Caracas, Venezuela — There is a minister of education in Venezuela (nothing unusual about that). There is also an "intelligence minister" -- and not only is that unusual, but he is a very unusual person himself.
Luis Alberto Machado, Venezuelan minister for the development of intellect, addressed the second conference of entrepeneurs and philanthropists here, and after his speech I joined one of his aides at luncheon to explore further just what the Ministry of Intelligence would and could do that the Ministry of Education didn't or wouldn't.
At present, there are two thrusts still in the pilot stage, but far enough along for Mr. Machado to boast about their excellent results.
One has to do with informing new mothers while they are still in a hospital or under the care of a physician or midwife about the need for the mothers to be sure to stimulate in their infants such skills as listening, speaking, and communicating with symbols just as they would help their babies learn to crawl, and walk, and run.
The second thrust, and the one which has already met skepticism and resistance, deals with schoolchildren at the age of 11.
Traditional Venezuelan schooling, following the French pattern, consists of a great deal of memory work, recitations, copybook work.
What the Ministry of Intelligence espouses is fresh, imaginative, innovative, problem solving. Among the private school, college, and university educators I discussed this with, there is wholehearted agreement that teaching Venezuelan schoolchildren how to think creatively is imperative.
Their quarrel with Mr. Machado's program deals with its very inflexibility, and with the, to them, heinous notion that intelligence should ever be separated from education. Or that "intelligence" requires a political voice.
I pressed the aide to give our luncheon table an example of a problem with which 11- year-olds in Venezuela would be faced in the "intelligence" program.
She said that one lesson (already tested with several thousand youngsters) was based on the proposition that the country would soon exhaust its oil reserves, and that the students were then to deal with three options.
Others at the luncheon table nearly drowned her with verbal protest. But she did not mean, she patiently explained, that there were only three solutions to the oil problem, but that there were three ways of attacking such a problem.
And how were ordinary Venezuelan schoolteachers to learn how to do such teaching? "They will attend courses and lectures and be told how to direct the pupils' discussions."
"But," interrupted a serious educator from the US, "if what you want is creativity and imagination, shouldn't the teachers work out their own lessons?"
Before the questioner was finished speaking, the young aide was shaking her head. "No," she asserted, "we have a plan and it must be followed."
Many Venezuelan educators I spoke with said they would be watchi ng closely this venture into "intelligence."