CARACAS, Venezuela - Hundreds protested outside Venezuela's legislature Tuesday against an education bill that they charge will open the way for President Hugo Chavez's government to indoctrinate children with socialist ideology.
Some 1,000 people chanted "Don't mess with my kids!" and urged members of the predominantly pro-Chavez National Assembly to reconsider the proposed legislation. The bill, which would affect both state and private schools, is expected to receive final approval in the coming weeks.
Under the bill, teaching would be based on "the Bolivarian Doctrine" - a term used by Chavez to describe his socialist political movement named after 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar.
The legislation would also give state-funded neighbourhood-based assemblies - called "communal councils" - a key role in the "administration, maintenance, evaluation and supervision" of schools in their communities.
"I don't want anyone to impose what my kids learn in school," said one protester, William Jimenez, a 51-year-old lawyer.
Maria Briceno de Queipo, president of the congressional committee that drafted the bill, denies the government intends to indoctrinate children or copy the education model of communist-governed Cuba.
She said Venezuela's schools must be overhauled to ensure equal opportunities and to teach children the need for increased social responsibility in a country sharply split along class lines.
A new model is needed that "breaks with values emphasizing individualism and mercantilism," De Queipo said, defending the bill's emphasis on "principles of sovereignty and self-determination" along with "commitment to social transformation processes."
The bill would broaden the government's control over 8,000 private schools by forcing them to adopt curriculums used in the country's 27,000 public schools and setting limits on the fees charged, said Edgar Bazan, president of the Teachers Association of Venezuela, in a telephone interview before the protest.
The teachers association, which represents about 55,000 teachers nationwide, university organizations and opposition groups are planning more demonstrations demanding that lawmakers shelve the bill.