Thousands of children and young people have dropped out of Venezuela's schools and universities as the oil-rich nation's economic crisis deepens.
Juan Maragall, education secretary in the northern coastal state of Miranda said that in his jurisdiction alone, roughly 10,000 students have walked away, representing 9 per cent of primary-school enrolment and 13 per cent of the secondary-school population.
"If ... you project the figures onto the national level, some 560,000 students might have abandoned school this year," Efe quoted Maragall as saying. He attributed the phenomenon largely to the rising cost of food and public transportation.
Maragall said that a third of the schools in Miranda are in areas suffering from endemic violence, creating a climate of fear that prompts many parents to keep their kids at home.
The median rate of absenteeism in Miranda schools since the start of the academic year on September 18 is 20 per cent, he said.
Venezuela's education minister, Elias Jaua, said that total enrolment in pre-school through secondary school was down by 251,180 compared with the 7.4 million number reported in January.
The Venezuelan Teachers Federation said it cannot account for the whereabouts of the missing students and complained about "inaction" by the government of President Nicolas Maduro in the face of the loss of teaching staff at 90 per cent of schools.
The secretary of the Central University of Venezuela, widely regarded as the country's premier institution of higher education, said that universities are also hemorrhaging both students and instructors.
Venezuela's social and economic situation "is excluding a large part of society from the higher levels of education," Amalio Belmonte said.