TV classes for primary school education fill the abyss left behind by closed schools, but they present a great challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for mothers and grandmothers.
HAVANA TIMES – Stay-at-home measures because of the new Coronavirus have meant that many Cuban mothers are having to put in twice as much work. Like so many other women across the globe, they are having to take on the challenge of living with, entertaining, doing exercise with, taking care of and educating their children without leaving the house.
Cuban schools closed their doors on March 24th to encourage social distancing and try and stop the Coronavirus from spreading.
School on Cuban TV screens
While TVs appeared in Latin America as early as 1950, education and the TV screen didn’t go hand-in-hand until 1959.
The first attempt was an educational/cultural programming, made up of a team of teachers, writers, libraries, film crews and a team of animation artists.
Based on that experience in 1960, the Ministry of Education decided to implement educational and cultural plans linked to national radio and TV.
At that time, shows began like Aprendiendo en TV, Seminario y Revolucion (1962), Curso Secundario de Educacion Obrera y Campesina (1963), and El Instituto Tecnologico Popular (starting 1967).
By the late ‘70s, a shortage of materials marked a long pause in educational TV until it made a comeback in December 1999, with the first broadcasts of the current system.
University for All classes were broadcast, with a wide range of subjects such as languages, ballet, meteorology, art history, biotechnology and chess.
According to Canal Educativo’s website, today’s TV programming for home school has designed spaces for curricular, complementary and educational support.
Three life stories
Yusnelys Pacheco, Migdreysi Perez and Orialys Martinez live in a town in the Pinar del Rio province, in Cuba’s West. They are young, single mothers and they have children in primary school. They spoke with IPS Cuba.
“It’s an odyssey to try and get my daughter to pay attention to 1st grade classes on TV,” Pacheco said, who is still working at the town’s polyclinic in spite of being four months pregnant right now.
“My mother spends the whole day looking after my daughter, but I can’t ask her to do the classes as well. That’s why I wait for the program to be repeated in the afternoon or I ask a neighbor, the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates, to give me her notebook so I can copy what to do,” she said.
Plus, when schools shut, school books weren’t handed out in her area and half of the assignments proposed by the virtual teacher can’t be done.
Orialys Martinez is in a similar situation, with a small TV and school books locked up in the classroom.
Martinez said that when classes come on the TV, a part of the family focusses all of their attention on Leandro, who is in 2nd grade.
“My mother, my sister and I start doing what they tell us to. One of us repeats it, another copies it down and the other one makes sure the boy is paying attention,” she said.
Martinez is an art teacher at the Municipal Department of Education in San Luis, and has received her wage in full this first month in quarantine.
She tells us that she also receives help from a neighbor, a retired teacher, who organizes different times for three children in the neighborhood to come around and go over things.
Meanwhile, Migdreisy Perez anticipated the days they would be staying at home and collected all of her son’s school work and books on the last day of class.
She is a domestic worker and talks about how TV classes affect her cleaning, feeding and care work at home, which has increased during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The days he has class, I wake up earlier because I know that it isn’t just sitting with my son while the TV class is on, then we have to do exercises, check them over and repeat…,” Perez said, who is in a perfect situation to record broadcasts and look up information on the Internet.
Nevertheless, she can’t answer her son’s queries a lot of the time.
Classes for mommy?
Every home, just like every student’s experience, is different. However, there are common features, linked to sexist stereotypes when it comes to caring for children and the disproportionate responsibility of their education.
Many mothers and grandmothers we spoke to replied that they have more patience to sit down and help children, while the paternal figures go out to work or to look for food at this time of day; or they just prefer not to participate unless it’s “an emergency”.
Some mothers working from home have posted on social media about how difficult it is to maintain their professional work and home tasks.
Rosy Amaro, a Cuban TV host, published a post on her Facebook page about this difficult paradox.
“… between cooking three times a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus washing up everytime), TV classes that unfortunately coincide with the press conference (daily update about the pandemic) at 11 AM…,” wrote Amaro about her daily tasks.
However, the excess of work for women during this period doesn’t only cover the unequal distribution of responsibilities at home, but the lack of flexibility for Cuban students to learn in alternative ways.
According to anthropologist Leticia Artiles, it would be more productive to use this time to encourage activities and skills that make children think, communicate and understand, while promoting the involvement of parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles through play.
“Teaching classes with the TV for the first few grades is a burden for mothers or people who are responsible for making sure children continue to learn at home, because a teaching methodology is being broadcast,” Artiles explained.
From Monday to Friday, Telerebelde channel is repeating the morning’s primary school TV classes in the afternoon.
Dania Lopez Gulbone, the vice-minister of Education, told local press that TV classes will remain available on the Educational TV’s YouTube page.
Local education departments will also record these materials. There is also an online tutor, providing a free service over these next few months, on the CubaEduca website.
The official stressed many students still don’t have the skills needed to listen to TV and meet class requirements.
“In this case, the mother or grandmother, mainly, have to learn what the educational figure is teaching so they can then pass this on to the child,” she concluded.
After asking around, IPS found that it is mostly mothers and grandmothers who take on the responsibility of home schooling children, that students in the first few grades require extreme attention when doing exercises, and that families need to complement TV class exercises with other activities to motivate children. Students aren’t motivated enough to study in this way; and schools didn’t completely anticipate the needs of support materials.