HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 1 (IPS) – More than two million elementary to high school students are back to the classroom on Tuesday, in a school year marked by significant changes in the educational system as the country tries to restore one of the so-called pillars of the Cuban Revolution.
Cuban Education Minister Ena Elsa Velazquez said recently that a thorough knowledge of the available resources is the key to ensuring the successful implementation of the new transformations in the 2009/2010 school year.
Velazquez said that despite the world economic crisis Cuba would begin the new school year with a favorable economic situation with absolutely no material limitations that could affect the opening.
The Education minister said that school supplies, including uniforms, notebooks, course books and some 30 other articles, are being provided by the ministry.
Velazquez added that the teaching staff has been better prepared this year as part of the drive of teachers, parents, students and the community to achieve better results in Education, and implement major changes have been made to the evaluation system.
The minister said that the junior high school curriculum has been improved in several areas especially Cuban History and in the preparation of teachers and tutors.
One of the major changes to high schools will be a dropping of the requirement of going to live in rural boarding schools, affecting more than 100,000 students. The decision was received with delight by students and parents alike, many of whom feel that this important period in the life of adolescents is best spent in a home environment.
The new measure will be gradually phased in across the country. For example, in Havana, current students in 11th and 12th grade will finish their studies at rural boarding schools.
The rural school model came about as an alternative to senior high boarding schools in the major urban centers, which became obligatory for all in the 1990s.
Velazquez clarified that boarding schools will not be entirely phased out as they will always be around to take in students from isolate regions of the country. She also noted that the rural school plan -where students work for 45 days in the agricultural production- will remain.
The Cuban education system, one of the principal achievements of the socialist government, greatly suffered from the exodus of teachers to more lucrative sectors such as tourism during the economic crisis of the 1990s. The lack of teachers is one of the most mentioned causes of the subsequent deterioration of the education system.
Last year, the government authorized and urged retired teachers to come back to classrooms or to become tutors for the group of young teachers known as maestros emergentes (teachers that are still studying).
This initiative brought 7,884 teachers out of retirement, the majority in primary and secondary schools. In addition, the government instituted an across the board pay hike in for teachers and school administrators in July 2009.