President Hugo Chavez threatened on Monday to close or take over any private school that refuses to submit to the oversight of his socialist government as it develops a new curriculum and textbooks.
"Society cannot allow the private sector to do whatever it wants," said Chavez, speaking on the first day of classes.
All schools, public and private, must admit state inspectors and submit to the government's new educational system, or be closed and nationalized, with the state taking responsibility for the education of their children, Chavez said.
A new curriculum will be ready by the end of this school year, and new textbooks are being developed to help educate "the new citizen," said Chavez's brother and education minister Adan Chavez, who joined him a televised ceremony at the opening of a public school in the eastern town of El Tigre.
The president's opponents accuse him of aiming to indoctrinate young Venezuelans with socialist ideology. But the education minister said the aim is to develop "critical thinking," not to impose a single way of thought.
Just what the new curriculum will include and how it will be applied to all Venezuelan schools and universities remains unclear.
"We want to create our own ideology collectively — creative, diverse," the president said, adding that it would help develop values of "cooperation and solidarity."
All schools will be bound to "subordinate themselves to the constitution" and comply with the "new Bolivarian educational system," he said, referring to his socialist movement named after South American independence hero Simon Bolivar.
Anticipating criticism, Chavez said the state's role in regulating education is internationally accepted and that it wouldn't be possible for a school administrator to insist on autonomy in countries like Germany or the United States.
Chavez also noted that previous Venezuelan educational systems carried their own ideology. Leafing through old grade school textbooks from the 1970s, he pointed out how they referred to Venezuela's "discovery" by Europeans.
"They taught us to admire Christopher Colombus and Superman," Chavez said, adding that education based on capitalist ideology had destroyed "the values of children."