Rosa Martínez

Rosa Martinez: I am another Havana Times contributing writer, university professor and mother of two beautiful and spoiled girls, who are my greatest joy. My favorite passions are reading and to write and thanks to HT I’ve been able to satisfy the second. I hope my posts contribute towards a more inclusive and more just Cuba. I hope that someday I can show my face along with each of my posts, without the fear that they will call me a traitor, because I’m not one.

Saving Quality Education in Cuba

Rosa Martinez

HAVANA TIMES – The Cuban school year 2016-2017 reached its final stage. When students return from Victory Week vacations (mid-April) they will face the final months of this stage which includes final exams, extra-curricular work, entrance exams and others.

In Cuba, every school year ends at the beginning of July and begins the first week of September. With its universal access, this is considered a conquest of the Revolution.

Few doubt the great amount of resources that the State allocates – according to the World Bank, our country is among the ones that invests more in Education, about 13 percent of its GDP – so that our children have access to an education of excellence, have uniforms , books and other school materials, teachers, as well as classrooms with acceptable conditions to receive the different subjects, and all without paying a cent.

But it is very unfortunate that after investing so much in one of the most important pillars for any society, the main objective of a quality education is not achieved for different reasons.

For any inhabitant of the island it is not a secret that in the midst of a fierce US blockade, which does exist, another internal one is also present. The latter often squanders resources or misuses them. It is increasingly difficult to find a school facility with the necessary conditions so the students are in a pleasant, clean, organized, painted, and clear environment.

To the common material difficulties of the current Cuban education is added the sacrifice of the majority of the parents. They must buy expensive uniforms (the ones that the state provides at a lower price aren’t enough), even more expensive shoes, materials to complement those that receive free for book covers and notebooks, snacks, lunches, and many other necessities related to daily school attendance.

Each year is a great challenge for parents, who not only have the difficult task of instilling in their children the best habits and habits to be good people, they also have to fill the gaps left by some teachers who are not well trained or simply have no interest in teaching.

But if all that has been said before is not enough, it is worth mentioning how rare it is today to find at a teacher who is an educator at heart and who enjoys being in front of the classroom.

The hard years of the special period have changed the Cuban mentality. The teaching staff, who have suffered the worst of a depressed economy (with insufficient wages and nothing to steal at work and sell as other workers do), are sometimes apathetic and, in the worst case, they may even mistreat their pupils.

No one knows for sure where we will end up with so many deprivations and deficiencies of all kinds, but what we are convinced is that something must be done with urgency so that Cuban education is again that necessary pillar, the educator of the new generations.

  • emagicmtman

    The problems you mention are universal; only the particulars depend on the country and its wealth. There are dedicated, knowledgable and inspired teachers everywhere; it is just a matter of finding them. (It is the same with other professions, too, such as doctors; I had to look long and hard before I found an M.D. who I could trust and who did not patronize me. Query other parents about which teachers are dedicated, trustworthy and inspired, then insists your child be in their classes. Also, if none are available within the school system, search out retired teachers, and non-teachers with good knowledge, skills and reputations, who might be willing to tutor your child. Although now retired, I continue to teach at a private school, and have volunteered by services elsewhere in the past. I’ve always felt education is a collaborative effort, between student and teacher, and that the learning goes on in both directions. (Certainly, this is the case with computers; most of what i have learned has been through my students, who accomplish more in five seconds than i can in five minutes!) If a teacher has a real love of learning, and continues to learn all his or her life, you can’t go wrong; the teacher will communicate his or her enthusiasm for the subject(s) to the students. As Socrates once framed it, the teacher draws out what the student already knows; the student just has to discover the power s/he already possesses.

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      I agree with much of this!

  • emagicmtman

    Of course parents need to take on some of these rolls themselves; to begin with, they need to foster a love of reading: reading aloud to their children, filling their homes with as many books as possible and, through example, suggesting to their children that this is one important way towards enlightenment.
    Last night i saw a wonderful documentary on a master teacher in a rural French one-room school accomplishing miracles. I highly recommend “To Be and To Have” (approx. 2 hours) which follows the teacher through one school year. He teaches children ages 4 or 5 through 10. The documentary does not have an off-camera narrator, but just focuses in upon the interactions between teacher and students (always positive, patient, concerned) and between students and students. This is how it is done. Not the only road to enlightenment, of course, but still a gem of how real education is accomplished.

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      Firstly let me explain that my wife holds a significant position in education. Secondly that I have extensive knowledge of both a ‘basica’ and a Pre-University school and that I have a niece who teaches in a ‘primaria’ and when at home I am in daily contact with my Godchild of 6 years and her younger sister of 3.
      In Cuba emagicmtman it is difficult to obtain educational books and that parents do not have the financial resources to purchase books having to concentrate upon feeding and clothing their families.
      The books used within the schools are also used as a method of indoctrination. In my book I gave examples of both pre-university and a book for five-year olds.
      You and I know that we disagree politically, but I am talking of reality – not bias.
      Real education leads in a free society to encouraging individual thought and ideas, in Cuba the purpose is to instill conformity with communist thought and to create an obedient mass, as “Che” Guevara emphasized:
      “Students have to learn to think as a mass, to think as an individual is criminal.”
      But at least you and I share an enthusiasm for enabling young people to obtain education and to be able to think for themselves. Incidentally, only yesterday Malala was made an Honorary Citizen of Canada (a distinction she shares with only five others in history including Mandela and Wallenburg) and she addressed a joint meeting of the House of Commons and the Senate. I watched with amazement at her grace and talent.

  • CUBAQUS

    What “quality education”? There is little left. History teaching is propaganda, news reports show that even university students can’t spell, ….
    Teachers leave the system to become tutors. Retired teachers have to come back and people that haven’t graduated are placed in front of classes.
    The physical environment has decayed. Informatics and internet access are non-existent. Books are scarce. uniforms are scarce.
    Corruption is rife. Exams are sold. Entrance to university is politically conditioned. Those that disagree lose their “right to education” guaranteed to all Cubans (in propaganda theory).
    Like medical care (for Cubans in the apartheid system) education is going down the drain.
    Costa Rica reviewed the Cuban medical education and concluded that it lacked 30% of courses for a Cuban graduate to be licensed in Costa Rica.