Cuba’s Educational System Needs New Investment

Fernando Ravsberg*

Classroom with one of the “instant teachers”. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES — No one in their right mind would think of ceasing to invest in the business that brings in 80% of their income. In Cuba, the sector that is that profitable is education: everything invested there yields huge dividends and is pulling the nation out of its worst crisis.

We should not let our enthusiasm over the growth of tourism blind us. We would need to bring in more than 10 million tourists every year – and create far more efficient infrastructure – to secure the revenue produced today by the sale of professional services abroad (more than US $ 8 billion).

Those professional, however, do not appear spontaneously, they are the outcome of Cuba’s national education system. That system is a “factory” with unlimited human resources when enough is reinvested to improve its facilities, technology and the wages of its “laborers,” the teachers.

However, some days ago, Minister of Education Ena Elsa Velazquez acknowledged that the current school year had started with a large shortage of teachers, a trend the country has seen for years without developing a solid plan of action to revert the crisis.

For fifty years, Cuba’s educational system was able to offer all children a classroom and teacher. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Between 2012 and 2013, the number of students to graduate as teachers went down by 2,600 and, this year, only 4,000 people applied to enroll in pedagogy, leaving 15,000 empty spots. Clearly, young Cubans do not consider teaching a good option in life.

For years, the country has applied different formulas to counter the crisis, such as the creation of “intensively trained” teachers. People called these “instant teachers,” because they taught a subject first and studied it afterwards. This had powerful repercussions on the quality of education.

Today, we continue to see such emergency plans. This school year, “we have retired persons who’ve come back to education, teachers in training and students in fourth and fifth year at the Agrarian University,” Daylexis Cabrera, a teacher at the Republica de Argelia school in Batabano, tells us.

Now, Cuba is betting on making teachers out of the students with the poorest academic performance. They set up a mid-level, 2-year course to turn people who couldn’t pass university admittance exams into primary and secondary school teachers.

The Decline of Education

Universities have graduated over one million professionals, but very few opt for careers in education. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

young man who had been a secondary school teacher until three years ago tells us he quit teaching because working conditions are awful. “I would work from 7:30 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon for a monthly salary of 590 Cuban pesos,” the equivalent of US $25.

“I would teach 7 classes and even had to go on Saturdays, sometimes just to hear the principal give us some pointless political spiel. Everything’s so poorly organized that one doesn’t have time to prepare for classes. Sometimes, you don’t even have time to properly correct exams,” he tells us.

Today, he earns considerably more giving private lessons that prepare students for university admittance exams. Ironically, he now works to plug up the holes in the system created by the loss of teachers.

The consequences of the crisis will also be social. If public education is unable to prepare students adequately, only those with the money to pay for private lessons will be able to enroll in university, in violation of the principle that everyone should have the same opportunities.

Cuba’s educational system has even been able to guarantee schools for those with special learning needs. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

The solution appears to be to raise the salaries and improve the living conditions of educators. It’s already being implemented in the public health sector, where wages have been raised and several proposed measures would give medical professionals privileged access to housing, automobiles, the Internet and contracts, among other things.

Cuba’s educational project began in the 1960s, when all Cubans were taught to read and write. For fifty years, the country guaranteed 100 % of children, including tens of thousands of disabled individuals and others with special educational needs, a classroom and teacher.

Betting on accessible, quality education meant spending an enormous part of the State budget, but it ultimately allowed universities to graduate over 1 million professionals whose work abroad now sustains Cuba’s economy.

Despite these achievements, this nationwide effort and the entirety of this investment could well vanish into thin air if the country does not adopt measures that will guarantee the creation and maintenance of a base of educators who have the professionalism, energy and maturity needed to educate the new generations.

The future of its children, the national economy and Cuban culture depends on the accessibility and quality of education. To lose the nation’s main source of income by not investing enough in teachers would be tantamount to suicide.

19 thoughts on “Cuba’s Educational System Needs New Investment

  • September 7, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    I agree with you that Bruno Rodriguez appears to be the more rational and best public face of the three potential Cuban Government contenders. Marino Muriillo Jorge is a qualified (by education) economist and First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel is a toe the line communist – hence being the choice of Raul Castro.
    My take remains that 2018 is the key year when Raul assuming he is alive, steps down and Venezuela rejects Maduro and so potentially ceases to act as an economic support.
    Politics is about POWER and the economic power is not in the plump hands of the Murillo on behalf of the Government, but in those of the Castro family regime.
    The question is in my view whether Alejandro Espin Castro (actually in Spanish terms it ought to be Alejandro Castro Espin) and his brother-in-law General Luis Alberto Rodriguez will meekly step aside, or seek to control. Currently, theirs is the control, holding those key positions of Head of Security and Head of GAESA
    History -world wide – shows that the military are the key. Cuba has a very large military for its size (more than Canada) and since the death of Camilo Cienfuegos who was second only to Fidel (which meant that Raul was no. 3 and Che No. 4 – a fact which almost ensured the eradication of Camilo as an anti-communist along with Huber Matos) has been controlled by Raul, as Minister and as the most senior General.
    Alejandro is little known publicly but his time spent in Russia with the former KGB and with Vladimir Putin will have provided him with plenty of knowledge about power grabbing.
    The current conception promoted by the free media as a consequence of the renewal of diplomatic relations with the US that major change is afoot in Cuba is in my view misleading. Raul Castro Ruz is a dedicated communist. As long ago as 1953, he visited the Soviet Bloc nations and incidentally met Nikolai Leonov who following the revolution became the KGB man in Havana. Raul is ruthless – he oversaw the summary execution in Santiago de Cuba of soldiers loyal to Batista – as many as 78 in one day, and was the driving force behind the prosecution of Matos and probably the disappearance of Camilo Cienfuegos. So you may understand now the link with son Alejandro going to Russia.
    How will he potential fracas be resolved – nobody knows, but the potential for a big bust-up is there. Whoever wins, there is little chance of the people of Cuba having any say. Who wants to choose between the frying pan and the fire? Somehow the system has to rot from within -like the USSR.

  • September 7, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    As someone who hasn’t been to Cuba and obviously not Cuban, an outsider, what do you think is really going on behind the curtain Carlye? My instinct is Bruno Rodriguez is by far the most well rounded of the top 20. What’s your take on the situation as you see it?

  • September 7, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    I guess that they are pedalling bici-taxis or cutting hair, as there are few private sector businesses allowed to have more than one employee. You are correct in indicating indirectly that Havana is used to illustrate “progress” in Cuba and the rest of the country slowly trails along behind it.

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