Photograph showing the facade of the Ministry of Education, on October 2, 2023, in Caracas (Venezuela).EFE/ Rayner Pena R

Genuine ‘Vocation’, the Last Thread that Sustains Teachers in Venezuela

Genesis Carrero Soto

Caracas, Oct. 5 (EFE).- Precarity and poverty due to unsustainable salaries are squeezing Venezuelan teachers, forcing them to choose between their vocation and a decent living.

According to people in the sector, the crisis is disastrous for public schools but also affects private education and influences young generations who choose not to become teachers.

Waiting for “the economic conditions”

María Eugenia Ceballos, a local teacher, wakes up before dawn to leave her house on time for the first day of the new school year in a public center.

Her salary is about six dollars, which she has to supplement by working extra hours teaching at a private school, where she earns 120 dollars.

After five hours of classes at one school, she walks about two kilometers to the other, where she works in the afternoon, something she does out of a “calling” rather than a salary.

On the first day of classes, she had already spent one dollar of her budget on transportation, which forced her to adjust to pay for food and her daughter’s university education, she explained to EFE.

Teacher María Eugenia Ceballos walks to a school, on October 2, 2023, in Caracas (Venezuela). EFE/ Rayner Pena R

Exhausted by the day, Maria Eugenia says her only motivation for teaching is to hear the children tell her that she is “pretty” or that they have learned something new.

Meanwhile, in recent statements, the Minister of Education, Yelitze Santaella, indicated that the teachers’ salaries will be resolved when “the economic conditions are met.”

María Eugenia, incredulous, clings to the only thread she has left to continue: her vocation.

Protest and carry on

According to the Venezuelan Federation of Teachers (FVM), 3,185 teacher protests were registered during the 2022-2023 school year.

Marie Eugenia participated in some of them while continuing to teach because she believes that leaving the classroom, as many of her colleagues have been forced to do, affects children.

“I continue, I like my job, teaching, educating, being with the children. I haven’t stopped working because it is a school that has given me the desire to continue. However, we are not well paid, we have nothing,” she told EFE.

According to official figures, some 8.8 million children and adolescents gradually began the school year this week, the third that begins amid teacher protests that demand salary increases and respect for collective contracts.

The general coordinator of the NGO Community Learning Centers (Cecodap), Carlos Trapani, said that in recent years, “mosaic schedules” have been used, meaning that “in some schools, children have classes only two days a week, so teachers can do other activities to supplement their income during the other three.”

Likewise, Griselda Sánchez, president of the Fordisi union, told EFE that this year, teachers are “participating according to their possibilities” since, as she assured, many do not have the money to commute to work or to eat every day.

Education through bonds

In addition to the low salaries, María Eugenia mentioned that teachers do not have health insurance or transportation vouchers and must deal with poor structural conditions in schools that make their work even harder.

There is also the problem of teachers migrating to other countries and other professions, driven by the need to increase their income, which “overburdens” those who continue to teach.

The general director of Consenso Educativo and sector coordinator of Consecomerio, Fausto Romeo, speaks during an interview with EFE, on October 2, 2023, in Caracas (Venezuela). EFE/ Rayner Pena R

Faced with the situation, Fausto Romeo, sector coordinator for the National Council of Commerce and Services (Consecomerio), proposes bonds backed by the business sector and a sponsorship program for educational centers to recover infrastructure.

Romeo believes that the educational crisis is “structural” and not limited to the public sector, which is why, he assured, the intervention of all sectors is required to overcome it and prevent it from getting worse since it has even “jeopardized” the preparation of new generations of teachers.

“The education faculties are lacking students, and we must understand that if we do not recover, tomorrow our grandchildren will not even have a teacher,” he warned. EFE