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.