The New School Term in Cuba: Teachers Hoping for Raises / Ivan Garcia
Posted on August 30, 2013
The Minister of Education, Ena Elsa Velázquez, is hoping to turn
corruption and academic fraud in Cuban schools around.
In her tour through several provinces to check on preparations for the
new school term beginning on September 2, Velázquez highlighted the
"social commitment of teachers and professors" to address illegalities
and acts of corruption.
She spoke of strengthening families' confidence in the educational
system and confronting "scholastic fraud and other more subtle and
This requires great political and oratorical skill in analyzing the
conditions that for years have affected education on the island, to say
nothing of the low salaries paid to teachers.
As always in Cuba, one must separate demagoguery from reality. The
complacency of government officials causes them to suffer from an
They only see the successes. And they do exist. For a third-world
country, it is laudable to be able to provide free education and public
health. We may be better than Burma or Haiti, but there has been a
qualitative reversal in sectors which once were showpieces of the
There are schools but they lack good instructors, teaching material has
to be recycled, the merienda* has been eliminated in primary schools,
and lunch for boarding students is wretched.
And we have not even talked about the extreme politicization and
ideological content in course material and extracurricular activities.
These include everything from classes on how to load an AKM assault
rifle to fundraising for self-defense militias.
Too often the Cuban government likes to remind us that education and
health care are free. These are the cornerstones of the socialist model
that the world sees.
They are, however, distortions of reality. The state can subsidize the
health and education system thanks to the high tax rate it imposes on
workers. In countries where students pay not one penny towards the cost
of their education, the money to fund this "privilege" must come out of
the taxpayers' pocketbooks.
But this is not the case with Cuba. A percentage of the ridiculously low
salaries paid to workers and employees, excessive taxes on the
self-employed and import duties of up to 300% on hard-currency
remittances subsidize a significant portion of the national educational
However, everyone who one way or another contributes to society —
whether it be by cutting cane or spending dollars they have received
from relatives in Miami — can and should demand a better education for
For a decade primary, secondary and pre-university education has been in
marked decline. Because of poor wages and low social status many
instructors go to work as porters in five-star hotels or as fry cooks in
a street-side stalls.
It is inconceivable that a policeman or armed forces officer would make
close to 900 Cuban pesos a month — not counting their ability to acquire
groceries, cleaning supplies and clothing at low prices, or to stay in
exclusive recreational villas — while a professor at a secondary school
makes only Cuban 350 to 400 pesos a month.
The teaching profession is one that is not highly valued in Cuba. It is
not an attractive alternative for university graduates. Only when there
is no other option, or when men are trying to evade military service, do
young people choose to study pedagogy.
The new school term will begin on Monday, September 2 in schools which
have received a fresh coat of cheap paint, whose furniture and windows
have been repaired and whose families have put aside some money for
their children's meriendas. Believe me, it is not easy to provide five
meriendas a week. Children's backpacks resemble those of mountain climbers.
The school uniform presents another problem. Some sadistic bureaucrat
decided that each student would get a new uniform every two terms. The
dim-witted technocrat did not stop to think that in their primary school
years children grow quite rapidly. Or that given the heat and the
carelessness typical at this age, students often return home with their
uniforms in tatters.
The solution was for families to buy uniforms on the black market for
five convertible pesos apiece. These are not their only expenses.
In case a child gets a mediocre professor — something now quite common
in primary and secondary education — parents must pay ten convertible
pesos a month to a retired teacher to tutor him after school.
As the Minister of Education follows her road map through the country,
checking on preparations for the next school term, teachers are hoping
the official will agree with them and announce a salary increase.
Teaching remains the worst paid profession in Cuba.
*Translator's note: A traditional afternoon snack or light meal somewhat
comparable to tea time.
28 August 2013
Source: "The New School Term in Cuba: Teachers Hoping for Raises / Ivan
Garcia | Translating Cuba" -