HAVANA TIMES — Admittedly, it takes skill to write a 1,400-word article about the shortage of teachers and the lack of young people pursuing teaching careers without even once mentioning the low incomes those instructors receive.
Last year, 14,000 teachers left the classroom with medical leave certificates or requesting self-employment licenses, while this summer another 4,000 gave up teaching without excuses. Meanwhile, 80 percent of the slots to study teaching careers are vacant.
In the face of such a situation, not even the best juggler could explain the problem while failing to mention the low wages, the tremendous responsibility that teachers shoulder and the great amount of work they have (since each teacher was required to teach two subjects).
Cuba’s official Juventud Rebelde newspaper gave only a percentage, but the fact is that teachers are missing in nearly 13,000 classrooms, whose seats are being filled with untrained teaching staff – ones being referred to in the street as “instant teachers.”
Readers will note that the newspaper only reflected the opinion of the Deputy Minister of Education, while not a single time did it reflect the opinion of an active teacher or someone who has asked to resign or one of the many students who have turned their backs on teaching careers.
It couldn’t just be professional error. The main responsibility for such omissions perhaps doesn’t lie with the journalists but is the logical result of a structural relationship between the Communist Party and the press whereby self-criticism is not tolerated.
Such omissions prevent an understanding of the causes of the problems or the delineation of responsibilities, turning journalism into the exercise of sterile propaganda that’s incapable of assisting in the transformations being experienced in Cuban society today.
In any case, a newspaper that considers itself the voice of young communists should apply greater rigor in addressing a topic linked to one of the most important banners of the revolution, the nerve center of society and an area that is fundamental to youth.
As the saying goes, “No one will find the tree by climbing around in the branches”; it’s necessary to get to the root if you want to find solutions, and for that we need to turn back to the days when teaching stopped being a profession that was desired by college-age youth.
We need to find out why thousands of teachers are leaving schools every year since the economic crisis of the 1990s, as well as how this affects efforts to reduce the number of pupils per class or the incorporation of audiovisual equipment, which the teachers themselves have to guard by carrying out night shift duty.
We have to remember that teaching is almost the only industry without a source of income other than one’s salary, meaning that teachers receive no “gifts” or trips like physicians do, nor can they “resolver” (“take care of their problems”) through on-the-job theft like most other workers; they can’t even give private lessons while they’re active.
They receive a monthly salary of no more than $25, which has to go for a whole month of food as well as for buying clothes and grooming products that allow them to come to school with a good appearance. However, a pair of even poor quality shoes will cost them half of what they earn.
I really don’t think that such a poorly paying profession will become the dream of young Cubans, no matter how much this is instilled in them. Teachers must live with dignity, and the most direct means of achieving this is by paying them better wages.
The money spent on education is an investment in Cuba that can be verified daily. In fact, the national economy is supported by the sale of professional services abroad. Nothing produces more wealth than the knowledge of Cuba’s citizens.
The country couldn’t survive today if it hadn’t invested in a massive literacy campaign, the training of tens of thousands of doctors, or in over a million other professionals and dozens of university research centers employing modern technology.
When I first came to Cuba I was impressed by the development of education, its broad scope and particularly how it was the right for everyone, anyone, regardless of their socioeconomic background, to become a college graduate.
The result is that this is the economic base of the nation’s support today. If there are problems in education right now, in the long run these will affect the entire economy. After 20 years of crisis in the sector, to keep repeating the same empty and superficial slogans is nothing more than irresponsible.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published by BBC Mundo.