Reports from Cuba: More than half of Artemisa schools in bad condition as the school year begins in Cuba

Bertha K. Guillen reports in 14yMedio from San Cristobal via Translating Cuba:

More than Half of Artemisa Schools are in Bad Conditions as the School Year Begins in Cuba

The biggest constructive efforts regarding materials and labor have been concentrated in the construction of the province’s university.

The enthusiasm to see classmates again and tell stories about their vacations has not prevented Artemisa’s students from seeing the deterioration of the schools to which they returned this Monday. The schools welcomed their students with an evident lack of paint, broken pipes, half-functioning toilets, and damaged school furniture.

The 2019-2020 school year has started in the province with 52.7% of facilities in poor conditions and a deficit of 1,347 teachers. The increase in number of students compared with the previous year, the exodus of teachers, and the limited quantity of graduates in education have aggravated the situation.

Educational authorities insist that they will try to reverse this situation with teachers contracted by the hour and with an increase in the teaching load and students per teacher, according to statements to the local newspaper El Artemiseño by the provincial director of Education, Caridad Cruz.

Combat High School in Rio Hondo.

The parents of school-age children are worried because the problem is growing as the months pass and other teachers could leave the classroom, but right now, the priority is the problems with infrastructure in the schools.

Artemisa is in first place in terms of deterioration in schools. More than half of its facilities have been evaluated from fair to bad, double that in Matanzas (25.4%), Sancti Spiritus (25.3%), Havana (22.5%), and Holguin (19.7%), according to data provided by Francisco Navarro Gouraige, director of investment at the Ministry of Education.

The main damages are concentrated in the woodwork of windows and doors, the furniture, bathroom furnishings, sanitary and hydraulic pipes, electric work, and the lighting systems.

Despite everything, the school year began with 385 schools in the province taking in 80,215 students, 1,078 more than the previous year. The salary increase that went into effect in August brought back to the province around 500 teachers. However, the number of departures remains high. Meanwhile the number of graduates from education programs entering the workforce was only 46.

“I read in El Artemiseño that, with the salary increase, 102 of the 197 teachers who asked for leave at the end of last year changed their minds, but people are tired of the bad conditions in which we work, the strictness with which you have to follow orders that have more to do with politics than educating, and the indoctrination, so many leave, it’s just that those figures are barely publicized,” Magalis Rodríguez, a teacher with more than 38 years of experience who preferred to definitively retire, tells this newspaper.

“The biggest motivation to go back is the pension, with the salary increase the number is now a little higher than what we could get if we work for ourselves,” says Rosario, a primary school teacher who is trying to go back to teaching after five years of taking care of children as a self-employed worker.

With their eyes set on a pension according to the new salary scale, many teachers close to retirement age will stay for a short period in the classroom. “As soon as I have the possibility to retire with a little more money I’m leaving,” a teacher who preferred to remain anonymous tells 14ymedio.

The biggest deficit in educators is in high schools, especially in subjects like chemistry and mathematics. The latter is one of the subjects with an obligatory examination to enter any university in the country, which is why many parents have decided to turn to private teachers to complement what is learned in classes.

“Last year was chaotic, the lack of teachers almost cost the school year for a group of students. Of six classes per week in a subject they only give two, many teachers leave in the middle of the year to transfer to the Faculty of Medical Sciences, where they work less and the salary is the same. This year I’m already paying teachers [to tutor my child], we can’t risk failing the entrance exams for university,” says Felicia, mother of a twelfth-grade student.

Combat Urban High School, in San Cristobal, displays a devastating view, but not different from the rest of the municipality’s schools. More than half of the windows are totally destroyed, the perimeter area of the entrance is in bad condition, trash is accumulated in every corner, and students avoid entering the bathrooms.

Parents of the students, worried about their children’s continued stay in such precarious conditions, have taken on some of the maintenance work.

Ground level at the Faculty of Medicine.

“They told us that each of us is responsible for fixing the desk and chair of our children. We have also had to coordinate to replace the missing slats on window blinds, bring in lightbulbs, paint the classroom, and try to make the environment a little nicer, because in these conditions no one studies,” explains Yusimí, one of the mothers who since Monday afternoon has already seen to these tasks.

In Artemisa, only 37 schools have been repaired, and the students of two schools have been relocated for a major repair. However, the greatest efforts regarding materials and labor have been concentrated in the construction of the province’s university and the pedagogic institutes that are opening their doors this September.

“The partial repairs have been left in the hands of the teaching staff of each school and the administration boards of each municipality, the province’s priority is educational,” insists a worker from Provincial Education.

“Without resources you cannot work. If there’s no cement, wood, or even the barest essentials to unblock the bathrooms, the brigade can’t do anything, nor the teachers, we’re not magicians,” stresses one of the brigade workers staying at Combat High in Rio Hondo.

The administrative staff tries to minimize the importance of the matter. A father worried about the situation received this response from an employee who tried to reassure him: “The school isn’t falling down.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera