I often hear people say that one of the advantages of Cuba’s socialist system is the free education. My answer is, you get what you pay for.
My “Cuban family” has two smaller children, seven and nine, and I am appalled at their education. It is fair in math and science, but history is the Castro Revolution, Geography consists of communist and socialist countries, and social education is the party line.
Teachers in Cuba are fleeing the country and their profession. Several years ago, as a response, the government placed television sets and videos into classrooms to function as teachers. This is obviously not ideal as there was no ability for interaction, but parents indignant over a poor education was not what did the program in.
It was simple technology. The ability of the government to make videos and show them was thwarted by their incompatibility with today’s plasma TVs. It was also difficult to teach this way in the mountains where there is not even electricity to run the televisions.
The result of this was a drift towards larger class rooms, the Cuban schools are now only allowed 15 students per classroom.
The present solution is to give interested adults a crash course in teaching, (most teachers in Cuba only possess a High School education) and then send them into the schools as “auxiliary teachers.” To fill the teacher void there is also now an incentive to get freshly graduated High School students to be a teacher for two years before pursuing higher education or another career.
Even with all of this effort to continue to attempt to teach the children of Cuba it is difficult. There is a complete lack of paper and pencils, new technology is completely unheard of, and there is not a book in Cuba to be read that isn’t either the life of Che or the history of the Revolution.
Then there is food and water. The children are given a snack, which I am told is basically a piece of bread. So if you are one of the luckier families and have the ability to buy food so your child has lunch at school things are okay, but if you are living off of Cuban Pesos, this is a difficult task. Regarding water, every child takes their own water to school. Water in Cuba is not drinkable before being treated, and the water in the schools are not treated, this means a backpack full of food and water is lugged to school by every child. That can be difficult enough in the heat if you walk to school several blocks, but imagine if your commute consists of standing in the back of a truck, or on a donkey for miles and miles.
School uniforms, while not terribly expensive, are now only given once every two years. My god daughter and her brother can at least swap out shirts and ties, but she wears a skirt and he pants, so they are bought big in the hopes they grow with the kids.
If a teacher is ill, or is not able to get to school due to the complete lack of transportation in Cuba, class is canceled. At least they don’t have to sit through the indignity of a 1950s health movie.
If you are interested in reading more about Education in Cuba I suggest this article in the Atlantic.