CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Maria Arias slipped her notebooks into her backpack, scrounged for a banana to share with her brother and sister, and set off for high school through narrow streets so violent taxis will not come here for any price. She hoped at least one of her teachers would show up.
But her 7 a.m. art class was canceled when the instructor called in sick. History class was suspended. There was no gym class because the coach had been shot dead weeks earlier. And in the afternoon, her Spanish teacher collected homework and then sent the students home to meet a gang-imposed curfew.
"It's a trap," the slight 14-year-old with pink lipstick complained as she sat in the shade of a picked-over mango tree at the school's entrance. "You risk your life to be here and end up waiting around for hours doing nothing. But you have to keep coming because it's the only way out."
The soaring crime and economic chaos stalking Venezuela is also ripping apart a once up-and-coming school system, robbing poor students such as Maria of any chance at a better life. Officially, Venezuela has canceled 16 school days since December, including Friday classes because of an energy crisis.
In reality, Venezuelan children have missed an average of 40 percent of class time, a parent group estimates, as a third of teachers skip work on any given day to wait in food lines. At Maria's school, so many students have fainted from hunger that administrators told parents to keep their children home if they have no food. And while the school locks its gate each morning, armed robbers, often teens themselves, still manage to break in and stick up kids between classes.Read More