HAVANA TIMES — Surprisingly, the most talked-about news this month of May was not the crackdown on a supposed terrorist network operating within the country with macabre intentions (people seem to have had enough of and to be skeptical about these gruesome stories about spies, agents and terrorists).
The incident that made the loudest splash this month was the academic fraud that took place during university entrance exams.
The official media have treated it as an isolated event, steering clear of a profound, systematic and historical analysis of the problem.
A university professor interviewed by Cuba Dice (“Cuba Says”, a journalistic TV news segment that tackles social issues in a highly superficial manner), enumerated a series of ethical values whose absence allegedly opens the doors to fraud, values that will have to be drummed into students more intensely as of the coming school year (poor kids).
Others approached on the street said that those involved should not go unpunished and that professors ought to be subjected to stricter controls and things of that nature.
What Cuba Dice or any news segment directed by the Cuban Communist Party will never admit is that such fraud has become an indispensable part of the system and that it has been integrated organically into our current society.
The corruption that permeates nearly all State institutions manifests itself at schools in the form of fraud. The growing gap between official reports and reality is closed at schools through fraud.
I was a teacher at a senior high school and I experienced this personally. The majority of my students hadn’t even mastered primary school content (adding fractions and negative numbers, clearing up variables, etc.) Since exams are designed for mid-level students, the gap between reality and theory is solved…you guessed it, through fraud.
Why are students lagging behind academically? Let us look at the situation closely. It is because the majority of teachers, tired of being undervalued, have quit education. Why are they paid so poorly? Why do even the students feel they can mistreat them? Because the entire system is topsy-turvy.
Let us stick to the issue of fraud. A series of compelling reasons discourage the teacher who would oppose or chose not to participate in a corrupt practice. To begin with, his/her students would not pass the course and the teacher’s evaluation would suffer. In addition, teachers would make enemies of their students and their parents, and their not-so-honest colleagues and perhaps even the school principal, who might connive against them. But that’s not all: they will also have to start figuring out a way of making ends meet each month.
I myself had to quit half way into the school year to not find myself in the awful situation of having to flunk most of my students. To avoid getting stabbed outside the school (there was no shortage of threats), I resigned. You start acting like Don Quixote, you try and rock the boat, and you’ll get what’s coming to you.
If we follow the trails of those factors that lead to systemic fraud, one of them will take us to government and Party leaders. They prefer to hide the cracks on the walls of the educational system because of the high political cost that acknowledging these problems would entail, and they manage to do this with the kind help of journalists.
Thus, since the problem “doesn’t exist”, there is no debate on the subject and no ways to rectify the situation are attempted. It may be better this way, because those in the Party may come up with something like holding talks about Jose Marti and things of that nature.
In short, the situation is considerably more far-reaching than the Party would have us believe through the media. The solution, obviously, isn’t making an example of the culprits, much less forcing students to memorize a list of ethical values.
What could be the solution, then?
I can think of a number of them, within Cuba’s current educational model:
• Raise the salaries of teachers, in acknowledgment of the extremely complex work they do and the heavy burden of social responsibility they shoulder.
• Instill respect for their profession, which does not consist in taming beasts or being the spokespeople of knowledge.
• Instill respect for their time and put an end to such practices as keeping teachers at school all day because some disciplinary regulations demand this.
• Instill respect towards their ideas and cease forcing them to promote an ideology many do not share.
• Instill respect towards them as people and cease forcing them to have to put up with aggressive students or those who boycott their classes.
• Greater autonomy for schools: let teachers, parents and students participate in decision-making processes.
• Allow for the opening of educational institutions that abide by basic regulations but are based on other educational principles.
These are some ideas off the top of my head. If I were to think it over a bit, I would start making radically different suggestions.
Currently, numerous schools inspired by libertarian principles* exist around the world. Their teachers do not have to worry about fraud because they do not subject their students to exams or make them compete for a grade.
Those who study under these ideals learn what they are interested in at the pace they want, because learning can and should be enjoyable. I say this so that we understand to what extent fraud is co-extensive with the educational paradigm that common sense and the bureaucracy accept and the only, adequate system.
* Libertarian pedagogy came into existence under the Paris Commune. This May 28 marked another anniversary of the massacre that put an end to the government of the people and workers.
Cheat-notes like these litter school floors during exam periods in Cuba