HAVANA TIMES, July 7 — I came across the form that junior high school students have to fill out for admission into magnet senior high schools focused on training youth as teachers. Reading it, I was surprised to find the level of commitment demanded of them, given their age (they’re no more than 14 or 15 at the time of applying).
Each student is under the obligation to sign a document in which they state: “Feeling the vocation for teaching, being aware that once passing 12th grade and the three entrance exams, I will only be able to major in pedagogy.”
It’s true that at the end form the signature of the child’s legal guardian is also demanded, but one has to wonder whether a parent has the moral right to commit their child’s life and their professional future that way.
These kids have barely passed puberty and are still battling against acne; nevertheless, each has to give assurances that they don’t suffer “any type of illness or any physical, mental, political or religious limitation that will prevent me from developing myself as a patriotic student.”
The form adds that the student must “accept unconditionally all tasks and missions assigned.” The dictionary informs me that someone who is unconditional is an “absolute follower,” someone capable of complying with orders without questioning their practical effectiveness or their moral validity.
But that’s not the worst thing. What’s worse is that those youths who accept being “unconditional” are those who will instruct the younger generation, teaching them not only mathematics or Spanish but also serving as role models to emulate.
Because of the fact that in the end no one is unconditional, the most that can be achieved is the appearance of that quality. Actually it’s preferable like this, because otherwise we’d all be robots willing to do any and everything that that our programmer ordered us.
This is the struggle between the country of unanimity that requires unconditional soldiers and the other that is struggling to be born, one composed of thinking citizens whose diverse ideas could be the necessary stones to continue building the Cuban nation.
But what’s certain is that studying pedagogy these days is becoming almost as dramatic emigrating, because after one takes that first step there’s no longer the possibility of going back. Any Cuban who makes a mistake with this choice will pay for it all their life.
The need for teachers in understandable
It’s understandable that there’s a great need for teachers in Cuba, a country where even a lone kid in the middle of the mountains has a classroom, but in reaching that goal there should be aspirations for better-quality teaching.
They’ve already had experiences in creating very young “Fast Tract educators,” what people joking called “instant teachers,” but the laughing stopped when one of these youths took a chair and killed a student, one only a little younger than the teacher.
It’s unquestionable that the incorporation of thousands of boys and girls in literacy brigades in 1961 meant a leap into the future, but the need to appeal to their grandkids 50 years later implies a setback.
Cuba had a good body of teachers and it needs to have that again, but it seems unlikely this will achieved by appealing to unqualified children to give classes or by chaining down adolescents with oaths committing their lives.
The root problem — the one that any teacher will gladly talk about to whoever wants to listen — is that of low wages. Their pay has no relation to the cost of living or to the responsibilities that teaching implies.
During the last several years, millions were spent on repairing schools and buying computers, video players and televisions for all of the country’s classrooms, yet teachers continued being one of the population’s poorest groups.
Just a wage, nothing to sell
They earn around $24 (USD) a month, which goes up to $25.60 if they obtain their master’s degree. Such an income is barely sufficient to live on for 10 days, with the added difficulty being that educators don’t have extra opportunities for income like other workers.
Many government employees compliment their wages by pilfering items from their jobs and selling those on the black market, but the educators don’t have access to anything that would allow them that type of bonus.
As if this weren’t enough, with the adopting of new policies teachers are now being demanded to improve their educational training, to prepare more at home, to advise the Fast-track teachers and to do guard duty to protect the electronic equipment acquired by the schools.
Teachers aren’t abandoning classrooms due to a lack of love for their profession or owing to any lack of solemn oaths of loyalty; they’re leaving in search of incomes that will allow them to support their families at a minimum level of decency.
I don’t want to be pessimistic, but I have the impression that as long as this situation fails to change, all those commitments being made by teenagers will be no more than fodder to continue feeding the illusions of adults.
An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.