Academic Fraud: An Ingrained Evil In Cuba / Iván García

Photo: Corbis Images

Yuliesky, a high school student, doesn’t have the slightest concern about examination week. Certainly his scholarly learning is zero. Swinging nights at discotheques and hot parties are a substitute for studying.

But at zero hour, his parents give money discretely to certain teachers, and they let him blow off the exams. Either way, Yuliesky has an extensive bag of tricks to pass the exams.

“It’s true that you can’t bribe all the teachers with a 20-CUC bill (=19 dollars). So I use other tricks. I record the possible answers in an Mp3 file and copy them onto a cellphone. Another technique is that a colleague who finishes first sends me the exam answers by SMS. Only I have to be careful that the teacher doesn’t see me. And I’m an expert at that,” brags Yuliesky.

If in high school and university there are frequent, shocking cases of academic fraud, imagine what happens in night schools, where those who work or have left school try to get into 9th or 12th grade.

If you have money, you’re assured of passing all the exams. It’s easy. You pay 5 “chavitos” (4 dollars), and the teacher will pass you on the exam,” pointed out Eddy, a second-semester student at a school located in Lawton, on the outskirts of Havana.

Fraud in Cuban schools is a deep evil, almost endemic. And on a greater or lesser scale it’s been happening since 1970. The massive fraud scandal involving teachers from the René O. Reiné college-prep school in the Havana neighborhood of La Vibora still lives on in memory.

In primary and secondary schools, students don’t have to be looking for a teacher’s inattention to copy the exam from their desk-mate. “Several times a teacher would enter the classroom and whisper the answer to you,” remembers Fernando.

According to Anselmo, a professor who is now a hotel porter, “There was enormous pressure on teachers to meet the parameters dictated by the Ministry of Education. If you had many students who repeated a grade it was not seen well. Teacher quality was measured by the percent of students who passed the grade and by high scores. These were the foundations of what came later. We lived the motto of having the best education in the world. And for the sake of everyone having a high educational level, fraud was not combated. On the contrary.”

For 40 years, academic fraud has been a virus that exists throughout the island, even in the universities. “But to a lesser extent. There is more rigor and better teachers. I remember that a teacher caught me copying and said, ‘What does it solve? You will have a title, but you will be a mediocre professional all your life. It was a lesson,” remembers David, an architect.

In general, students who systematically cheat or bribe their teachers to pass exams don’t reach the university. And if they do, they drop out.

Like Rosa, who left a career in philosophy in her second year. Used to copying and paying for exams, the difficulty of a university degree was too much for her. Nor was she able to retain the new information. Now, while she waits outside the Habana Libre for a Canadian tourist who will pay her 50 dollars for sex, she regrets it.

Translated by Regina Anavy

April 2 2011