Private Tutors Rescue Public Schooling in Cuba

Cuban High School Students hoping to study at a university. Photo: Alejandro García Sánchez / El Invasor

Livan, who has a tutor’s license, began by collaborating with his father to print the bibliography, review some student assignments, and collect payment.

By 14ymedio

HAVANA TIMES – Although Liván studied at the Enrique José Varona University of Pedagogical Sciences in Havana, he owes his work as a tutor to his father. “I finished my social service a few years ago and realized that I didn’t want to continue being linked to a state school,” he told 14ymedio. “My father had been tutoring for the entrance exams for more than 20 years and I started helping him.”

Liván, who has a tutor’s license, began by collaborating with his father to print the bibliography, review some student assignments, and collect payment. But in mid-2021, the old tutor died, a victim of covid-19. “I thought that we were going to have to close the little school but the students began to ask if I couldn’t take care of the tutoring and I have done so.”

With a house near the Manolito Aguiar high school in Marianao, Liván has a group of ten students who come once a week to prepare for the mathematics exam for access to higher education. “They just passed the tests, so now I’m on a break, but I’m happy because all my students passed with good grades.”

Liván inherited many contacts in the official education system from his father and, in addition, he prepares his classes focused on the entrance exams of previous years. “I review based on the content that has come out on these tests but I also have to fill in a lot of knowledge gaps that they bring up. The worst areas they get this far with are geometry and working with fractions.”

For a cost of 300 pesos per month, the student has at least four group classes and an extra hour of personalized attention. “Although now everything is digitized, I also provide the service of printing part of the content and test exams so that the student can practice. It is important to work not only on mathematics, but also on security and concentration. I pretend that they are in front of the Admission Test.”

“The children’s own teachers tell me what they need more help with. I have a good relationship with them and I try not to question what they do, because I know very well what it is to be in a classroom and also have a lot of paperwork and a salary that is not worth it,” he admits.

“The first thing I tell new students is that it’s not like their school here. You do have to study here and I’m not going to give you any grades. It’s in your hands to achieve, in one fell swoop, acceptance to a university in a subject that you like versus having to prepare one more year for the entrance exams. Liván already has full registration for the next group that begins in January. “I can’t keep up, I have had to say no to those who have come to me in recent days.”

His assessment: “These last are the worst students I’ve had in a long time. The pandemic did a lot of damage, but there are deeper problems here. I get students who don’t even know how to multiply, they’re in the 12th grade of high school and they don’t know how to divide either. Very unfortunate.”

The director of the school where Angélica works as a teacher was categorical a few months ago: “All students have to pass the grade regardless of how things are going with them.” The arguments put forward by the officials of the Ministry of Education who visited the school a few days before pointed out that “no one is to blame for the pandemic and we cannot drag so many repeaters because they did not learn the content due to the confinement of so many months.”

Angelica talked with the parents of some students about tutoring them after school hours at home. “In the morning they have classes in the classroom and in the afternoon they reaffirm the content with exercises and questions,” she details to this newspaper. “Although in the end I had to pass all the students, whether they knew the subject or not, at least those who had tutors learned something.”

In her case, she has no plans to leave her employment relationship in a state school. “I haven’t thought about it but I feel much more comfortable working in a private way because I go at my own pace, I can be more demanding with the students and they behave much better. When they are paying for a tutor it does not occur to them to waste their time in giggles or games.”

After many years of accusing private tutors of being a threat to “absolutely free” teaching in Cuba and keeping them illegal until in 2013, tutors were allowed to obtain a license to work on their own. Now the official press admits that it is almost impossible to be admitted the university without first attending several tutoring sessions.

The vindication comes late for those who were previously “violators of the law,” as the Escambray newspaperacknowledged on Tuesday, but it points to a clear fact: the quality of the Cuban educational system is insufficient, the gaps for students are increasing and a satisfactory educational process depends, more than ever, on how much money a family can afford.

Before tutoring emerged from the ‘underground’ in 2013, “more than a few flatly refused to spend their money on these ‘takers’ and some even promoted a crusade or a kind of witch hunt,” says Escambray.

After taking for granted the need for the tutors, the newspaper exposes that their work leads, albeit indirectly, to “inequality among the children.” Learning should be “a responsibility of the school,” but given the institutional deficiencies, the tutor is used and their activity — in practice — is not limited to supporting the contents, but also overseeing homework, facilitating extra-class work and accommodating the student according to his or her needs.

In addition, it is necessary to distinguish the usual subject tutors –generally in Mathematics, Spanish and History – and those who prepare the student for aptitude exams, such as those necessary to enroll in art schools, the Higher Institute of Industrial Design or the careers that require special requirements, such as Journalism or International Relations.

Systematically discrediting the sector is difficult, because, as Escambray admits, the tutors are usually the most “prestigious educators in the territory.” Retired teachers or professors who need additional income have found in this job the economic incentive that the Ministry of Education, which always pays late and with low salaries, denies them.

Without ambiguity, the newspaper lists old problems: “insufficient faculty, some teachers and professors without the most basic knowledge about the subjects they teach, loss of time on campus, lack of organization in the processes, lack of interest and demotivation in not a few teachers, dogmas in the exams and a long etcetera that does not exclude some other fraudulent and corrupt turbidity.”

“Draining one’s pockets” seems to be the only solution, regrets the text, but it is clear that, in the economic crisis that Cuba is experiencing, many families must choose “between paying a tutor or basic household expenses.”

The report published by the organ of the Communist Party in Sancti Spíritus set off a harsh controversy among readers. One of the commentators accused the text of being “disrespectful” to the Cuban educational system, and blurted out that young people from Sancti Spiritus do not need tutoring services. Those who use it, he says, “are wasting their time.”

One reader pointed out that, after putting food on the table, the poor education of the children is the “main topic” of family conversations in Cuba. While Gualterio Núñez, another commentator, stated that there are many educational expenses that the State “does not contemplate or subsidize.”

In addition to insisting that in any country the “support of private teachers for education” is normal, he lamented that when Cuba returns to normal, citizens will realize the importance that access to a complete and quality education would have had for the development of the country.

Translated by Translating Cuba


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