14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 1 February 2017 – The rapid aging of the population, joined with the reduction in available resources and the decline in the quality of teaching, are three of the features with which the economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago has characterized the situation of Cuba’s educational system.
“In 2007, the government of Raul Castro declared that he could not sustain the expenses of the educational system inherited from the previous administration, since then the investment in education and social spending in general have been reduced,” Mesa Lago explained on Saturday at a conference sponsored by the Center for Coexistence Studies.
“It was supposed that Cuba was going to have the same indicators as Uruguay by 2025, but today not only has it reached the level of that country, it has surpassed it,” said the researcher referring to the aging of the population.
Cuba is now the oldest country on the continent and this has a direct impact on the education system. The students enrolled in primary school have been fewer year after year. As has the numbers in their productive years, which in the opinion of the economist poses a serious danger, because that segment of the population is responsible for financing society’s old and young.
Specifically, the education system has seen its budget shrink by 4 percentage points between 2008 and 2015.
Some of the measures that Raul Castro took when taking power were the closure of “schools in the countryside,” (boarding schools), as well as the gradual elimination of more than 3,000 university seats opened by his brother Fidel in the years of the Battle of Ideas. There has also been a progressive readjustment in schools, closing those with less enrollment, and moving the remaining students to other educational centers.
Castro also eliminated costly programs like social worker programs, which graduated thousands of young people who ended up controlling fuel consumption at gas stations or handing out refrigerators and light bulbs in massive exchange programs. Programs for emerging teachers and art instructors were also dismantled, while universities for older adults and the use of technological devices in classrooms were reduced.
Between 1989 and 2007 there was an increase of the offerings of careers in the area of humanities and social sciences were greatly increased, while university-related careers in the natural sciences were greatly reduced.
With Raul Castro in command, the panorama changed radically with a decrease of 83% in humanistic careers and a 13% increase in those related to the natural sciences.
However, university enrollment declined by 30% in 2014, a trend shared by other sectors, such as secondary education, where enrollment dropped by 11%.
Mesa Lago recognizes that universal and free access to education is a very important achievement that has had positive effects “in the lower income sectors such as Afro-Cubans, women and peasants.” However, the researcher emphasized that the ideologization of education and absolute control of the State on educational projects are its most important shortcomings.
Another criticism, in the opinion of Mesa Lago, is teachers’ salaries, which are among the lowest in the continent. The average salary of the educational sector is 537 Cuban pesos, which is equivalent to 21.40 dollars a month.
“Cuba has extraordinary human capital, but it is lost because it emigrates to other economic endeavors that have higher remuneration,” he explained.
According to a study carried out by the academic, in 2015 real wages adjusted for inflation only covered 28% of the purchasing power of incomes in 1989.
In order to guarantee the presence of a teacher in front of the classroom, the Government has had to transfer teachers from one region to another, as has been the case in Matanzas and Havana, where there is a significant presence of teachers from the eastern region of Cuba.
Although Cuba does not participate in the international examinations that measure the quality of educational programs, the government itself has offered a mea culpa for the deterioration of the system.
Mesa Lago proposes eleven points to take into account in the future of the management of the educational system. According to the economist, resources must focus on the population most in need in the poorest provinces. The demand for work for training programs should also be taken into account.
To achieve the sustainability of the system, the economist proposes to collect tuition in higher education from those with a high income. The education system must be open and oriented to the world market.
Another important aspect is to offer more university careers in those specialties of greater demand. The fair payment to teachers and the opening to private education, through the de-ideologization of the educational system, would be indispensable for the future of the Island.
Finally, the academic proposes to restore the financial autonomy of the research centers so that they can attract international investments and allow self-employment in the educational area.