Poor Quality Teaching in Cuba Leads to Expenses and Bribes
Poor Quality Teaching in Cuba Leads to Expenses and Bribes / Iván García
Ivan Garcia, 20 June 2016 — The choice facing Yolexis was simple. Either
he studied teaching, or he would have to do two years in the armed
forces. At the age of 18, he couldn’t think of anything worse than
putting on an olive-green uniform and marching around for hours in the
So, he decided to study to become a teacher in the east of Havana. “To
be a teacher in Cuba is the last card in the deck. My parents told me
that, before the triumph of the Revolution, to be a teacher was a source
of pride in society. Now, to be a teacher is just shitty”, says Yolexis,
who, because of the shortage of primary teachers in the capital, gives
classes without proper academic training.
In order to add to his meagre 425 pesos a month salary (about $19),
Yolexis offers tutoring lessons in the living room of his house. “I
charge 20 pesos a lesson. Doing that I get over a thousand pesos extra,
double my teacher’s salary.
If there once existed an ethical limit which ensured a teacher’s
observation of certain rules and commitments, for quite a while now many
Cuban teachers have been just jumping right over those precepts.
It is normal now to see directors of primary, junior high and high
schools, giving private classes or tutoring for topics which then appear
in the exams.
Let’s call her Olga. She is an assistant director of a Havana primary
school. After 6 in the afternoon, she is providing tutoring classes to
half a dozen pupils from her own school.
She charges 6 CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos) a month for each child, and
in the neighbourhood she is well-known for covering the material which
is almost exactly what then comes up in the final exams. “It’s a kind of
hidden fraud. But what can we do? With such poor education, what every
parent wants is that their kids get good grades” is what I am told with
an air of resignation by Oscar, a father whose son is in the sixth grade.
Academic fraud on the island is old news. You could analyse different
reasons for that detrimental behaviour. But let’s be blunt. It is Fidel
Castro who is to blame for the fraud in Cuba, in whichever form it takes.
In his eagerness to set up a model system of public education, he
established weird standards which encouraged academic fraud as a tool to
promote the highest possible grades for students.
Let’s leave to one side the highly doctrinaire education, subsidised by
a silent tax on incomes. The structural distortion of Cuban education
started at the same time as Castro designed the system as a display
cabinet to highlight his work.
Elsa, a retired teacher, remembers that time of schools in the
countryside, in which “if a teacher did not pass more than 95% of his
pupils, he was being troublesome, and even counter-revolutionary. On the
day of the exam, I shamelessly whispered the exam answers to my pupils.
That was when the fall in the quality of education started.”
Although there are more than a million university graduates in Cuba,
Eugenio, professor of higher education, considers that quality standards
leave much to be desired.
“There have been cases of fraud in the University, but not as serious as
in primary, junior high, or high schools. The problem with university
education is quality. More and more well-trained teachers are leaving
the country. Our universities are not listed in the 300 best in Latin
America. The recruits we are getting now have clear gaps in their
knowledge of maths and grammar”.
In an article published June 3rd in the Vanguardia de Villa Clara
newspaper, it was revealed that, out of the 3,300 applicants who sat the
university entrance exam in that province, 1,200 failed in mathematics.
Eugenio repeated that, “There is a lot of talk about the poor standard
of primary and secondary teaching, but there has also been a big drop in
the quality of higher education”.
According to pupils studying for their degrees, some teachers sell exam
papers for 20 CUC. “The final exams cost up to 40 CUC. On exam day, the
teachers tells you the answers and then charge you outside the school.
Those who are screwed are the pupils whose parents don’t have the money
to pay for tutoring or the exams,” says a female student in the third
year of High School.
Caridad pays between 25 and 30 CUC a month to a retired teacher who
helps her two children do their homework. “It isn’t easy. After they
have spent 8 hours in secondary school, many adolescents pass another
hour and a half studying, because in school, with the teachers’
deficiencies, they find it difficult to take in their lessons. On top of
that there is the money for a snack and lunch, which in my case is 50
CUC a month, quite apart from ’presents’ for the teachers and directors
to get them to look after my kids”.
Maria Elena has lost count of the money she has spent on gifts and
favours for her daughter’s teacher. “Those extra expenses started in the
first grade. I usually bring her lunch, buy her clothes and cellphone
cards. The more parents do for their childrens’ teacher, the better the
grades that they get”.
René, father of an eighth grade student, complains about the number of
requests made by the school. “They’ve got a cheek. They ask you for fans
so that the students are not too hot in the classrooms. In my son’s
secondary school, the parents have provided detergent, paper, curtains,
electric sockets … and then the government says the education is free”.
The final exams are coming up, and more than a few few families open
their wallets to pay for extra tutoring, or give subtle bribes to
certain teachers. Juan Carlos recognises that perhaps it isn’t the best
way to motivate his kids to be interested in their studies, “but what we
are talking about is them getting good grades so they can get into a
good university course. If I have to pay, I pay”.
What with gifts for teachers, English classes and tutoring, Yolanda
spends a hundred of the two hundred dollars sent to her every month by
family members living in Miami. “What is important is that my daughter
learns and studies English in a private school. If she works hard she
could get a scholarship to a university in the United States.”
After the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the
United States, many families have started to value the teaching in Cuban
schools as a first stepping stone.
They see their kids’s professional future outside the island. And they
are thinking big. University of Florida, Harvard, or perhaps the
Massachusetts Intitute of Technology. It doesn’t cost anything to dream.
Translated by GH
Source: Poor Quality Teaching in Cuba Leads to Expenses and Bribes /
Iván García – Translating Cuba –