The Myth of Cuba’s Education System

When UNESCO speaks of the high level of education in Cuba, it refers to it as “free,”,. but that does not mean the Cuban system educates its new generations well. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rolando Gallardo, Quito, 16 January 2022–Determining the quality of the education system in Cuba is a task filled with pitfalls and endless assumptions as it is impossible to access verifiable macro data. So much secrecy incites even more suspicion.

In the Latin American and Caribbean region, we know that the countries with the best educational outcomes are Chile — paradoxically, a window into reviled neoliberalism — followed by Uruguay, Costa Rica and Mexico, according to the list created by PISA testing (Program for International Student Assessment), which measures the application of acquired knowledge in daily life after the completion of mandatory education. Cuba does not appear in the data, for one simple reason: it does not participate in the measurement.

In 2013, the tough nucleus of “21st-century socialism”, Cuba, Bolivia, and Venezuela, refused to participate in these evaluations. For the governments of these countries, education was considered a strength of the social processes they developed and they preferred their “achievements” not to be questioned.

Without access to government information and refusing to provide data to international organizations, one must ask from where the idea came that Cuba is the point of reference for the best education system in the region. continue reading

The United Nations itself is responsible for presenting the Cuban system as the paradigm, but if one reads between the lines, the indicators highlighted by UNICEF are not reliable evidence of the quality of education.

When UNESCO speaks of the high level of education in Cuba it refers to it as free, but the absence of a cost does not mean the Cuban system educates its new generations well.

While in Latin American countries textbooks are updated, on average, every five years, in the case of Cuban textbooks, from physics to Spanish and literature, these were last updated between 1989 and 1990, with the objective of eliminating Soviet propaganda and strengthening the unique social nature of the Cuban revolution.

Indoctrination in textbooks from preschool through the last year of high school is the only thing that has not varied in Cuba in the last three decades. This can be corroborated by reviewing the Cuban Ministry of Education’s books which have been digitized.

When a rigorous measure of poverty is applied to Latin American education systems and the real impact of the lack of family resources has on the quality of education is understood, one forgets that Cuba transitioned from ranking as the 23rd economy globally, in 1958, to compete with Haiti on poverty indicators since the 1990s when the USSR collapsed.

Cuban civil society estimates that 51% of the population currently lives in poverty and rural and suburban areas are in extreme poverty. The minimum monthly salary is 19 USD, according to the real value of this hard currency on the black market. The annual income per capita for Cubans is 300 USD, similar to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In a country where the average family income is so low and access to protein has been difficult since 1990, what can be said about the nutrition students need to face classes in the morning and complete their homework in the afternoon.

Despite the palpable reality in classrooms, UNICEF and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) accept, without questioning, uncorroborated data from the Cuban government about “nonexistent child undernutrition” in Cuba. These types of approaches generate more questions about the role international organizations play in the country.

The starting monthly salary for Cuban teachers is 4,825 pesos (70 USD). To support themselves in the midst of runaway inflation, teachers take on extra work as tutors, for which they charge 100 pesos per session (less than 1.50 USD). Receiving tutoring is not an option for all students, the family’s ability to pay determines who has a greater chance to achieve the best test scores and subsequently secure a university spot in their desired career field. Evidence that the “free” system for all is just a cover for the surreptitious social Darwinism of the system.

The idea we have in Latin America of an average quality education includes the use of the internet and information technologies. In Cuba, this vision is limited to learning the parts of a computer and mediocre use of Microsoft’s Office package. Social access to the internet was approved in the country in 2013 and its use as a resource for research and classwork is a dream which still has not arrived, in accordance with the state policy of maintaining a traditionalist system of education.

The layout of classrooms, the forms of organization, the methodologies, and the promotion of innovation are static and eminently theoretical; in practice, the changes in the last 40 years are barely perceptible. Among the transformations that require a meritorious mention is the implementation of inclusive education policies, which integrated special needs students who formerly were destined for special schools. The first students to be integrated with average students were children and adolescents from reform schools, where they were marginalized as juvenile delinquents until 2003, when they were assigned to regular schools.

Despite these changes, teacher training has had to deal with massive desertion, constant migratory crises, and demotivation as a result of the lack of financial incentives and the declining social recognition of teachers, who are viewed as the spokesmen and spokeswomen of a totalitarian regime and responsible for decades of indoctrination.

