The Showcase of Cuban Education is Showing Cracks / Iván García

When, on the 6th of September, more than two million children, teenagers and adults began the new school year in Cuba, for their parents it meant yet another problem.

The youngest of them carry schoolbags weighed down with water, buns, sweets and soda. And even food. They look like mountain climbers. As the mid-morning snack and lunch given to primary children is usually little more than garbage, their parents have to spend a considerable part of their salaries buying food for them.

Those who have hard currency can give them something fairly substantial. Bread and tuna, ham or pork. Natural fruit juice and yoghurt. The ones who really suffer are those who receive a salary in pesos, and struggle to make ends meet.

Carmen knows this well. She’s divorced and has three children of 6, 9 and 12. “Their father is a worthless type. He’s never bothered about his children. I don’t have enough money. Every day is a problem. I make them bread with catfish dumplings, but they’ve had them so many times that now they can’t stand them. If I have eggs I make them omelette. To drink there is only squash or sugared water. Sometimes they have nothing”, says Carmen, clearly stressed.

School uniform is another problem. The disgusting state bureaucrats have decided to provide one uniform per child every two years. Just imagine. Many children grow quickly and can’t wear the uniform the following year. Their parents have two choices. Either they buy one on the black market, at 5 convertible pesos (6 dollars, half the minimum wage in Cuba) or they go to school without a uniform.

The other major complaint of parents with children in primary and secondary schools is the standard of the teachers. Their training is abysmal. They are usually young people between 16 and 20 without adequate knowledge or a vocation to teaching.

This means that some families have to pay extra money. There are parents who choose to pay private teachers. And for 15 or 20 dollars a month they reinforce the learning of their children.

Technology and pre-University students are a little better off, as they have older, more experienced teachers. And now they aren’t sent a long way from home, where they had to work on the land and the food was scarce.

The level of education in Cuba is very low. It is fallen alarmingly in recent years. If you are in any doubt about this, ask our teenagers and young people about history, politics or culture and you’ll be surprised by the high level of ignorance. To this ignorance must be added the poor and inappropriate use of the Spanish language.

Fidel Castro can still be very proud of education in Cuba with its more than a million University graduates. This is worthy of high praise.

But we’re going downhill fast. Many people are trying hard not to notice that the showcase of the revolution is beginning to show cracks.

Translated by: Jack Gibbard

September 17, 2010