Dmitri Prieto

Cuban students. Photo: Caridad

When we speak about the content and quality of education (basically in the humanities and social sciences, but also in other subjects) this involves a problem that is fairly “globalized,” but one that obviously has its distinctive Cuban facets here.

For example: Many say that the problem of education in Cuba would be solved by paying the teachers more.  I think that without a doubt this would help, and it would probably do more to reduce the mass flight of teachers into other fields.  However, I’m convinced that this is not sufficient to overcome the problem.

This is because even with higher salaries, if the educational model presently in place is maintained, the teacher will continue being little more than a sort of disciplinarian, and people intuitively don’t want that kind of job.

There are serious doubts that the formal content conveyed to students is good for anything more than being able to pass a series of formal exams.  This means that all education is seen as a formality, a kind of a rite of passage that is applied almost by force but is unnecessary in the end.

This then involves convincing people that Homer can be important for something.  And that’s not possible by just giving a raise to those who explain Homer.  Nor will the jibber jabber about “values” and “duties” help.  The whole motivational logic of the educational system must be changed! (Do you remember the inspiring films Dangerous Minds and The Dead Poets Society?)

If the teacher ceases being basically a disciplinarian and truly becomes a “living gospel” (as teachers were called by the Cuban educator and patriot Jose de la Luz) in a setting in which youth learn by participating in a relaxed, interesting and non-repressive atmosphere, then things can begin to change.  Of course, paying a better wage would help (or, even better, allowing teachers to participate in overall pedagogic self-management, policies and school finance).

I am fascinated with the different ways most Cubans treat doctors and teachers.  A doctor is a person who solves a problem.  A teacher, on the other hand, is often not seen as someone who solves the problem of the education of children, but rather as someone who creates problems for them – I’m referring to the official rite of passage that the acquisition of the formal education presently constitutes, which is perceived as something of a tax.

It is as if many citizens quietly consented to wanting a society without teachers.  And maybe they’re right!  They note: we do not want the types of teachers that exist in the real life.  And I remark: I’m not referring to individuals who are teachers, but to the roles they play; that’s to say, to the structures.  I also point to the need to openly discuss the indispensable content that would make up general education.

I know this is a controversial issue. What’s being done in other countries? I hope this debate helps to formulate better solutions.


Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

2 thoughts on “Again, Education… (II)

  • Don’t look 2 the imperialist West 4 solutions: after decades of bribing the working-class 2 keep it from wanting socialism, the emphasis of the rulers is now more on pure indoctrination (or worse) — where they bother 2 give U an education at all anymore.

    It’s been clear 2 me 4 a long time that students should B involved directly in the government of their education. They may not know already what they came 2 learn, but they do already know they want a collegial, democratic environment in which to learn — & in which they R already citizens: with rights & obligations at an appropriate level. Obviously, re-organizing the educational system would AFAIC make more sense starting from the university level; but there is no reason why highschool students shouldn’t be directly involved in the daily government of their educational institutions soon after, 2. This all prepares citizens 4 their rôle as full socialist beings: a rôle many in Cuba today simply do not & will not fulfill.

  • Better access to information will do a lot for teachers too. Like access to the Web and also for students.
    There is so much that can be research on the web!

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