Faced with this crisis, in 2000 Fidel Castro opened Emerging Teacher Training Schools, which as their name suggests, train teachers in an accelerated manner. At first, teachers were expected be ready to go to the classroom in six months, later it was after a year. This fix reduced the prominence of university education for teachers and spread the learning weaknesses of these adolescents-turned-teachers.

The dictator’s direct intervention in public education policies resulted in the systematic destruction of the management structure in schools. It reached the point of assuming that a secondary school teacher could teach physics, mathematics, literature, chemistry, and art under the assumption that if “Aristotle could teach his disciples several sciences, integrated general teachers (PGI) could as well.” In the end, the PGI were unable to offer a deep knowledge in anything, though they were required to talk about everything.

Twenty years after the “Emergent Training” disaster, 70% of the teachers in the country at all levels of Cuba’s education system are the result of poor training. When we pay attention to academic training and teaching practices, that should be an indicator when determining the quality of the education provided in Cuba.

Putting these data in the context of the Cuban reality, we should reconsider whether its education model should be the paradigm for Latin America. How many of us would be willing to guarantee free education accessible to all at the expense of our individual liberties? How many parents would choose an ideological education with explicit indoctrination? How many teachers would prefer an education model that is static, traditionalist, in addition to being the lowest paid in the western hemisphere? Some stories are poorly told.

Translated by: Silvia Suárez

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Cuban Adjustment Act or Upheaval Act / 14ymedio, Rolando Gallardo

Cubans demonstrating against the US embassy in Quito, Ecuador. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rolando Gallardo, Quito, 14 December 2016 — I wake up and I see a report on the arrival of a group rafters on the coast of Miami. I’m surprised by the open declaration of one of them, who confesses having left Cuba in search of a better future, but says he has nothing against Fidel Castro. His words set me to meditating.

The Cuban Adjustment Act is a good deed on the way to hell. Thousands of Cubans arrive in the United States every year to take advantage of its benefits. Its repeal is a taboo subject among the exile and the emigration. Those who say they are in favor of its elimination or reform from abroad, receive avalanches of criticism and support, demonstrating the division of opinions about it. continue reading

The government of the island ascribes to the Cuban Adjustment Act the main reason for the exodus, dismissing internal conditions and policies that cause people to leave, this being a long-time strategy of the regime: Someone else is always to blame.

Authorized voices within the Cuban-American political establishment, such as Senator Marco Rubio, call for a revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act on the basis that not all Cubans arriving in the United States and claiming refuge under it meet the conditions to apply for asylum, and many of them demonstrate their political apathy by returning to the island as soon as they obtain a US residence permit, discrediting their supposed condition as a politically persecuted person.

Since the beginning of the most recent migration crisis in November of 2015, the division among Cubans stranded in Costa Rica and Panama is evident.

One group reaffirms, recklessly and motivated by an ignorance of the nature of the Adjustment Act, that they are economic migrants, which strengthens the arguments of the regime about the causes of illegal immigration.

Others, however, say that they left Cuba because of its repressive policies, lack of political and economic freedoms, and the impoverishment of the country, something imposed by an internal blockade that has plunged the Cuban people into despair.

Both sides agree that this mass escape was motivated by the fear of political transformations that would be generated by the “thaw,” leaving them inside a nation that sees no long-term changes in the relationship between the government and the people.

It is legitimate to question whether the Cuban Adjustment Act should continue under the current terms. The receiving government spends an annual average of 500 million dollars in aid to the “Cuban refugees.” Some estimates indicate that, from 2014 to late 2016, the United States has allocated 1.5 billion dollars for monetary aid for the first six months, food stamps for three months which are renewable for longer, health insurance for ten months for adults and more health insurance assistance for children, as well as supplementary services for the elderly.

Does every Cuban deserve such kindness? The final saga of the migratory crisis, which has had its most recent and dire chapter in Ecuador, demonstrated that some members of the regime are parasites benefitting from the Cuban Adjustment Act. They waste no time in leaving behind the claws of the tiger, and brazenly appear among the voices clamoring for an airlift to continue their journey to the United States, while in Cuba they were persecutors of the Ladies in White, Cuban counterintelligence officials, members of the National Assembly of People’s Power, and militant communist/opportunists who, tired of the perks of the regime, head north to take advantage of other perks in “la Yuma” – the United States. Many of them, who denied there was a political motive to this breakout, are now in the United States enjoying government help.

