Within Days of the Start of the New School Year, Cuba’s Parents and Teachers Differ in Their Concerns

Classes resumed on September 1st in all provinces except Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 29 October 2020 — How many students will be allowed per classroom? Will all classes be indoors? Will there be a regular supply of water in the bathrooms? Parents’ questions grow a few days before the start of the school year in Havana. There are also many doubts from teachers, who try to resume instruction, interrupted last April by the pandemic.

In recent days, and in order to organize the return to the classrooms next Monday, November 2nd, teachers and directors have called special meetings to report on the measures that will govern going back to classes. The classrooms that have been deserted for months were filled this week with anxious and demanding parents, who expressed their concern about the sanitary conditions of the premises.

This Wednesday, in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución, several schools convened a meeting with families. The main objective was for parents to know the new regulations and to become aware of how the evaluation plan will be carried out. Although these meetings do not normally manage to get everyone to attend, this time, few were absent.

“The new measures ‘guide’ parents not to enter schools and children to not even peek through the gate, so everyone has to bring their snacks from home”

If eight months ago parent-teacher appointments were characterized by  the teachers asking the parents for cleaning supplies for the classroom, raising money to buy fans or selecting a delegate to represent families, now it is different. The fear of Covid-19 contamination rules the pace of the meetings.

At the José Luis Arruñada school, the seventh and sixth grade classrooms were full, everyone wanted to know how the center was preparing to receive the students. The teachers insisted the water supply would be guaranteed for the children to wash their hands, a promise that failed to convince the parents, who are aware of the hydraulic problems that affect the property.

For decades, one of the most repeated complaints in Cuban schools — along with the poor quality of the lunches or the low level of teachers — has been related to the problems of health infrastructure, along with the lack of personnel or cleaning supplies. This last task, as a rule, is assumed and financed by the parents themselves.

“I’m going to bring soap, so don’t worry about that,” said the sixth-grade teacher when questioned by those summoned. “I will be here very early. The new measures ‘guide’ parents not to enter schools and children to not even peek through the gate, so everyone has to bring their snacks from home,” she said.

Parents’ greatest concern was about classroom hygiene and how teachers were going to guarantee the necessary distancing to avoid contamination. “I am responsible for everything that happens within the school. There will always be a teacher to accompany the student in each bathroom, turn on the water at the sinks and make sure that distances are maintained,” she explained.

Teachers will be overloaded with matters of classroom hygiene, and it’s already generating doubts in the sector. “They told us that it is our responsibility, but I am also at risk. I cannot solve what has been a problem for years in just a month,” a second-grade teacher, who is evaluating whether or not to continue teaching, commented to this newspaper “because now we will even have to play the role of doctors.”

“No child who has respiratory symptoms, fever or discomfort, will be allowed to attend school”

The early detection of children with respiratory symptoms, supervision of students’ hand-washing several times a day, controls to maintain social distancing and the responsibility of concentrating in the coming months on the material that should have been taught before the summer are some of the new responsibilities that burden teachers.

One of the teachers in charge of the sixth grade said at the meeting, “No child can come to school with respiratory symptoms, fever or malaise. In the case of allergic or asthmatic children having a crisis they will have to go through their family doctor to be examined and return with a note signed by the doctor.” She also recalled that wearing masks is mandatory and specified that each child must bring three masks to guarantee changing it at least after a snack and lunch.

Clear regulations have not been announced about the number of students that will be allowed per classroom, a weak point in education in Cuba, where the exodus of teachers to other, better paid sectors has forced class overcrowding in recent years. Nor has the use of television broadcasts to support teaching been announced, nor the systematic cancellation of periods in subjects such as English, computers and physical education.

Skepticism that some area schools should be closed, due to a possible re-outbreak, also hovered over the meetings this week, in a country where several provinces that began the de-escalation had to return to strict quarantines and the cancellation of teaching work. The field that opens as of next Monday is an unknown one for everyone.

In the meetings at the Arruñada school and in the face of fears unleashed by the coronavirus, few parents directed their concerns towards academic issues, and nor did the teachers explain how they are going to make up for all these months without education and the delay that this means in the lesson plan. Teaching seems to have taken a back seat, replaced by ensuring the health of students.

Clear regulations have not been announced about the number of students that will be allowed per classroom, a weak point in education in Cuba, where the exodus of teachers to other better paid sectors has forced class overcrowding in recent years 

Thus, the school director tried to calm the anguish, and in a smaller previous meeting with all the parents she assured: “Don’t worry, we have fixed the sinks in all the bathrooms and whenever a child wishes to wash his hands, he will be given permission to do so.” Some attendees wanted to verify this statement, but it was impossible because all the bathrooms were locked.

According to the authorities, it has been planned for this course to end on December 7th, at which time the new 2020-2021 school year will begin. In addition, details have been given about the calendar for revaluation exams in the case of junior high school students who have failed some subjects or want to improve their grades.

“At the moment, the initial grades are the only ones wearing uniforms. The school guidelines we have pertain to the rest of the students, and consist in the distribution of bonuses in December for such a time when the new school year starts, when everyone will already have their new uniforms,” explained the eighth-grade teacher. She also specified that in the case of students whose uniforms no longer fit, they will have the option to wear blue pants and a white pullover.

After each meeting it is inevitable that parents congregate outside the schools to share their impressions and doubts. A few meters from the entrance to Arruñada, at a former nationalized religious school currently under state administration, the faces this Wednesday afternoon showed more concern than relief.

One of the mothers was wondering how to make up for lost school time. She said she was convinced that when the new course begins, they will rush through all the content. “Just in case, I already got a private tutor for math, because I know that now they will want to blast from beginning to end and there is a lot of content,” she said.

“My son really wants to start,” said another. “He has a lot of energy and can’t wait to see his friends, so let’s see how distancing is going to be respected.” “Look at us, we are adults and here we are, not even keeping a meter and a half,” replied a father. “Going back to school is not a good idea, not yet,” another one was heard saying, seconds before the group dispersed.

In a few days they will be back in front of the schools with their children hand in hand and a bunch of questions still unanswered.

Translated by Norma Whiting


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