Saturday, September 17, 2016

Education, the Industry that Keeps Cuba Afloat

Education, the Industry that Keeps Cuba Afloat
September 15, 2016
By Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES — Sending thousands of teenagers to teach illiterate people
how to read and write was the first stone laid in the foundations of the
largest industry created by the Cuban Revolution, Education. Half a
century later, 80% of the country's income comes from the professional
services of its citizens.

A seed was planted in those illiterate students that would then sprout
in their own children and today many Cubans in their 60s are the first
members in their families to have graduated from university. A total of
1.2 million Cubans have attained this academic level in half a century.

Cuba sells medical services and medicines invented by its scientists to
dozens of countries worldwide. Its sports trainers work in other
countries and Cuban labs in Africa produce animal medicines,
biofertilizers and biopesticides for the region.

Art schools have transformed natural talent into virtuosity which
radiates in music, ballet, painting, dance and film. The creation of
this industry has been fantastic for an island that has very few
material resources and less than 12 million inhabitants.

Some people agree with the fact that the government should sell these
professional services while others oppose it however, nobody questions
the undeniable fact that Cuba's national economy has survived thanks to
this intellectual capacity that has been created across the country, by
Cuban teachers.

The Steady Decline

However, for more than two decades now, the foundations of this industry
have been weakening and if something isn't done soon, the whole building
will collapse. Some 12,000 teachers have left the classroom and are now
working in better-paid jobs, searching for an income that will allow
them to reach the end of the month.

Over the last three years, 14,000 teachers have graduated and there are
21,000 currently studying; however, the number of those leaving this
profession exceeds them. The Minister of Education admits that "the
number of those who no longer work with us is greater than the number of
those who graduate in our teaching centers."

The bandages that the government has been applying for the last 25 years
with unqualified teachers – whether they're called budding, temporary or
fast-track – is lowering the industry's standards and sooner or later
this will lead to a drop in profits.

A professional's education doesn't start at university but at day-care,
when their abilities are developed or not. And a solid primary and
secondary education is the real groundwork that allows young people to
then assimilate knowledge in further education.

Cuba spends millions in training teachers who then leave the classrooms.
How much did it cost to educate the 12,000 graduates who now work in
other jobs? Maybe it would have been cheaper to pay teachers a better
salary to keep them working in education.

The fact that in general Cuban salaries are not nearly enough to cover a
person's basic needs incites widespread theft of products in many
sectors so that they can be resold on the black market to make a little
extra to balance out the family income.

At schools, there's nothing that teachers can "get a hold of" to resell
and so they live exclusively on the 20 USD they receive per month. On
rare occasions, some teachers work out a shady deal with their students'
parents, like those who sold university entrance tests.

However, the majority choose to leave State education and work privately
at a tutor "filling" the gaps that unqualified teachers leave behind in
the schools. Others completely abandon teaching and work in anything
else they can find.

The country has been suffering this hemorrhaging for over two decades
now and it's tried to apply every kind of bandage it can to try and stop
the bleeding, but without success. The cure has already been invented,
it's called a decent salary, understood to be that which covers
teachers' basic needs.

A foreign businessman who sells to the tourist industry recently told me
that they're paying him without delay. That's because not buying sheets,
soft-drinks, meat or towels for hotels would mean sinking a sector that
produces billions of USD every year.

Selling professional services, the product which the Cuban education
industry produces, brings in to the government three times more revenue
than what tourism does and its profits are much greater. In spite of
this, teachers receive twenty times less the income of that of a hotel

In the 60s, the country used every resource it had to convert Cubans,
through education, into the country's greatest treasure. Today it seems
that this isn't the priority for investment, or, maybe, they continue to
chase the pipe-dream of achieving quality education without qualified

Source: Education, the Industry that Keeps Cuba Afloat - Havana -
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