Cuba’s State and Private Kindergartens

Irina Pino

HAVANA TIMES — When my son turned one, I was unemployed. Thanks to a government official my husband knew, however, we managed to find a day care center (Circulo infantil) for him. That was at the end of the 90s, when private day care had not yet been authorized. I started to work shortly afterwards.

Even though he was already 14 months old, my kid still couldn’t walk. Since the day care centers weren’t taking infants, as they had in previous decades, I had to wait for him to learn how to walk and stay upright before leaving him there.

When he was finally admitted into the State day care facility, things were fairly complicated. He wouldn’t adapt and we had to pick him up at noon every day. He would spend the day crying, missing us. This is normal for small children who are taken away from home.

The care offered by the staff was anything but professional. They would yell at the kids and some even spanked them (without the parents finding out, of course). When I went to pick up my kid, I would sometime notice that they had washed his hair – something I didn’t take well to. I had told one of the daycare workers there not to bathe him, let alone wash his hair. She would tell me she hadn’t, that she had merely moistened it with a towel to freshen him up.

One day, I arrived unannounced and saw what they did. They would take the kids that were a little dirty and plunge their heads into basins out in the patio to wash them with cold water. Then, they would dry them up with any old towel. My son was often sick. He once had a severe case of diarrhea and we had to treat him with secnidazole, a medication that was only available in hard currency at the time.

At my workplace, I was told that a kid had once drowned by accident at a kindergarten, after his head had been plunged into a cleaning bucket in one of the rooms. In another kindergarten, they found that the staff was taking half of the food given to the children. Though none of these incidents were reported on by the press, they got to me and put me on the alert. I even gave one of the teachers gifts so her attitude towards my kid would change and she’d look after him better. That woman scared him. You could tell he was afraid of her: whenever you mentioned her, he made a face as though he’d burst into tears at any moment.

In addition, the dreadful condition that one was rooms in the upper floor was in (its windows and doors were broken) put the children at risk. On several occasions, I spoke with the principal and explained the situation to her, but she was always evasive, alleging that they had practically no funds to repair the building. The kindergarten, located on 5ta and 20, Miramar (an embassy area), contrasted with the other well-kept and newly-painted buildings.

The children were allowed to play out in the courtyard, but the games were not didactic. Romping and running around was all they did.

Recently, I visited a private day care, where my friend’s daughter spends the day, and I was able to see how the business operates. The discipline, the learning games, the extreme cleanliness of the locale (where you has to take off your shoes at the door and children are given special footwear), the beautiful posters on the wall, the toys, tables and chairs, coloring books and many other things designed to ensure the little ones are properly cared for there, make most parents willing to pay 15 CUCs (US $16.50 a month.

The daycare worker teaches the children to be polite: to say hello and thank you and share toys, social norms they will require in the future. She also organizes singing competitions, games, and poetry recitals.

There, she not only looks after but also instills the children with spiritual values. The children love the delightful atmosphere of the place. Even on weekends, they ask their parents if they can go to aunt Elena’s, as they lovingly call her.

2 thoughts on “Cuba’s State and Private Kindergartens

  • Daycare and kindergarten are the hottest topic among all parents with young child. I never like nor trust any kindergarten myself, despite the fact that I was sent to a very good one when I was a 3 years old. It was a kindergarten with boarding facilities when the parents are too busy to take care of the kids, on certain weekdays. As my father served in the military and mother worked full time, I was the one constantly ended up in the boarding rooms, instead of my system who was younger than me. I hated every day I spent in there, although they treated the kid very well and they have all the fundings from the Chinese government.

    So no matter how good they are, I am not sending my kid into those places, for sure.

  • An interesting report. Are these private daycares legal and licensed by the government? Do they operate out of somebody’s home or are they located in proper premises?

    I have heard of similar horror stories in Canada of abusive or neglectful treatment at daycares. Only here, the bad ones are unlicensed private daycares, where the staff is untrained and poorly paid. Public school daycares in Toronto are fairly good, and of course, licensed private daycares can be excellent (but they cost plenty).

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