Cuban Women and the Challenges of Educating their Children

Escolares formados en Cuba. Foto: Alberto Consuegra.
Schoolchildren in Cuba. Photo: Alberto Consuegra

Education starts at home, everybody knows that. Children begin to socialize at home, they learn their first language at home, their first manners and begin to learn about their country’s culture.

Then, at school, they access a world of different and complex branches of knowledge, which is very likely (and natural) they won’t have access to at home. School plays a very important role which compliments and reinforces the education every citizen receives at home, if it plays this role properly.

In Cuba, the education system has many problems. First of all, there’s the exodus of teachers to better-paying jobs and, as a result, too many students in a classroom. There is also a shortage of educational materials and notable differences in students’ social status.

Due to a lack of interest in teaching, many schools have found themselves forced to keep less than ideal people in their teacher positions, who leave many gaps in the curriculum. They don’t transmit civic values to their students either, which in the long-run delays personal and social development, as well as having a negative influence at home.

This relationship was brilliantly summarized by Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, when he said: “Progress doesn’t exist without knowledge, and knowledge doesn’t exist without education.”

This is where the private sector steps in, more specifically the position of “tutor”, which according to the law: “Teaches students about subjects in the National Education System at any level, in line with curricula in force and prepare them for further education.”

Going to these tutoring sessions has become necessary for young students in primary schools and teenagers who hope to go to university, to acquire an acceptable level of understanding and be better prepared for their exams.

In Cuban families, the need to take children to these private tutor sessions is an extra task, which women take charge of most of the time. If taking children to school, preparing them a snack, keeping their clothes clean and ironed, then picking them up from school, were real challenges in their day-to-day life, then making sure they are able to go to these tutoring sessions and earn the money to be able to pay for them, has become a heavy burden for women.

Forty-eight year old Belkis is the mother of a young boy who is in 4th grade. Twice a week, she leaves work in the afternoon and needs to take her son to his class with a tutor which lasts an hour and a half. As it is far from her home, Belkis needs to patiently wait for every session to end so they can go back home together.

When I asked her why they make this extra effort in both of their routines, the mother answered: “Because they’ve changed the way they teach and I can’t tutor him, because I learned with methods they don’t use anymore. They have also changed the curriculum’s content. And, they pass them at school even if they don’t learn because teachers get a lower evaluation if their students fail, which means that their incomes are reduced.”

On the whole, mothers say that their children improve their grades thanks to these tutoring sessions, and the State has even recognized that teenagers who have a tutor have a better chance of getting into university.

But, not every family can afford to pay for a tutor, which means that differences are created which will finally translate as an inequality in entering the workforce.

Teenagers can go to these private tutor sessions by themselves, but children need to be accompanied and this has meant yet another thing that mothers have to do, another thing they are responsible for and takes up time in their already tight day-to-day schedule of things they need to do.

Like so many others, this is a task that has fallen upon women to assume rather than men, as concern for children has been feminized in Cuba.

For example, it’s more natural to give a mother permission to leave work early or not go in for a child-related matter than a father. Plus, the high divorce rate means that in new family dynamics, the mother must take on the education of their child almost entirely by herself, as it’s unlikely that a stepfather will get involved with tasks that require so much attention like the ones the mother has.

The work of tutors helps those who come to them, and it’s a job that needs to be encouraged and supported in today’s situation, but so does the job of a teacher. The most worrying thing though, is that instead of being an option, going to see a tutor has become an obligation for children to learn.

On the other hand, subjects such as Spanish language and Math can be taught by a tutor, but what about civic education?

If Cuban families are caught up in a routine that leaves them no time or opportunities to teach their children civic and cultural values, and these aren’t given the attention they deserve at school, will there be any tutors who can fill in these gaps? I don’t think so.

What about Cuban women? How much does it affect them to take on these extra obligations which should form part of public institutions? How much more do they need to take on?

Irela Casañas

Irela Casañas

Irela Casañas Hijuelos (Santiago de Cuba, 1980) Poeta, ensayista y editora. Graduada de Sociología por la Universidad de Oriente. Máster en Historia y Cultura de Cuba por la Universidad de Holguín. Ha publicado: Manual del triunfo (poesía, Ediciones Holguín, 2006), Testimonio del margen (ensayo, Ediciones La Luz, 2011), Sociología y Literatura: dos caminos para conocer la irreverencia (Black Diamond Editions, 2013) y La enfermedad del bronce (poesía, Ediciones La Luz, 2016).
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