Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno
HAVANA TIMES — Cuban authorities and media have officially announced that pay hikes in the educational sector, which were expected in the second semester of 2016, will not be put into effect. The country doesn’t have the necessary economic conditions right now, they’ve said.
In the last few weeks leading up to the start of this academic year, the media has reflected upon Minister of Education Ena E.Velazquez’s tour around the country. With the normal fanfare, they extolled the marvellous conditions that students would have when they go back to class in September. One fact was known, a half-truth hidden amongst the smallprint. Practically every region had deficits in educational staff, to a small or large extent.
Our education sector is one of the emblematic symbols of the Cuban socialist system. Its inevitable decline contributes to the erosion of the government’s prestige and acceptance. This problem has dragged on from the end of the last century, when the fall in state salaries threw teachers to the bottom of this country’s socio-labor pyramid. For over twenty years now, there hasn’t been a light at the end of the tunnel for a sector which, paradoxically, everyone considers to be crucial.
Cuba’s economy, third world in nature and underdeveloped, was deprived back then due to the loss of the massive subsidies that the Socialist bloc used to give them. Since then, it’s never really got out of this rut, as slight relief is always followed by new times of recession. Under such circumstances, Cuba hasn’t been able to recover the ability to reestablish an expensive and large social service, such as education.
The exodus of so many grade school teachers and professors to more lucrative jobs has become a chronic disease in our country. It’s hard to reproach these people. Their dedicated work only gives them a meager salary, which makes it practically impossible for them to maintain a decent quality of life. Within this scope, there has also been an increase in government politics of cutbacks in social expenditures, subsidies and a whole range of other target incentives which were given to those who worked in education. Appeals to the educators for conscious sacrifice and promises of improvements in the future were plentiful, tributes and medals were encouraged, however, these don’t let you keep a household up and running, to look after children or the elderly, etc.
In the last few months, the promise of a pay hike for teachers had even been insinuated. This had already happened in the health sector, something worthy of discussion at another moment. . In government speeches, the slogan of “socialism with prosperous and sustainable development” became permanent. Growth levels were estimated to be a high percentage of our GDP. A development plan up until 2030 was made public – and it would also be worth our while to go back to this.
The thawing process of reestablishing relations with the US seemed to justify greater hopes for prosperity. And suddenly, a bucket of cold water was thrown over us, with the announcement of the impossibility of maintaining economic growth this year. This crisis was acknowledged at the summer session of the National Assembly of the People’s Power. Since then, the increase in salaries for Education workers could well have been forgotten, even though it took them several weeks to confirm this.
However, what was indeed implemented was the outreach of taxes on incomes from a wider segment of the labor sector, exempting only those who receive less than 500 Cuban pesos – about 20 USD.
This phenomenon has triggered serious reflections. Once again, the hopes of Cuban citizens on the whole, and especially those of teachers, have been let down. The fatalism that exists joins another cold and unpleasant truth. If schools were already running short of teachers beforehand, just imagine what’s going to happen now. And if this proves difficult, look at other news, also announced under their breath, about the very poor demand there is for education degrees throughout the country – in spite of the fact that the government practically hands them out at corresponding universities.
Now it’s time to add another few unsettling aspects to this problem. It’s a well known fact that, under the license of private tutor, the business of private teachers is becoming more widespread. What kind of impact will this sector have on education?
It’s obvious that the phenomenon of social differentiation is becoming more reinforced due to the decline in public education and the boom in private education centers. The latter offer a great range of services. Many of them are made up of a single teacher who works at home, who teaches a few students at a time, in one or two subjects at a more or less specific school grade. Others are real groups, organized systematically and with sophistication, which are made up of various people who work as private tutors; they teach dozens of teenagers all kinds of subjects; from different grades, in specially designed centers. There are centers to cover every level of local academic teaching, from preschool education up until university.
Children from well-off enough families go to these private education centers, after the school day at the state’s depressing schools. With these private classes, they receive such a complete education that the only thing they’re missing is the power to hand out officially valid titles, which children still have to go to official schools and sit the necessary exams in order to get them. In my opinion, this explains a little bit about why the (public) education system remains in the precarious condition it’s in now. The elite already have their offspring’s education guaranteed, and therefore they don’t put a lot of pressure on the government to fix a problem that barely affects them.
Over the years, social inequality has become naturalized on our streets. The “poorletariate” have to go to state school (with no outside assistance), and are left to fight for their own. Those who have better economic means, who are already above the rest of us because of their higher quality of life, financial standing, housing, etc, will also now stand out more and more for their better education and training. This will inevitably translate into there being less opportunities for “the plebs” to get hold of, to access professional environments with excellent opportunities. For those “below”, the paths to excel have become narrower, unless they get involved in some shady business or stand out as an artist or athlete to entertain the masses.
Quite simply, the state bureaucratic system today has proven itself unable to fix the problem they have with the public education sector. It’s been over twenty years of them doing the same thing, and every trace of hope disappears with new and sadder setbacks. We need a dynamic society, with all of the potential of its flourishing productive forces, free from ties, so that radical changes in this situation can come about.
Meanwhile, our education system urgently needs effective labor-union cohesion, with legitimate and committed union representatives, who are able to directly engage with the rest of the country’s social and political players.
This is the only way that a consensus will be able to be reached about the boost in necessary resources in order to maintain a universal, high-quality education system that promotes achievement for all, with social inclusion and justice, and quality of life for its educators, to the level of dignity that their job entails.