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/ Lamasiel Gutierrez
The Collapse of Education in Cuba
The idea of training “fast-track” teachers (“profesores emergentes”) was first conceived by the former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 1960, emerging from the very cradle of the Revolution. To fulfil the plan Castro's plan, thousands of young people from eastern provinces were dragged from their homes and brought to the capital to receive fast teacher training. Many of these children were lodged in houses formerly owned by the rich, who didn't stay to see the triumph of the Revolution. Most of them never returned to their places of origin or to their families.
Part of these youth was forced to participate in the national literacy campaign, whose aim was to eradicate analphabetism in most of the Cuban population in just 6 months. For months, these young people (or rather children) would live in farmhouses in the country, teaching illiterate farmers in exchange for food and shelter.
These “comprehensive teachers” also known as “quick” or “fast-track”, were called to service once again in 2000 on a proposal of Fidel Castro. They were recruited by youth and mass organizations in all Cuban provinces with the aim to address the shortage of teachers in Cuban educational institutions. These young people were aged between 17 and 18; they mostly lacked any kind of interest in teaching and were only attracted by the monthly salary of 700 Cuban pesos and by the vision of being able to live safely in the capital without running a risk of deportation. The educational authorities in the eastern provinces were again asked to move hundreds of young people to Havana and give them fast training courses that would prepare them for giving classes in any subject to children of about the same age.
For young men, these courses for “fast-track” teachers were a way of escaping the compulsory military service; for this reason, many enrolled in the courses without a true vocation for the profession.
In the 1980's, after the collapse of the socialist block, old teachers started to give up the profession of a teacher due to low wages and lack of opportunities in the education sector; instead, they looked for jobs in more economically beneficial areas such as tourism or foreign currency shops.
Secondary schools and university-preparation schools in the country that were opened in 1969 combine schooling with forced labour. Children must pay for the education by working from dawn to dusk on grapefruit, orange and tangerine plantations. In these schools, which are usually surrounded by citrus trees, children grow up without parental supervision most of the week, left to the hands of teachers, of whom many are corrupt. These country schools have always been places of horror, where more aggressive children bully and punish other children as they like, as if they were in a prison.
“Fast-track” teachers quickly learned the art of doing business, exchanging consensual sexual relationships with their students for good grades. Other students (mainly boys) would pay for favourable results of final exams with designer clothes. “Fast-track” teachers also found no difficulty selling things to students in classes, usually smaller products such as cigarettes or groceries.
Yet, month after month, these young teachers were becoming more and more impatient and sometimes even violent to pupils. As a consequence of the disastrous situation of the Cuban education system, a new form of self-employment was born in Cuba: the job of a “recycled” teacher. These teachers had already been retired but returned to their profession to offer classes to children for fees paid in hard currency. Many parents who wanted to ensure that their children receive proper education opted for their services, hoping that they would teach their offspring what they didn't learn at school due to their teachers' lack of basic knowledge.
Independent journalists bring reports of extreme violence between students and teachers almost on a daily basis. The official media never give details of such violent events, trying to preserve the myth that Cuba has one of the best systems of education in the world.
In February 2008, the independent Cuban press informed about the death of a teenager at a Havana school. The boy instantly died after an attack by his 17-year old teacher, who had thrown a chair at his head. It was said that the teacher had to resort to this violent deed since he had no other means to end the fight between the deceased child and his classmate.
In 2008, Raul Castro put an end to the crazy plan of training “fast-track” teachers conceived by his brother Fidel. In the same year he also recognized the disastrous situation of the country's education system and appealed to retired teachers to help to repair the damage done by the “comprehensive teachers” in the course of 8 years.
At the moment there are about 4,000 retired teachers giving training to the “fast-track” teachers who have managed to adapt to the new situation. These young teachers form 40 percent of the overall teacher population in the country.
As a result of the disaster plan of training “fast-track” teachers, large-scale admissions to universities have ceased; official figures suggest that only 53.9 percent of applicants passed the entrance examinations in mathematics in 2011.
With the triumph of the Revolution, schools in Cuba were nationalized and religious schools were closed. It was announced that the national education system would be atheist and profoundly Marxist in its orientation. Further, it was declared that the right to follow higher education would be only recognized to revolutionary students. The fact that the educational system has been based solely on ideological and political indoctrination and has totally neglected moral and civic values can be seen as the main cause of the disastrous situation of the present Cuban educational system. Yet, the communist government seems determined to continue hiding the catastrophic situation, exporting its schooling system to other countries in Latin America.