Venezuela: a real education revolution

July 12, 2008

PM Kevin Rudd's "education revolution", a sad misuse of the word "revolution", continues to starve public schools of funds. Meanwhile, wealthy private schools are given so much federal money they don't know what to with it other than bank it or build Olympic-sized gymnasiums.

Furthermore, the government is apparently continuing the Howard government's transfer of TAFE funding to the private training market, with up to $500 million of vocational education training funding to be made available to the lowest tenderer over the next three years.

This market-based approach to education will harm Australia by reducing the quality of education and encouraging the further downgrading of TAFE teacher qualifications, pay and working conditions.

How refreshing it was, therefore, to visit Venezuela last month and not only see lots of government signs, such as "education — free for all" and "the revolution is education", but also to see genuine, equitable education reform.

Under Venezuela's socialist president Hugo Chavez, primary and secondary school education is now available free of charge, and only the rich pay for university study.

Since Chavez was first elected president in 1998, household poverty has dropped from about 44% to 28% in 2007 based on income alone. Poverty has been alleviated even more by many new social programs (missions), which provide free literacy and numeracy lessons, housing, cheap food and free medical services. About 4 million poor students are now given free meals at school.

Enrolments in the education system have doubled from about six million to 12 million, and in secondary school, net enrolments increased dramatically from about 25% to 69% by 2005, according to United Nations Human Development statistics.

Education expenditure has increased from 3.4% of Gross Domestic Product to 4.9%, by 2004 alone.

The Venezuelan government statistics show Mission Robinson brought literacy to 1.2 million adults in 2004. In 2005, UNESCO declared Venezuela effectively free of illiteracy.

With a population of only about 28 million, Venezuela is currently building 10 universities, with construction soon to start on another 20.

This is what a real education revolution looks like. Perhaps Kevin Rudd should visit and learn from others.

[Phil Bradley is a NSW Teachers Federation officer. He participated in the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network May Day brigade to Venezuela.]

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