Cuban Schools Have a Shortage of 10,000 Teachers

A primary school teacher looks after her students during recess. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 21 August 2018 — The Minister of Education, Ena Elsa Velázquez, acknowledged on Tuesday in statements to the official press that, despite the “attention” and “stimulation” accorded to teachers by the Cuban government to “avoid the exodus,” there will be a deficit of about 10,000 teachers at the start of the coming school year on September 3rd.

Velázquez heads a government delegation that is touring the provinces to ensure everything is ready for the start of the school year. Only Granma, Guantánamo, Las Tunas, Pinar del Río and Santiago de Cuba are in a favorable situation in terms of teacher coverage.

The average salary of a teacher in Cuba is 533 Cuban pesos per month according to official data, which equals about $21 US. The low salary coupled with difficult working conditions, along with deteriorated equipment and a strong ideological burden in the study programs, have caused thousands of educators to leave the classrooms to work in better paid sectors such as tourism.

To alleviate the exodus of teachers, the authorities have resorted to hiring teachers by the hour, the reincorporation of retirees, and the use university students as teachers at lower levels.

Some analysts have pointed out that from 2006, when Raúl Castro took office, the budget of the Ministry of Education and the number of schools have both fallen. In the last decade at least 21,000 teachers left the classrooms, according to a report from the state Office of Statistics and Information.

According to research conducted by the economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, education expenditures, which represented 14.1% of GDP in 2008, fell to 9% in 2017. During this period, 1,803 schools were closed, according to official figures.

In the last decade, the Cuban State has tried to make up for the shortage of teachers with initiatives such as ‘Emerging Teachers*’ and ‘Integral Teachers*’, who receive intensive training to ready them for the classroom in just a few months. In exchange for becoming teachers, the State promises them a university degree and, in the case of men, exemption from military service.

In spite of the efforts of the State, which provides all the education in the country, at no cost to students, the quality of the schools has been questioned in the official press. Cuba does not participate in international examinations of educational quality and many analysts believe that high esteem in which the island’s educational system was held in the past, thanks to Soviet subsidies, is a thing of the past.

In 2017 there were 16,000 unfilled teaching positions on the island, that is to say 6,000 more than for the coming school year. Official statistics indicate that there is a rebound in the number of teachers in front of the classroom, which went from 242,103 in the 2015-2016 academic year to 248,438 teachers in the 2016-2017 academic year.

*Translator’s note: “Emerging teachers” are high school graduates with very little training, and “integral teachers” are junior high school teachers who are required to teach all subjects (sometimes with the help of videos), again, with very little training in the subjects they would not normally teach.


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