The Lack of Personnel and Maintenance Sink Government Childcare Centers

Social sectors with higher incomes seek specialized care and better infrastructure for their children. (Charles Pieters)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 16 December 2018 — Incomplete staffing and an excessively high ratio of children to teachers along with the lack of maintenance has led to remarkable deterioration in the childcare centers throughout the country, 57 years after their founding, according to the official press.

An article published this week in the newspaper Granma details the difficult time that state daycare centers are going through. Currently, these centers provide care for 18.5% of the population that is less than seven years old, about 134,000 children.

Despite the low birth rate in recent years, at least 48,000 families across the country are still waiting for their children to obtain a place at one of these centers, according to information from Mary Carmen Rojas Torres, an official of the Directorate of Education of Early Childhood in the Ministry of Education.

The closure of 36 childcare centers throughout the national territory and the deficit of specialized personnel cause many families to opt for private care, a phenomenon that has gained strength in the last two decades, especially among the sectors of society with higher incomes that seek specialized care and better infrastructure.

A resolution has been in place since last year requiring that a child enrolled in state day care be the son/daughter of an active worker,  be at least 11 months old and able to walk. Employees from military and police institutions, public health and education centers have priority, while private sector workers were set aside on the list.

The low salaries that educators receive from the state locations, less than 40 CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso, roughly $40 US) per month, means that many of the graduates in this specialty end up opening their own childcare businesses or employed in private daycare centers.

«There are 183 closed locations due to lack of personnel, which translates into a deficit of 181 educators and 2,379 teacher’s assistants,» acknowledged Yoania Falcón Suárez, an official of the Ministry of Education. To alleviate the deficit, a higher children to educator ratio was authorized and in addition staffers now get a salary increase depending on the number of children, but these measures have not solved the problem.

Carmen María is one of the more than 7,000 mothers in the city of Havana who, for months, has requested a spot in a state child care center for her one-and-a-half year-old twins. The woman works as a waitress in a private restaurant and laments that the employees of the state sector have priority for obtaining a spot.

«I’m going to wait a couple of months to see if I’m lucky and I can enroll the children in a state childcare center, because it’s cheaper, but, if not,  I’ll have to end up hiring a private caretaker in order to keep my job.» At the moment Carmen Marías children are under the care of their grandmother during her working hours.

The woman also thinks that «there has been a deterioration in the pedagogical quality of the workers in these places because before they were closer to being true teachers but now they are more like assistants who are there to take care of the children, but they do not teach them many things.»

An official of the Ministry of Education explained to 14ymedio the reasons for prioritizing the state sector. «The cuentapropistas (self-employed) have higher incomes and that is not a secret to anyone,» explains the worker of this ministry, on condition of anonymity. «In the midst of the difficulties we have with the number of locations and specialized personnel, we are trying to help — first of all — the mothers with the lowest salaries,» she says.

«We also have a policy that all those women who work in strategic state sectors can have their childcare guaranteed even if they do have to wait a long time to obtain a place,» the official added. «Childcare centers are subsidized and should benefit those who need this support, because other families can pay for a private caregiver.»

The child care educators are trained in mid-level courses in pedagogical schools for young people who have graduated from the 12th grade. At the moment there are more than 3,700 students training in these centers who are destined to occupy positions in state child care centers and preschool classrooms. But many of them will end up deserting the profession.

Rosario García has been managing a private daycare center in Candelaria for seven years. The self-employed manager explains that she has no problems hiring staff, because many educators from day care centers in the area have expressed their desire to work in her small business. For García, the greatest difficulties are on another side.

The woman considers that if private caregivers could rent larger spaces in the state’s own day care centers, have access to educational resources at preferential prices and be respected and considered by the government to be educators, that would help meet the high demand for child care.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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