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CARACAS, Saturday November 24, 2012 | Update
 
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EDUCATION | Jesuit priest Luis Ugalde

"Education reinforces social inequities"

"Opportunities prevail over handouts. Your children deserve a good education." "Poor education is like cancer: once you feel it, it is much too late"

Father Ugalde believes that the family and the State cannot be viewed as adversaries when it comes to education. He believes that both should work side by side (Photo: Adolfo Acosta)
REYES THEIS |  EL UNIVERSAL
Saturday November 24, 2012  12:00 AM
Jesuit priest Luis Ugalde coordinated the book Education to Transform a Country (2012), a joint effort by a group of specialists to shed light on the subject and, as indicated by the former rector of Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, "to reach some kind of consensus in the country" and build "awareness."

-You speak of consensus, but that depends on what you want education for. If you want it for furthering ideology, then it is likely that educating people to be socially aware might not be the best move.

-I wholeheartedly agree; that is the root of ambiguity. I am convinced that anyone backing the current regime wants education to instill ideologies and control schools, but if that person wanted the best for his or her children, then education levels comparable to the most advanced nations would be desired. That is the difference. These are aspects coherent with the contents of the Constitution and not with the intended premises. Of course, I mean the Venezuelan Constitution, not the Cuban one.

-Would consensus stem from the families themselves and not from political leaders?

-This consensus would originate from the experience of nations who have achieved educational success. Education needs to have room within a social pact that would obviously include families and society with regards to both formal and informal education. Nowadays, mass media and Twitter leave a mark on children before the age of five, which could be either educational or not, and the State plays a crucial role. The State is a tool for society as a whole and not for a single political party. When society sets priorities, education comes first. Ask any parent what he or she wants, and the reply would basically be high-school education for his or her children and even a university degree. No parent in Venezuela would disagree.

-How could those efforts merge?

-The Constitution says an interesting thing. It talks of a triad of solidarity comprising society, family and State. This means that education has to be a three-legged stand that would otherwise fall. Family and state cannot be viewed as rivals; they must strengthen one another. In this connection, one of the fundamental principles we sponsor is the right to quality education for all. It goes beyond having kids in school; that very same school must be good. And a good school not only teaches skills but also builds moral values. If a child leaves school and becomes a criminal, then the system has failed and so have the state, family and society. Sadly, this has become our reality at an alarmingly high rate.

-What are the current flaws and what hinders quality education?

-Public education used to be better than private in Venezuela. In the 40's and 50's, Fermín Toro or Andrés Bello, even Gual in Valencia and Libertador in Mérida were high-level public high schools. If we only look at numbers, then failure is imminent. Take a university like the National Experimental University of the Armed Forces (Unefa), which was good with 3,000 students, and now has over 250,000 students and is labeled as a university. But it is not the university that kids need. The ratio of students graduating from those enrolled is quite low, just like in the Bolivarian University. In addition, there can be no good education without good educators. In the 60's being an educator was a career in demand, as well as being a researcher in the Central University or being a full-time professor in Simón Bolívar University, both public institutions, but that is no longer the case. Careers in education are being debased at every level. At the Central University, any instructor has to have completed elementary, high school, university and post-graduate studies and would go on to earn a mere Bs. 2,080 (USD 483,7) a month at an entry level. All politicians say that the priority of the country is a good education, but visit any senior class in any high school and ask who wants to be an educator. One out of a hundred. Even worse, that one person's family will try by all means to dissuade him. "Don't become a teacher; you'll head straight toward failure," he is told. Our society is schizophrenic because we all want the best people in the country to teach our kids, but no one wants his or her best child to become a teacher.

-Is it possible to have education for all that is also top-notch at the same time? Is the issue of quality over quantity a false dilemma when it comes to education?

-I believe it is a false controversy. Let me give you an example. In the US Major Leagues, there are more than 100 players, but two of them are outstanding. Not all 100 can be outstanding. They can be, of course, but each one of them must be driven to excel and the means to reach that end must be in place.                                                       

-How does education affect society?                   

-It has become a means to reinforce social inequities. One of the main issues in all societies, and in ours it is called Socialism, is that when people begin to improve and find good jobs, they tend to say: "Next year, my kid goes to private school." I can name schools in underprivileged areas like Antímano or La Vega that foster inequities. Every year, roughly 60 school days are missed because terms do not begin on time, restrooms are not repaired or painting was not done. Then, for any foolish reason, there are holidays and even strikes here and there. In the end, that is 60 days of school missed. This reinforces inequities. In schools like San Ignacio and Fe y Alegría not a single school day is missed. There is another severe issue. If you visit certain high schools, you will find that students are exempt from subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and English. Why would they be "exempt"? Because there are no teachers. So students are awarded grades, which are later averaged, but they still know nothing about the subject. How can this be addressed? The government could propose the following: "I call for 10 thousand teachers to be instructed within 5 years, and I will grant them benefits and advantages to do so."

-Is that reinforcement of inequities due to negligence, or is there interest in multiplying the poor and, therefore, the official sector's labor market?

-First of all, I believe that it is due to both negligence and irresponsibility, as we have seen high-level members of governments claim that anyone who has a medium-class approach in elections, loses them. The dignity of people is based on the notion that you can be a source of income and your efforts lead to progress for your family. Opportunities prevail over handouts. Your child should be able to go to a good school, learn a good trade and take it from there. Those who need the most are the ones who must be supported. People cannot be breastfed for life. If a 10-year-old has to be breastfed, something went wrong in his or her family. The same happens to the country as a whole. People must be formed to be independent and have their own criteria. But, of course, if you just want a subdued society, then this formula is wrong. Unfortunately, people within government have their own initiatives and are independent, but then "they may not vote for us. So, if they can vote, they will not likely vote for us. It is better to poor.

-Nevertheless, when you ask people, mainly poor people, about education and they do not see it as a main area for concern.

-All surveys talk about crime rates, but everything is described as relatively fine when it comes to education. That is why we say we need awareness because poor education is like cancer: you can feel good, look good, and not be aware of it, but doctors will say: "once you feel it, it is too late." When you are 18 and realize that your education is no good, you approached a company and did not get the job because your education level is too low, your Mathematics skills are not enough to study Engineering at the university or you visit another country and others are light years ahead academically, there is nothing that can be done as you are already 18 and the causes for this issue have been around since you were 4, 5 or 6 years old. That is one of the main issues. In the scope of education, we cannot compete with any other countries; that is our reality. We withdrew from Pisa, an international education indicator, because our results were shameful. Only Miranda has done the measurement, and the fact is that we are in a bad way!

Translated by Félix Rojas Alva
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