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Why is there a teacher shortage?

The school year is starting, and in the province of Ciego de Ávila alone 663 teachers are needed, and more than 1,000 in Villa Clara.

La Habana

At this time Cuba’s Education Minister, Ena Elsa Velázquez, is visiting the country's provinces to check on the preparations for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year.

Meetings with provincial leaders in the sector address material resources and progress on the construction of schools, along with other issues of territorial interest. At almost all of these meetings there emerges a matter that is giving Ministry of Education leaders fits: the shortage of teachers and professors.

It has been reported, for example, that in the province of Ciego de Ávila 663 more teachers are needed, while in Villa Clara the teacher deficit comes to more than 1,000. If the deficiencies are this serious in these provinces, what is the situation like in territories such as Havana and Matanzas, which have traditionally reported the greatest shortages of teachers?

Those hoodwinked by Castroist propaganda might think that the lack of teachers is due to the large number of schools in the country, and how educational has allegedly been "taken to every corner of the Island." However, the figures indicate something else: every year there are more teachers leaving the educational field than there are graduates. Returning to the case of Ciego de Ávila: in the last academic year 269 new teachers graduated, but the end of that period saw 348 education professionals retire.

In recent times the authorities have taken some measures in an attempt to reverse this flight. There were salary increases (albeit meager given the high cost of living and the dual monetary circulation), an increase in the number of vacation days, more annual leave, and a decrease in the number of subjects to be taught by each teacher.

Thus, “Why does the stampede of teachers and professors continue?” the most befuddled must wonder. We should start with the aforementioned salaries, which are insufficient for one to live decently, the appalling material conditions under which many teachers perform their work, and those cases in which the Government has been unable to guarantee day care for the children of women teachers and professors.

This enumeration of vicissitudes would be incomplete if we did not mention the extreme rigidity encountered by teachers in their daily work, due to the excessive directives handed down "from above." Teachers work with lesson plans that constitute authentic straitjackets nullifying their creative capacities in the classroom. Making matters worse is the provision that all teachers, regardless of the subject they teach, take courses in the History of Cuba.

This proviso is not, of course, with the sensible objective of teachers objectively knowing the past so that they can clarify any of their students' questions. Rather, the aim is to prepare them to legitimize the present after interpreting the past in accordance with the interests of the ruling class.

Those who enjoyed the movie Conducta, by director Ernesto Daranas, were exhilarated when the teacher, Carmen, played by the late actress Alina Rodríguez, uttered one of the film's most meaningful phrases: "The day I can’t decide what happens in my classroom ... until that day I'll be a teacher."

Of course, one thing is the movies, and another is real life. If this rule were followed, Cuba would be left without teachers at all, as the General-President has laid down well-established rules for the educational sector. In fact, no teacher can decide what happens in his or her classroom. This is an exclusive prerogative of the Ministry of Education and the upper echelons of power.

This is the reason for the State's persistent monopoly over education, one that has not yielded to the entreaties of the Catholic Church, which has called for the reopening of religious schools. And the monopoly endures despite the "understandings" that Cardinal Jaime Ortega reached with the nation's political authorities almost at the end of his archiepiscopal term.

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