By Francisco Castro
I went to elementary school during the roughest years of the 1990s “Special Period” economic crisis in Cuba, in the midst of great shortages.
I remember notebooks with dark brittle pages, using pencils down to the last bit of lead, two or three children sharing the same book at the same time, the pieces of limestone chalk that sent shivers down our backs as they scratched the blackboards, as well as the beat up and largely outdated maps, the desks and chairs repaired with wire, and of course, not a single computer.
I also remember my cloth shoes with their inner tube soles, my backpack made from a sack, and our snacks of bread and water with sugar and a squirt of lemon.
However, I especially remember my teachers. They never failed us, except in a few isolated instances. Each was the heart and soul of their class. Without caring about the school’s lack of materials, they still managed to give enjoyable and interesting lessons.
Now I realize that the shortages never bothered me. Firstly, this was because I was a kid, and maybe I didn’t realize what I was missing. Secondly, and more important, it was because my teachers did everything possible so that those conditions didn’t affect our education.
These days there are few real teachers, at least not like the ones I had just 15 years ago. If I’m mistaken about this, I only ask to be shown my error with concrete proof as soon as possible.
My comment is based on the experiences of my cousins and the children of the families around me.
My little cousin is the one I worry about the most. Her second grade teacher, a young graduate of a crash course in elementary school instruction, is still an undergraduate herself.
While she “teaches” a small group of children, she’s taking her own courses – all at the same time. Clearly, unless she can cut herself in two, she can’t do both.
So what’s more important, that a group of kids learn how to tell the time correctly, or that she passes one of her university courses?
One afternoon I went to pick up my cousin from the school. When entering the classroom, what hit me was an enormous chart with a list of words that begin with the letter H. The last word was “hieso,” instead of “yeso” (plaster).
The young teacher responded to my demand to correct the glaring mistake by saying she didn’t have poster board that was the same color as the chart, and that she could not do the equally screwed up job of covering up the mistake with a piece of cardboard that wasn’t the same color.
My cousin – who is intelligent, but lazy when it comes to studying – was not getting the best grades. So, my aunt saw the need to pay a tutor so that she would receive the correct instruction for the subjects that the government offers her at the school for free.
Since my cousin began taking these private lessons, we’ve seen a remarkable improvement.
4 thoughts on “<em>Today’s Teachers</em>”
I personally like the idea that Cuban young people express their opinions and life experiences. As to the issue of the teachers in Cuba today, the opinion expressed by Francisco is the opinion of the majority of the people I know, and is a very common topic of conversation. Yes, that kind of situation existed at the beginning of the revolution, but most Cubans I know feel that stage should be over and that unprepared educators is not what they expect after 50 years of revolution, no matter what the reasoning of why it occurs.
It’s not saying that private education is better. It’s saying that the current situation in Cuba is a decline from previous years and is unsatisfactory for many parents.
Karen Lee Wald, a US activist in solidarity with Cuba who lived and worked in Cuba for many years before Francisco Castro was born, and who’s still visits the island and follows its affairs very closely, posted some extended comments on this article to the CubaNews list as well as her own Cuba Inside Out list. Readers of this article might find the context Karen Wald provides useful.
Here are Karen Wald’s complete comments:
The article alludes to genuine problems in Cuban education, which I’ve heard from some parents. Those who have more money and can afford to hire private tutors may be able to help their children out individually. Is this essentially PRIVATE solution, which may work for those with more money, a solution for a broader, more systemic problem in Cuban education? That wouldn’t seem likely. If society and government policy make mistakes, they should be addressed socially and politically, not individualistically. The article could easily be construed to suggest privatization as a solution to Cuba’s problems, of which there is no small number, of course.
I’d like to read a response from the author to this question. Thanks.
Inexperienced teachers produced by abreviated crash courses were the norm during the early days of the Revolution. I remember observing teachers only a few years seperated from their students, just following the curricula manuals, spitting out the information, and the students conscientiously taking notes in their notebooks. Difference being that at the time for both students and teachers this was an entirely new experience for which they were grateful. Now, of course, the situation has changed. I’ll neve forget some of these same teachers taking a smoke break with their (junior high) students, circa 1969!
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