The New School Year Kicks Off in Cuba

By Javier Herrera

Cuba, in another awakening of smiles.

HAVANA TIMES – Like every year, the first Monday in September kicks off the new school year in Cuba. Like every year, dawn is filled with the voices of children, and adults as they head to the schools.

The beginning of the school year puts an end to the summer holidays that some people were able to enjoy for approximately two months, others not so much. The first Monday in September represents the beginning of a new life chapter for many children, for others its picking up on their routine again, and seeing friends and classmates.

The first day of classes.

For many parents, their child going to school is a source of pride and joy. For others, it’s a source of concern and unease, as it’s the first time they’ll separate from their children and leave them in strangers’ hands. But for almost all parents in Cuba today, it’s a source of costs and headache.

While the government-controlled press is full of headlines and articles apologetic to Cuban education, as well as “the great achievement” that beginning a new school year is for Cuban parents who suffer months beforehand, worrying about how they’ll cover all the student’s needs when they begin school.

Education is one of the “achievements” the regime shows off to the world as something exceptional, which alongside medicine and sports has been a reason to keep the tyrannical leftist government in power for over 60 years in Cuba.

While Granma newspaper, the Cuban Communist Party’s official press, prints pictures of renovated schools and happy children, reality in any neighborhood school on the island is very different.

The building structure of many schools is unsatisfactory, to the extent that, in September 2022, a wall collapsed, burying, and killing a little girl at a primary school in Guantanamo, just a few days after school began. This year, the landscape is the same.

It’s common to read parents posts on social media looking for somebody to sell them or give them school materials, even textbooks which the school should be handing out. Textbooks given out to children in classrooms are worn and torn and plus there aren’t enough for every child, which forces children to work in a group and makes individual study at home difficult, if not impossible.

The school we knew, when if a book got worn out or a pencil got too short, you’d go to ask for one from the storeroom, no longer exists. Workbooks are handed out at the beginning of the year, which aren’t enough for every subject a lot of the time, and then they hand them out again in the middle of the year if they’re available.

On the other hand, there isn’t enough teaching staff. There are classes in Cuban schools today without a teacher, and even without a teacher in the whole school for some subjects. Some teaching staff don’t have adequate training, which detracts value from classes and the knowledge they should be sharing, with all of the educational and learning damage this leaves. If we add measly wages and the economic crisis that every Cuban is suffering to the problems of teachers, it’s understandable that the state of education will be very hard to change.

More personally-speaking, parents and students give heartbreaking accounts about how hard it is to get backpacks, rulers, pens, rubbers and other necessary materials.

School materials.

In a country where the average monthly wage is approximately 4500 pesos ($20 USD), a student backpack costs over 5000.  Buying a pair of shoes can cost between 6000-10,000 pesos. If you add white socks for school, pencils, coloring pens, rulers and other things, the figure you need to fork out just to begin school can be as high as 15,000 – 20,000 pesos. Parents and children with relatives abroad supporting them financially can manage to resolve these situations, but those who don’t have to “hustle” or recycle old school materials.

If the situation already seems dire to you, I can assure you that it’s a lot worse. In a country where diet is extremely poor, without covering basic calorie and protein intake, where lots of families are unable to eat three meals a day, children lose their right to receive a liter of milk sold via the ration booklet at 7 years old, which means that many go to school without having breakfast or not eating much.

There aren’t any more school snacks, which used to be free at schools, and it’s up to parents to provide. Parents who have to find a way or just abstain from eating the only 80-gram bread roll that we get via the “rations booklet” so they can keep it for their child at school. School lunches, at schools, where they still have this service, consists of flour and a bread roll, or rice and some beans swimming in murky water, which forces parents to make an effort again and provide something to improve the meal that the child can take with them.  

While this is the reality for most Cuban families, children of high-ranking leaders go to different schools. There is breakfast, a snack and lunch at these schools. School materials aren’t missing at these schools, and they’re handed out willy-nilly. On the other hand, these children of the ruling elite, are taught by excellent teachers, in air-conditioned classrooms and well-equipped labs. Once they finish primary and secondary education, they’ll go and study at universities and schools in Spain or France, without ever rubbing shoulders with the hardship that the rest of Cuban students suffer.

Given the school year has just begun, different questions come to mind:

Is there really any reason for the joy and glorious headlines printed in the Cuban press?

Is this the educational system that the regime promised when it came into power?

Does the educational system have anything to do with the image that the Government sells to different countries, sending our teachers to different places in the world?

Is this the educational system our children deserve?

But the question that really torments me is: When will it change?

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One thought on “The New School Year Kicks Off in Cuba

  • Believe it or not, but it will inevitably become worse. Incompetence reigns supreme in Cuba. There are no new ideas, only a morass of worn out communist concepts dating from the 19th century!

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