14ymedio, Havana, 12 February 2016 — The United States Department of State is organizing a program to raise the level of English instruction in Cuba, according to university sources in Washington DC speaking to this paper.
“Right now they are developing a proposal for a group of teachers from here to work with schools on the island,” said the source. The idea is to bring, “not only teachers, but also infrastructure and literature to prepare a group of teachers that can train another group of teachers who later can stay and teach English at the level of international standards.”
The problems meeting the objectives of the Minister of Higher Education (MES), Rodolfo Alarcon – which require Cuban university students to master English – could be alleviated with the support of the United States.
In Friday’s edition, the state newspaper Granma devoted a double page spread to detailing the problems faced by the ministry in meeting its goal.
There is a shortage of personnel to put at the front of the classrooms, and also a deficit in “indispensible material resources” for the study of languages, the paper reported in its expanded coverage. Last September the Pablo Torriente Brau Polytechnical Institute began a specialty in foreign languages, which is not delivering the expected results.
This education modality began to be tested in the capital, with students who chose to enroll to continue their studies in the Faculty of Foreign Languages (FLEX) at the University of Havana. However, the English and French classes have been offered “intermittently” and have been affected “by the unavailability of professors in some subjects of the specialty.”
Contract teachers are overworked in other schools, and students complain that they have missed countless classes due to the poor organization of teaching resources.
Of a total of six courses that make up the specialty, in at least two of them (Panorama of French Culture and Interpretation Technique) the students have not received a single class because there are no professors. Some students have turned to private tutors, who cost between 10 convertible pesos (CUC) a month to 1 CUC per class, to advance in the language.
The literature has also been a problem. “After months of scarcities, only now does each English student have the Spectrum 1 textbook with its workbook of activities,” says the director of the agency, Celia Banasco Casanove. But the French group has not had the same luck. “Although they made efforts at the Alliance Francaise, most of the texts are in digital format, says the official.
The situation contrasts with the growing market for teaching foreign languages in the hands of private teachers. The LandTES academy in Havana’s La Vibora neighborhood doesn’t face the same problems faced by state education. Its offerings include specialized learning of the English language for students of all ages and levels, and uses “highly qualified teachers,” one of its teachers says proudly.
The advertising for this private school run by self-employed teachers promises “sufficient teaching tools to offer courses in a well-developed and permanent space.” But most important is hearing its students confirm that the promises of the academy are not mere propaganda.
University presidents of Cuba and the United States met last September for the first time in Havana to establish the foundations for a “greater academic cooperation” between the two nations. At the meeting, they discussed the possibility of “internships for Cuban professors in the US and vice versa,” in addition to “identifying mutual strengths” to establish joint research and doctorates.