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Private education booms in Cuba

The number of people engaged in the business of private home education has climbed in recent months and some religious centers discretely started educational programs of their own.

Private education is steadily increasing in Cuban society, driven by the low quality of classes taught by teachers on the island’s public education system and a cautious authorization granted to the self-employed “repasador escolar,” or private tutor.

Although only 1,023 licenses have been granted to these private tutors, the number of persons engaged in private home education has climbed in recent months and some religious centers discretely started educational programs of their own in underserved areas of the Cuban educational system’s monopoly.

The news agency IPS addressed the issue in an extensive report by journalist, Ivet González. González interviewed several mothers who have hired private tutors for their children, citing the poor quality of the education received in public classrooms due to the poor preparation of teachers.

"The free public education in Cuba has not recovered the lost quality since the economic crisis began in the 90’s, with the gradual deterioration of the educational infrastructure and the exodus of teachers to better-paying jobs, such as tourism," said the report.

Cuba exports educational services to 43 countries, displacing a total 2,326 teachers, the highest number recorded so far and that is expected to increase in the coming years, according to the Ministry of Education (MINED).

The largest group of these Cuban teachers is serving in Venezuela with 423 teachers, followed by Equatorial Guinea with 221, and Angola, with 219 displaced educators from the island.

In statements made to the press this week, the director of International Relations for MINED, Alfredo Diaz, said the export of educational services is one of the planned strategies of adjustments undertaken in the country to modernize the socialist economy.

While the country exports teachers, Havana has to "import" teachers from other provinces to meet their teacher shortage.

"This year, the capital hired 3,069 teachers from several provinces, mostly from secondary schools. The provinces of Matanzas, Artemis, Mayabeque , Camagüey and Ciego de Ávila remain on the list of areas with major problems ,” said the Education Minister, Ena Elsa Velázquez on December 16.

Within this context, some local churches have opened spaces, even though all their schools were confiscated in 1961, when the government banned private institutions.

El Centro La Salle, in the Havana municipality of “10 de Octubre ,” administered by the Catholic order Hermanos de las Escuelas Cristianas, has an enrollment of about 500 students. The institution, directed by Aurelio Gómez, known as Brother Martin, offers English classes for young adults and children, as well as classes in business administration, computing, management and executive training in human values.

The religious order has another La Salle Center offering the same services in Santiago de Cuba.

The IPS report states that since September 2011, the Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue – Cuba, located in the city of Cardenas, teaches workshops for those in the private sector.

"Attendance at workshops on agriculture, environment, gender, sexuality , couples and family life, among other topics, totaled 1,435 people this year , 500 non-believers and 935 of some religious faith," said IPS.

The category of private tutor was adopted in 2010 and its practitioners provide services at home, although some have transformed rooms in their homes into classrooms, and the most creative advertise through the site

Last October, the daily Granma acknowledged in an extensive commentary, that tutoring is widespread and many teachers are engaged in this work while simultaneously working in schools, which are all public in Cuba.

“Active teachers" in Cuba’s educational system cannot be involved in private tutoring activities, Granma wrote, stressing that many public school teachers and other professionals offer these services contravening the law.
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    Pablo Alfonso

    In 1971, Pablo was sentenced to 20 years in prison for participating in an opposition movement against Fidel Castro's regime. Pardoned in 1979, he traveled to Miami, where he still resides. He is the author of the blog The Timbeke (in Spanish). Follow him on Twitter: @palfoco.