Cuba: Education, Bureaucracy and Society

By Ariel Glaria

Cuban students. Photo: Juan Suarez
Cuban students. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban State spends a considerable part of its limited resources on education. Why, then, is our educational system facing a crisis?

For years, thousands of teachers across the disciplines have come out of educational institutions. One can deduce from this that, at one point, education was only a political priority, but also a career with a guaranteed future on the island. The principle was more or less as follows: there will always be students and we can’t have a shortage of teachers.

Reality changed as of the 1990s. Teachers began to leave the classrooms. The institutions where they were trained were left without students. Teacher salaries stagnated.

Fields like tourism and others began to offer people new and better options. During those years, the different levels of schools suffered a mass exodus of teachers (a phenomenon that continues to this day) and no coherent policy has been developed to revert the situation. Attempts at this, like employing retired teachers, having young people go through crash-courses so as to teach different subjects and, to a lesser extent, calling on people from the community with some knowledge on a given area have had a considerable impact on the quality of our education, without solving the problem.

These are the main reasons behind the crisis, but they are far from isolated facts in the new priorities for Cuban society. The teacher exodus and the scant interest in teaching careers are the result of a more profound change in the nation’s collective interests. The “crisis of values” we hear about today is linked to this drastic change. But, has there really been a “loss of values” in Cuba? If so, is it not caused by the divorce between what was once taught and what is taught today, both at school and outside of it?

Reconciling life and learning has been one of the greatest challenges modern society has taken on to this day. The main concern of States, education-wise, has been to make education suitable to life. To speak of a loss of values is to speak of a twofold problem. Have we lost something we believed in and was actually useful, or have we simply lost values that reality, in its violent changes, has left behind as useless, and that education has been unable to replace? We must urgently answer this question.

Today, Cuba’s young make their way through a society that does provide them with effective ethical instruments, instruments that could save us from the country’s unwieldy administrative bureaucracy, an apparatus that reveals itself as the owner of our spiritual and material values, molding collective psychology to its own interests and ways of operating. This apparatus has become a paradigm for society, an example to follow. Inefficiency and corruption are its results.

The problem we face is the gap between school and society, between education and life.

Without a doubt, the psychological model with which the bureaucracy seeks to condition society has penetrated education, weaking the moral referents that guide the young and, sometimes, going as far as replacing such referents. The clock is ticking. The material and spiritual cost of this is too high. The problem concerns us all.

One thought on “Cuba: Education, Bureaucracy and Society

  • Cuban education has relined a lot since the 30-35% of GDP subsidies of the Soviet Union fell away. Schools lack everything from books to windows. Teachers are demotivated. Students disinterested.

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