Another group, misunderstood and attacked, launched itself in courageous though reckless protest against the Cuban embassy in Quito, showing the political nature of the exodus and starring in one of the never before seen historic feats of the emigration. Unfortunately, it is an event little spoken of. Many of the protesters were deported to Cuba. Another group of people and protagonists of the protest camp in Quito’s Arbolito Park are already in the United States, justifying with their actions and political stance that they deserve the benefits of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

I support reform of the terms of the Cuban Adjustment Act. It is not fair that the American taxpayers’ money goes into the hands of those who enjoyed communism and now want to enjoy capitalism without deserving to. It is not fair that economic emigrants and future speculators head back to the island with their recently obtained residence permits, trampling on the spirit that gave rise to the law. Those who are unscrupulous and reject with their behavior – far from that of the politically persecuted – the refuge offered to them, should have their status reassessed.

I do not live in the United States and I have not benefited from the Cuban Adjustment Act, nor do I consider myself politically persecuted, despite my actions and opinions, but I condemn those who mock the law and discredit the support and sustenance that the United States government has offered to our people in the hard years of the exodus, which sadly does not end.

Losing Fear To Get Freedom / 14ymedio, Rolando Gallardo

In Venezuela the opposition is aware of its strength and its leaders show their faces in demonstrations against the regime. (@liliantintori)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rolando Gallardo, Quito, 10 December 2016 — On the 58th anniversary of the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista, the seizure of power by Fidel Castro and the disappearance of the national hope of a return to the constitutional values ​​of 1940, the people of Cuba, their emigration and the “historic exile” continue to ask the same rhetorical question: When will we be free?

Before the Obama administration’s rapprochement, the island’s regime raised the alarms of the possible perpetuation of the current state of affairs. Opposition groups have concentrated their intellectual efforts on delegitimizing the actions of the United States government and few have concerned themselves with analyzing the new opportunities for action that it presents. They demand that Washington return to the politics of confrontation of the last 50 years, a return to a Cold War based on ideological footholds or real threats to the stability of the United States that no longer exist. Times have changed, the world is not the same, this is a fact.

Although US President Barack Obama broke the taboo by stepping foot in Havana and shaking General Raul Castro’s hand, and despite the ongoing conversations, the situation in Cuban continues more or less the same. The defenders of the regime point to the deep popular roots of the “Revolution”; the defenders of Obama’s policies blame the opposition’s inability to articulate a plan to destabilize the regime or to win popular support; the detractors of the US administration, coincidentally the traditional opposition the Cuban regime, both on the same side but for opposite reasons, argue that rapprochement is useless. For officialdom it is a maneuver to hide mixed objectives, for the regime’s opponents it is a maneuver to strengthen the regime and betray democratic aspirations, etc.

But what are the real reasons that social unrest does not happen in Cuba? continue reading

In the current Cuban conflict four elements are involved. We must assume that there are four important figures, three national and one external. The national figures are the government and its repressive structures (“mass organization” in the official jargon), opposition groups inside and outside the country and, most importantly, the ordinary people (workers, students, housewives, technicians, doctors etc.), mostly discontented but with high levels of political apathy. The external element is the US government and its policies toward the island.

Where is the project?

The traditional, dispersed and divided opposition base their positions on the flagrant violations of human rights. The main flag of dozens of opposition groups is the establishment of democracy and free elections, a cause undoubtedly just but one that does not offer a intelligible plan to the Cuban masses who want a change in their pocketbooks and in their kitchens. The objectives of the struggle seem futile to a needy majority that depends on the ration book and the tiny wages, the lowest salaries in the Western hemisphere. The opposition discourse forgets to speak out about the pressing needs of the population. What does the ordinary Cuban want to hear? Do they want to hear about democracy? Are the interests of the opposition the same as those of the common people?

Leadership?

The opposition leadership is a burning issue. Some avoid talking about it so that they are not accused of “pandering to the regime” and end up being called “G2 agents,” that is in the pocket of State Security. New times need ethical leadership, a leadership immune to the caudillos, one that can articulate the ideas and diverse projects in the current collage of opposition factions.

We have a common rosary of ex-prisoners turned into patriotic opponents, people who love to get checks and their phones recharged, opposition caricatures who don’t act if the interests of their fiefdom or their personal opinions are not affected. A leadership that doesn’t skimp on launching insults to devalue their adversaries, in the seeking of remittances from abroad. A kind of political flip-floppers that end up smearing the work of ethically firm and committed opponents. One wonders which they benefit more, the democratic cause, or the regime’s discourse. They should aspire to a prepared leadership, trained in theory and practice. Leaders, not supervisors, are what the cause needs.

