To transform Cuban education it is not enough to promise teachers a new set of clothes every year
In Cuba, those of us who teach, at any level of education, don't do it for money. At least not primarily.
Except for a few dozen select professionals in our field, who travel abroad on missions organized by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education, most of the thousands of workers in the educational sector scrape by on pay that, while above the minimum wage, is not even enough to buy groceries with.
There has been an effort to address this devastating truth – surely one of the factors preventing Cubans from receiving public, universal, free and secular education – with cosmetic pedagogical experiments that have had limited effects.
The advent of televised classes, the entrenchment of the deficient figure of the comprehensive, general teacher at the secondary school level; and the transfer to Havana hundreds of hundreds, even thousands of professionals from other provinces, without forgetting the reinstatement of retired teachers to redress the shortage of teachers in certain territories, clearly evidence a systemic failure.
The poor results on higher education access examinations (in which I have participated, whether grading or supervising them), and the recurrent scandals involving payoffs related to them, are additional signs of an undeniable moral breakdown, with an economic and financial motivation underlying it.
Although the ministries involved insist that they are striving to minimize the impact of the educational crisis, something is moving in another direction. To deny the current existing educational situation is to commit an error of assessment with serious repercussions in the short term.
Meanwhile, other initiatives and practices, not at first as noticeable, threaten the structural and ethical integrity of the current sociopedagogical model and ideology, which uphold free access and inclusion. The gradual and furtive privatization of education is a situation to which few refer, especially with regards to education for young adults.
I do not disparage the language teaching services of the French Alliance, with its headquarters in Havana and another branch in Santiago de Cuba; or even the language schools for children that have bloomed in Vedado and Playa, which, in their way, achieve the primary objective of equipping Cuban students with a general, comprehensive and organic education, the very expensive aspiration of the Island's educational model.
Nor I am I averse to the almost invisible elite schools located in Miramar: one on the Quinta Avenida, attended by the children of diplomats and foreign businessmen, along with other privileged children; schools whose teachers receive salaries exceeding hundreds of CUCs.
These are not something that it is necessary to vilify or condemn just because they exist. They are an expression of today's Cuban society, headed for a profound and radical - and perhaps irreversible - class change, much to the dismay of the underprivileged masses.
There are kindergartens providing services for those parents who cannot get a slot at a public nursery, or who simply decide that the best thing for their children is a different, less collective and more personalized kind of care, and spared from situations like a lack of water or deficient food.
This is a time when even the Catholic Church is recapturing purviews and roles that it wielded long ago, generating more opportunities for indoctrination and teaching which, at least in my view, supports the notion that the Cuban educational model is losing ground and faltering.
Something similar is happening with the practice, already well-established at the national level, of giving gifts and bonuses to educators, not as consensus-supported bribes, but rather as compensation for teachers and professors in addition to their wages. It hurts, but the truth is that certain educators succumb to the temptation to pay particular attention to specific students: those whose parents take an interest and go to the trouble of improving their children's chances of receiving an education that is, at least, adequate and substantial.
The problem has to do with current educational policies and their budgets, of course, but also with the academic/curricular design, and the labor incentives for professionals in the teaching sphere, exhausted by constant drudgery.
Nevertheless, there remains a traditional teaching ethic, with historical roots, Martí-inspired, still sustained through the personal sacrifice of thousands of teachers who every day give classes to educate and instruct, and with all the love and dedication in the world, because they enjoy their work and face the educational challenge with pride.
It is necessary to furnish the teaching profession with dignity, not through a tiresome and boring repetition of its exemplary ethics, as that shaping good men and women, but also by rewarding with justice and material generosity teachers' daily efforts, long hours, the suicidal tenacity they show by entering classrooms, often to receive no other reward than a smile, often overlooked by proud children, adolescents and adults.
To transform Cuban education it is not enough to promise teachers a set of new clothes every year. That they never even get. Or a Dopp kit. Which they don't get either. Or a diploma that´s not worth the paper it´s printed on. It is necessary to pay them better, so that education and training remain, more than a basic profession, a passion of infinite love. Because there is no contradiction.