Saturday, December 15, 2012

Primary School in Cuba: Crisis or Regression in Quality?

Primary School in Cuba: Crisis or Regression in Quality? / Ivan Garcia #Cuba
Ivan Garcia, Translator: mlk

I have a nine-year old daughter, and due to the laxity in primary
education, her mother and I have seen ourselves obliged to invest more
time and money than we would like in order tostrengthen her knowledge.

When she was in first grade, her teacher, 18-years-old with poor teacher
training, used corporal punishment against the students every time she
lost her patience. The mistreatment happened often. The girl was vulgar
and angry. Besides, she scarcely had any culture and little or no
teaching vocation.

Repeated complaints to the director of the school and letters sent to
theMinister of Education by some parents provoked a transfer of the
teacher to another school. The logical thing would have been to expel
her from teaching. But the lack of primary teachers in Cuba caused the
educational authorities not to take drastic measures.

My daughter came home fearful because of the screams, blows and insults
of her teacher. She began to reject school. She barely progressed in
reading and math. After her school day, her mother and I reviewed with
her for two hours daily.

For 10 convertible pesos, half the salary of a professional in Cuba, we
hired an experienced, retiredprimary school teacher for the purpose of
elevating the quality of her instruction. Also, we paid 3 convertible
pesosmonthly to an English teacher.

My daughter's situation is not an exception in Cuba today. I would say
it is the norm. Many families surely have a history of complaints to
tell about faculty mismanagement.

According to the official press, there is a deficit of 14 thousand
teachers in primary and secondary teaching. Fernando Ravsberg, reporter
for BBC on the island, says on his blog that it takes great abilityto
write an article of 1,400 words about the scarcity of teachers and not
oncementionthe low salaries that they earn.

The regression in the quality of education is intimately tied to the
ridiculous salaries. A teacher does not earn more than 500 pesos. He
receives no extra money in currency. And his social recognition has
fallen precipitously. When a young person chooses the teaching career,
it is almost always because he has failed in his effort to pass entrance
exams in other degrees considered more "prestigious."

To be a teacher is the last card from the deck. Many men opt to study in
lightening teaching courses as a way of escaping military service. It is
not rare to see a former primary school teacher washing dishes in a
luxury hotel or preparing homemade pizzas in a private business.

A good teacher is one of the most valuable contributions to the country
that the GDP does not usually pick up. Who does not remember superb
classes in history or literature by a virtuoso teacher? The good
teachers are never forgotten and they are not only thanked for what
welearned, but also for the way in which they taught us. Behind great
professional and honest men, there is always the hand of a great teacher.

At this point we are going backwards. Right now, in the homeland of
Felix Varela, Jose de la Luz y Caballero and Maria Luisa Dolz, among
other outstanding educators, being a teacher is somewhat trivial. An
office of last resort to notswell the unemployment statistics.

If in Finland, a European nation in the vanguard of education in the
world, they assign the highest level teachers to primary teaching, in
Cuba the opposite happens. The statistics reflect that on the island
there are more than a million university graduates. Thousands of
technicians. Zero illiterates.

It is laudable. An achievement of Fidel Castro. With his stains:
teaching is highly ideological. And on the higher level, if you openly
demonstrate your political discrepancies, they might throw you into the

In his timid and incomplete economic reforms, Raul Castro must have
contemplated an important improvement in the salaries of primary and
secondary teachers. An official from the Ministry of the Interior or the
Revolutionary Armed Forcesearns a thousand pesos a month. They have a
mobile telephone paid by the state.

They can get goods at cost in exclusive stores for officials. And every
year they go on vacation at military villas where they pay for their
services with very little money. The generals' club enjoys greater
prerogatives. On the other hand, Cuban teachers earn miserable salaries,
and their work is not recognized by the government.

Low quality education is now reaping its fruits. Mediocre professionals,
with spelling mistakes and incorrect use of language. Youngsters without
morals or civics whom school does not motivate. The refrain, you can
never know too much, fell into disuse.

The qualitative regression could be stopped if the State dignifies the
teaching profession and its role in society. To the contrary, the
educational crisis will continue to become more acute. We are going down
that path.

Photo:Year 1950-51. Third grade students in Public School No. 126 Ramon
Rosainz, located at Monte and Pila, Havana. They appear with their
teacher, Miss Ines. At that time, teachers were very valued and
respected by society. Before 1959, in public and private schoolsin Cuba,
individual photographersmade portraits similar to this one, which were
sold to parents for 50 cents or a peso. The first on foot on the second
row, to the left, is Tania Quintero, my mother, then 8 years of age.

Translated by mlk

December 12 2012

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