It is the first period after break at Base Aerea Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda school in Caracas and the third graders are knuckling down with their mini laptops.
On their Canaimas, given to all children in the Venezuelan public schools system, they are playing a game identifying countries on a map.
Since 2009, the government has handed out more than 2 million of the sturdy-looking machines that children can take home to their families.
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“They took the initiative to bring this technology to our school,” principal of Martinez Centeno school, Maria del Carmen Parraga, says. “After they can bring the Canaimas home it is a great joy. It’s awesome.”
Inclusive, high-quality and forward-thinking education has always been high on the agenda for governments of the Bolivarian process in Venezuela.
The massive push resulting in the elimination of illiteracy, the 77 million free text books given to students of all ages, and the rise in university enrollment are the products of various missions aimed at transforming the system.
This week, President Nicolas Maduro announced the relaunch of the Robinson, Ribas and Sucre education missions.
Technology has been one of the bases to make the system more inclusive.
Myriam Quintana, information technology teacher at the Unidad Educativa Nacional Martinez Centeno told teleSUR, “Before, here in Venezuela, we couldn’t enjoy this technology because everything that was arriving was privatized. And if people didn’t have the economic resources to do it, they were excluded from all these programs.”
Another important program under the Bolivarian schools system is the PAE scheme to provide free school lunches and snacks to children. It guarantees that children, many from low-income families, get decent nutrition, and that they stay in school to complete a second period of classes.
“Those children come without food, and here we give it to them. A meal balanced in quality and quantity,” says Parraga.
Lunchtime at the public school and the kitchen vibrates with the clash of pots and pans. A shiny new fridge, blender and cauldron are being used for the first time, having been recently provided by the government. Sauteed beef, coleslaw and guayaba juice are on the menu.
One of the caterers explains that they too have benefited from the food program. Having worked for free in the past, they are now paid and enjoy other labor rights.
“They pay us fairly because now we receive the minimum wage. We get food vouchers, and everything normal like any other public worker,” she said.
Back across town at Base Aerea Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda school, where two Scottie dogs, a cat and tortoise roam around with the children, Principal Dario Zapata lists the resources that the public Bolivarian school enjoys, including three laboratories, and the strong ties that the school holds with the community, another aim of the Bolivarian programs.
Zapata, like many in the Venezuelan schools system, recognizes that “there are many challenges,” including securing consistent funding, and professional level teachers.