HAVANA TIMES — Granma, the Cuban Communist Party’s official daily newspaper, has published a note attacking the island’s educators who take on jobs on the side in order to make ends meet. According to the long article, teachers who offer private lessons reveal “a lack of professional ethics.”
Journalists, however, seem to be the ones who lack “professional ethics”, at least when they write a full-page article on the issue without once mentioning the extremely low salaries of Cuban teachers, even though this is clearly the root of many of the problems faced by the island’s educational system today.
Granma’s Hollywood-like superficiality, its simplistic scripts that pit heroes and villains in epic struggles, conceals the essence of the problem: that, in order to survive, any private business must be mindful of two fundamental ingredients: supply and demand.
There is a growing social demand for private tutors because the quality of Cuba’s public education has been in decline since the 1990s and students need extra classes in order to learn the contents that their schools are unable to teach them.
The offer stems from the low salaries paid to educators. Curiously enough, at no point does the newspaper ask why a teacher would choose to devote their free time to giving students refresher courses. Surely, it’s not because they get bored at home, but, rather, because they need the additional income.
Over one million professionals have graduated under the tutelage of Cuban teachers since 1959. Photo: Raquel Perez
Social problems aren’t solved by crucifying the victims. For 20 years, Cuban educators have been enduring the effects of an economic crisis that deprived them of 80 % of their purchasing power and of the essential means needed to support their families.
Thousands have left the classroom to do things that allow them to survive economically. In the province of Camaguey, I met a teacher who is now making and selling crafts. She told me she dreams of being able to teach again, but that she can’t, because she has to support her mother.
Despite all the difficulties, most are roughing it, moving about without decent public transportation, teaching classes with scant materials, working long days without a proper meal and under the constant pressure of having to improve overall academic results.
They do all this without being able to get their hands on products that can be sold in the black market, as happens in other sectors, and without even enjoying the kind of gifts patients give their doctors. To deny them the only means of having an additional income to meet their basic needs is quite simply to force them to give up teaching.
Navigating Among the People
I was told that, once, Comandante Che Guevara made journalists cut sugar cane for an entire day before granting them an interview about the sugar harvest. I am positive that if one of my colleagues from Granma was forced to lead the life of a teacher for an entire day, they would be far more understanding later.
It must be very irritating to have a salary of US $ 20 a month and to have the government’s and Party’s official newspaper announce that giving private lessons is “an illegal act which must be restricted,” as though teachers were common criminals.
The crusade against those teachers who, without leaving the classrooms, try to make ends meet by plugging up the holes left behind with the educational system itself, is not out of place in a newspaper which tends to exaggerate some problems and remain shamefully silent on others.
Some of the gems published by Granma that I recall include the condemnation of the illicit profits garnered by those who look after parked automobiles and the statement that Cubans are like chicks passively waiting to be fed by the State. I also recall the scandalous silence it maintained regarding the 30 patients who died at a psychiatric hospital because of negligence.
Cuba’s major official newspaper (which bears the name of the yacht that brought the Sierra Maestra rebels to the island) has a new editor in chief. We can only hope the new “captain” will be able to correct the course of this yacht which has not exactly known how to navigate among the people in the course of years.
To regain its professional and political north, Granma would do well to do away with the double standards that lead it to put on silk gloves whenever it has to deal with those who hold positions of authority and power and to become a fierce inquisitor when it is a question of criticizing the humble.
In the case of teachers, pillorying educators will not put an end to the irregularities in the field. It would suffice to sit down with teachers to search for solutions that are cognizant of the needs of Cuban society and those of educators.
If social and individual interests aren’t reconciled, teachers will continue to migrate to other jobs and Cuban will continue to watch helpless as one of its greatest achievements, the foundation of its medical, scientific, cultural, artistic and even sports, continues to decline.
Touting the achievements of the revolution in the fields of education and then treating teachers as common criminals doesn’t strike me as very consistent. This achievement is not an abstract notion: it bears the names and surnames of the hundreds of thousands of teachers who make it possible.
(*) An HT translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.