Ernesto C. Burgos*
HAVANA TIMES — If you were to ask the average Cuban why they wouldn’t consider becoming a teacher, they would most likely laugh in your face or limit themselves to replying that Cuban teachers are overworked and underpaid.
The saddest part of that is that it’s true. In today’s Cuba, becoming a teacher is not at the top of anyone’s list. Could we reasonably expect things to be any different?
Very few, perhaps none of my classmates have even considered opting for this career, not even as a last option. The fact of the matter is that, even though the salaries teachers earn are somewhere in the middle by Cuban standards, they’re still not enough to live on.
The first thing we need to acknowledge is that a teacher is a human being. They have aspirations, a family and friends. They also want to be able to have fun or go on a relaxing vacation from time to time. But you can’t do any of this on a salary of less than 25 Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) a month. (1 USD = 0.87 CUC)
Can any society expect a teacher to be committed to a job that, in most cases, is unpleasant? What you mostly run into here are students who don’t even consider a career as a long-term life project. In most cases, these students complete their social service having caused more harm than good, thanks to an educational system that, compared to what it once was, is in a frank state of decline.
Measures which seemed appropriate at one point have ended up doing more harm than good.
Intensively-trained comprehensive teachers, commonly referred to as PGIs (“profesores generales integrales”), revealed that the crash courses they completed could not compete with the far more patient and well-rounded education traditional teachers received.
Today, we stand before a country filled with schools with empty classrooms. A vast educational system and very few teachers willing to teach. If we’re willing to pay those in the defense sector higher-than-average wages, to give them the opportunity to do their shopping for food and other items at stores with lower-than-market prices, if we give military officers the opportunity to go on family retreats at recreational facilities or acquire a home (a most than pressing need in Cuba), why should we deny these same opportunities to people working at a sector as important as education?
To justify deficits in the education, the government many a time resorts to the argument that this social service depends entirely on a State budget. But so is the defense sector!
In economic terms, neither of the two is a productive sector. The only difference is that one provides us with protection and the other with education.
I am not saying we should take resources away from one area to invest in another. I am merely saying that, if the country had the political will to prioritize the military because certain historical developments, we should be just as willing to offer those employed in education the same conditions and privileges.
Right now, thousands of professionals who love the work they do are being forced to quit their jobs because of financial reasons. They aren’t laid off, their contracts aren’t terminated, they simply quit.
The exodus of these teachers to jobs that bear absolutely no relation to their profession is undeniable. The great majority of students today see at least one of their classes cancelled because of this.
We need to address this urgent problem as we move forward towards the society we all want, lest one of Cuba’s main achievements be irreversibly lost.
Spaces for professional development (both material and individual) ought to be created for our teachers. This would help transform one of the noblest professions out there into an activity that is useful to both society and those who practice it.
One of Cuba’s main battles today is undoubtedly the teaching profession. We should therefore ask ourselves: can we continue to demand so much of this sector without giving anything in return?
(*) High school student