Teacher's Day in Cuba: Gifts and Taking Stock / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata
Posted on December 24, 2015
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 22 December 2015 – On Tuesday there will
be no classes in any elementary or secondary school in Cuba. Educator's
Day is a time of celebration, when teachers receive congratulations and
gifts. The practice does not compensate for the rigors of the
profession, but at least it is a gesture of thanks from parents and
students toward professionals who suffer from low salaries and the
precarious material conditions of their classrooms.
In the more than 10,350 educational institutions throughout the country,
this will be a day of celebration and taking stock. The 2015-2016 school
year has barely made it to the end of its first semester, but since the
beginning has been hobbled by the deficit of thousands of teachers at
the front of the classrooms. Last September, only 95.2% of the demand
for teachers was met, but the situation has worsened as the weeks have
passed and more teachers have deserted the profession.
Better economic rewards would contribute to reducing the movement to
other work, most education professionals agree. Teachers have been
waiting for years for a pay increase consistent with the effort they
expend, but its coming has been postponed over and over.
"I have been putting off retiring, waiting for a raise, but I can't wait
any longer," says Melba, 68, a fourth grade teacher in a Havana primary
school. After more than three decades of work, the educator says she
stays in her job "for love of the profession." And she adds, "Many of my
students today are the children of others I've had in the classroom, so
I owe it to them."
In 2014, workers in the public health sector were given a wage increase,
some of them seeing a doubling of their salaries to more than 1,000
Cuban pesos a month, the equivalent of about $40 US. However, personnel
in the Ministry of Education have not enjoyed a similar benefit.
The authorities in the sector have seized on student volunteers to fill
the void left in classrooms by the continued migration of professionals
towards better paid activities. More than 10,000 students are helping to
meet the deficit in classroom teachers right now, the newspaper Juventud
Rebelde (Rebel Youth) reported last Wednesday.
Substitutes, however, fail to resolve the problem. "They do not come
with sufficient preparation and do not last long in the job," the
director of a primary school in Havana's Cerro district told 14ymedio.
"Previously teachers loved their work and prepared the students in
different subjects, as well as passing on ethical values, and this is
harder and harder to find," explained an official who asked to remain
Yosvel, who served as a teacher of Spanish and literature for a decade,
now manufactures footwear for the casual market. "I loved my job, but I
love my family and I could no longer bring home the little I was
earning," he says. However, he says he is willing to return to his
profession if a salary increase is decreed, because "this is the most
beautiful job in the world."
On the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, where thousands of
Cubans throng on their way to the United States, Yordon "the prof"
sleeps on a makeshift mattress. Born in Sancti Spiritus and trained in
the pedagogical institute in his province, he spent four years teaching
teach math at a junior high school, but now longs "to work at least in
construction in Miami."
The exodus and desertions affect the whole country, although the
situation is more difficult for teachers in the capital and in Matanzas
province, according to Minister of Education Ena Elsa Velázquez
Cobiella. Education authorities call for a greater sacrifice and
awareness from teachers, but the slogans do not seem sufficient to keep
them in front of the blackboard.
In a message sent by the minister for Educator's Day, she calls on
teachers to march "in the vanguard embracing the future." She adds, "The
success of our socialism will depend largely on what we are capable of
doing." The text was read at the morning assembly at countless Cuban
schools this morning, a few minutes before the teachers entered the
classrooms to share a piece of cake and refreshments.
"Today is one of those days when I was glad I hadn't asked to retire,
but the rest of the year I think about it all the time," says Melba,
whose students, this Tuesday, have brought her gifts ranging from
scented soaps to a pen-shaped USB flash drive.
Source: Teacher's Day in Cuba: Gifts and Taking Stock / 14ymedio,
Zunilda Mata | Translating Cuba -