Worse educación, more expensive gifts

Daisy Valera

Cuban junior high school students.

HAVANA TIMES — Every 22nd of December, Cubans celebrate Teacher’s Day and commemorate the conclusion of the island’s 1961 Literacy Campaign. For many families in Cuba, this is a financially complicated date.

Giving gifts to teachers has become a tradition which clearly delineates the gap that exists between the purchasing powers of different social sectors and makes attending school in uniform something of a ridiculous gesture.

For many students, it is quite simply a distressing moment. I still remember the lengths my mother went to in order to give teachers some tiny perfume bottles back in 1997.

The banner of free, quality education – which the Cuban government has raised again and again – is today a tattered rag. The most hopeful projections for any improvement in the field of education speak of a minimum five-year wait (1).

Today, more than 3,069 teachers from different provinces around the country are lodged in 13 residences in Havana, a number which does not meet the deficit of primary and secondary school teachers in the capital (2).

During the debate surrounding the policy guidelines approved by the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in 2011, more than 21,000 opinions commenting on the declining quality of education were registered (3). It wasn’t until the end of 2012, however, that high authorities in the ministries responsible for the field showed their faces to the public, at several Round Table programs.

The conclusion reached after these officials had timidly “accounted for their actions” amounted to acknowledging that the measures implemented in the last decade to rectify the country’s educational system had been wholly mistaken.

The patio of the Miguel Enriquez primary school.

Intensively Trained Teachers (teachers who are practically devoid of any pedagogical training) and Comprehensive General Teachers (who were asked to teach a great variety of different courses) comprise two of the programs that most clearly reveal the administrative failure of ministries almost entirely concerned about the political and ideological backbone of educators.

If, on the other hand, we look at the changes planned for higher education, to concentrate on one example, we’ll notice only an increase in the number of programs demanded by the country’s economy (such as those related to agriculture).

We are witnessing a production related educational reform that has been conceived in a handful of air-conditioned offices, measures that take us back to 1961, “Year of Education”, when the literacy campaign announced that one of its goals was to “incorporate the population into the productive sector through a well-rounded cultural and technical education.” (4)

As a result of this crisis, the bulk of society is forced to participate in a senseless ritual: to reward declining education with more expensive gifts – a recipe that could well be the precursor for the widespread acceptance of the privatization of Cuba’s main educational systems.
[1]Todo pasa por el maestro (“Everything Depends on the Teacher”), Margarita Barrios, www.juventudrebelde.cu, 13/12/2013


[3] Tabloide: Información sobre el resultado del debate de los lineamientos de la política económica y social del Partido y la Revolución (“Report on the Results of the Debate of the Political, Economic and Social Guidelines of the Party and Revolution”), VI. Política Social, p. 24, May 2011.

[4]Manual Alfabeticemos (“Literacy Campaign Manual”), p. 5, 1961.

2 thoughts on “Worse educación, more expensive gifts

  • Unfortunately, your sister’s example is not a rule. I can say for sure in Havana it’s very different. The bigger the gifts the better the notes.

  • My sister-in-law is a teacher in Guantanamo. She and her cohorts look forward to this day all year long. They understand the financial challenges the parents of their students face and, according to my sister-in-law, every gift is received and valued equally. The issue is not with the teachers but with the parents who choose to use these gifts to impress the teachers and send the message, “Pay a little more attention to my child”. Yes, some teachers respond differently based on the value of the gifts, but my ‘sis says that is the exception and not the rule. The school that she teaches at is attended by mostly very poor kids, so even the parents with a few more resources still don’t have much.

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