4G network coverage have proven themselves to be quite the obstacles for Venezuelan online classes. That much, I’ve become familiar with as I’ve been providing assistance to a young cousin that had to finish the tail end of her sixth-grade education and her first year of high school through the small screen of her laptop and my constantly failing slow internet connection.

The obsolete ADSL connection that I rely on is currently working at limited capacity because of self-repairs and years upon years of jury-rigging. More often than not, it stopped working right as my cousin was undergoing an online test or attempting to upload her assignments. Attempting to get the state’s Internet Service Provider, CANTV, to carry out repairs and maintenance is a fool’s errand, as there are plenty of areas in Venezuela that have gone years without CANTV carrying out any repairs at all — unless, of course, you bribe your way using U.S. dollars to get the work done. But that is in no way a guarantee that it’ll continue working as intended in the long term.

Venezuelan education has never been perfect, but none of its past deficiencies begin to compare to the woes experienced today. My high school years (1999-2004) weren’t exactly what you call normal, as my five-year run occurred during the early years of the Bolivarian Revolution. Protests and days of turmoil, along with some steep financial problems that my family endured at the time, often meant that I’d have to skip classes.

Despite my family’s less than stellar financial situation and even though there were nationwide strikes that kept me and my classmates out of school for weeks at a time, I was able to at least — inefficient as it may have been when compared to other, more developed worlds — be able to receive a level of education that I am most grateful for.

That is something that, unfortunately, this new generation of Venezuelan students has not been able to receive and has no hope of receiving in the future. Had I been born just a few more years later, then perhaps I wouldn’t have been able to receive any education at all, or even been able to share these words with you all in the first place.

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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