Civil disobedience?

The Gene Sharp Academy has become famous among opponents. It is common to hear the term as if it were a hidden card, a weapon per se. Civil disobedience is a process that starts from a common idea, a shared desire by the majority who attempt to act together from the first moment in the simple refusal to be a part of what they don’t agree with

The mistake is to call the masses to participate in marches and strikes when they have not first been called to abandon the repressive structures of the regime. It is joining together in civil disobedience when fear is lost and this is discovered when realizing there are many who are willing to be punished.

A simple act of civil disobedience is putting a ribbon on the door or a sticker in the window. It is not about a march like that of September 1st in Venezuela if people haven’t already identified with the opposition project.

“The suspicion syndrome”

The fear of being marked by the regime is one of the reasons for political apathy. The vast majority of Cubans talk quietly at home, criticizing the barbarity and arbitrariness of the government. People avoid talking about it more at work saying: “You don’t know who’s who.” The fear of being put on the blacklist makes people prefer to remain outside any political debate and simply repeat the regime’s propaganda or join its repressive organizations (mass organizations) “so as not to stand out.” Opportunism and amorality have become an instinct for self-preservation.

End of the charismatic government

Fidel Castro met his end. The charismatic leader, bearer of all truth, was a decrepit old man. Although some, glued to the criticism of his image and legacy, still blame him for everything as if he still ruled, the reality is that nature, the only effective opponent of the regime, has removed Fidel Castro.

Fidel’s hypnotic personality was the cornerstone of the Cuban government. The interfamily transfer of power left a vacuum that we ignore. Raul Castro, the elderly general, is a person with little facility with words, jovial among his people but lacking charisma, incoherent, a faint shadow of what was the sex-symbol image of the Commander in Chief in his younger days.

Obama’s visit unveiled a Raul Castro without arguments, disoriented, his voice shrill and disagreeable, reflecting what was left of the “historic leadership of the Revolution.” The dictatorship has lost its charisma and its essence becomes more evident.

Possibility of dialog

The Cuban opposition currently does not have the power or the popular support to force a dialog with the government. Some passionate but hardly pragmatic leaders refuse, as an exercise in bravado, to accept a possible future dialog with the regime. Dialog is desirable, it can be a way to negotiate agreements and to obtain a share of power when the conditions for it are created. But, being realists, the opposition in Cuba had done very little to obtain the elements of pressure.

Obama policy and “normalization”

“Normalization” took the opposition by surprise. Something cooking behind the scenes until we all got a whiff of it. President Obama, ending his term in office, launched an adventure toward an uncertain future. Like it or not there are now fluid diplomatic relations between both countries. The screws have been loosened on the restrictions of the embargo-blockade, a policy that has been voted against for two decades by the majority of the countries that make up the United Nations General Assembly. Keeping it was illogical and trying this new path is the only reasonable option.

The disappearance of tensions and the eventual end of the embargo will put an end to the concept of the imperialist enemy and mark the end of political ideological work. The regime is left without the excuse of considering itself the hero of the “plaza under siege.” The blame cannot eternally fall on the United States: there are no reasons for the scarcities, the corruption, the persecution of entrepreneurs, the imposed lack of connection to the internet, the lack of freedom of expression and the violations of human rights. Will the opposition adapt to the new rules of the game and abandon its tantrums?

Keys

A social explosion will not occur in Cuba as long as a separation of immediate interests between the population and the opposition persists. People must lose their fear and become aware that most Cubans want an immediate change in relations with the state. An ethical renewal of the opposition is essential, as is the meeting at an intermediate point that permits unifying the idea of change for Cuba on the basis of a viable project to undermine the foundations of a regime that has lost its charismatic leader. Articulating a project for a future Republic that does not start from antiquated rhetoric about obsolete economic projects and licenses to kill.

A social explosion will come only when the majority of the population identifies the single culprit responsible for their ills, for which the distractions and excuses must disappear. We must put an end to the idea of the “imperialist enemy.” It requires a committed opposition that takes advantage of the new conditions and doesn’t lend itself to the improbable activities of those who have settled into a way of life guaranteed by dissent.

The freedom of Cuba does not depend on the United States, it depends on our own efforts. As long as we don’t understand our own responsibility, we will not achieve the changes we aspire to.