In Cuba, Education Is Free, but It Costs

Mercedes Gonzales Amade

Illustration by Carlos
Illustration by Carlos

HAVANA TIMES — The summer came to an end and everybody began to get ready for the new school year. Uniforms were being sold well in advance, which is a very good thing because you can avoid the last minute rush.

The bad thing though is that for every school level, children in first grade are only given two uniforms, second grade only receive one and third grade don’t get any. How can kids get by for five or six days of the week, going in the morning and afternoon, with only two uniforms, in a country as hot as ours? You have to turn to the black market, where prices can go up to 150 pesos (7.5 USD).

My son has just started his pre-university course, quite a difficult level and an age when young people show off a lot. I haven’t been able to get him extra uniforms on the black market because he needs a bigger size than the ones they have, we’ll see what happens… Not to mention backpacks and their sky-rocket prices, not always of great quality either. In order to be sure that it’ll last your kids the entire academic year, you need to bite the dust and buy a branded one: Adidas, Nike… which cost well over 20 dollars each.

On the other hand, I’ve already hired tutors for his harder subjects; because I don’t want to go through what I did last year. If you add this to the rest of the little things you need: book covers, notebooks, school supplies… it’s pretty much an impossible task for the pockets of modest parents.

In Cuba, school education is free, and it’s a very good thing that everybody has access to it, but it’s slowly becoming a hefty financial dilemma. It’s no secret that the children of families with financial means have, like they had before, more opportunities to get a good level of education and continue on to studying in university.

My duty and what I most want as a mother, is to give this “luxury” to my son, if he wants it of course.

9 thoughts on “In Cuba, Education Is Free, but It Costs

  • You are lucky. As others said: very costly, not only for the education but all supplies (books too). I’m a Cuban living abroad. I had to pay every cent for my education here and start from 0 as my high school diploma was nothing here… I went to university in Cuba too and had 5 Cuban pesos allowance for the week. With that I got myself to language school every night and did 2 years English, two years French. never owned a backpack in my life and struggled to have shoes on my feet. I can think of a better time in my life.

  • Please, move to Cuba then. You think that education is free in Cuba they you are as ignorant as the next foreigner.

  • Many of the tourist workers in Cuba speak five languages and do very well with tips – Si !!!

  • I have lived the reality of the disaster that is Cuba. (It is not to be recommended) So I can tell you, when Cuban’s leave the island it’s in search of something better. Regardless of why we leave, we know very well what is to be found outside Cuba. Cuban’s have been travel back and forth between the US and Cuba for decades,….we talk, so yeah, we know. What we hate is some Yuma, armchair Bolshevik, telling us about the hardships in the US, while knowing nothing of how real Cubans live. Thousands have risked the journey north by legal, and illegal means. Just the other day, Cuban refugees landed on Key Biscayne and Miami Beach.

    You speak about the cost of buying a car and insurance, that’s something that 99% of Cuban’s don’t even dream of having in Cuba! You try living with a ration card that provides, maybe, two weeks worth of poor quality food, and $20 a month to make up the difference.

    You are correct though in that I do not know you, nor do I wish to. But you certainly do not know me, or the hardships I have endured.

    …remember to donate your old shoes to Cuba. Might as well include those capitalist exploitative Nike sneakers as well.

  • You know nothing about me, informed consent. I know how Cubans live and I know they have many things in their lives that I could not afford in mine. I played barefoot and shirtless whenever I could as a child, even when it was not as hot as Cuba. So did my kids. Never suffered for a second. What a precious view you have of hardship.

    I have worked with refugees for decades, and I know why thousands leave home. They are lured by black propaganda, such as the murderous Cuban exile community that created the false legend that it was possible to reach Miami by raft from Cuba. The Gulf Stream takes those who try out into the Atlantic.

    Cubans’ standard of living goes down when they emigrate to the U.S. They have been given a false picture by people like yourself who want to use them for propaganda, counting heads and inventing reasons that advance a political agenda. The propaganda never tells them the difference between salary and take-home pay, for instance. It doesn’t tell them that most jobs make a car compulsory, which sometimes means a second car. It never mentions that the insurance may cost as much as the car. The cost of daycare comes as a stunning blow. The cost of healthcare. Dentistry! The street crime, the violence, the discrimination, all things they couldn’t imagine even if they knew theoretically. The corruption. Unemployment.

    Never having been out of work a day in your life . . . now that is a charmed life.

  • Cubans have no student loan debt, they don’t have anything else either…SI!!!

  • This stokes all my fears about Cuban morale. They have no idea what poverty or sacrifice is. Where education is not free, parents begin saving for the cost of schooling their children when the children are born. Is there no grey market for second-hand uniforms? Aren’t they made with seams that can be let out? Can’t you teach your children to be careful with their clothes and possessions? I bought my first brand-name “Nikes” when I was 75 years old. Until then I managed without any actual small benefit they might have for my feet to avoid being robbed by their legend.

    I grew up with my grandmother in our house. She was born on a farm in 1877, my aunts and uncles were young adults in the city during the Great Depression. I am angry with myself that I did not learn more, but what I did learn about their lives has given me the gift of understanding that there is no level of wealth and comfort which is “normal” or to which you are entitled. Once you have secure access to food and shelter, poverty is all in the mind. Consider ascetic monks. Are they poor?

    Have you heard of student loans? Have you ever wondered what happens to a student who acquires tens of thousands of USDs in debts and then fails his course?

  • Student loan debt in the USA is greater than credit card debt. It is also very high in Canada.

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