Speech given by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz, President of the Republic of Cuba, at the graduation ceremony for the Intensive Training Schools for Primary School Teachers. Karl Marx Theater, Havana, September 2, 2002.
Dear graduates in intensive primary school teacher training;
In all the history of teacher training in our country, there has never been anything as transcendentally significant as this graduation ceremony.
Today there are 5,329 young people receiving diplomas after intensive training as primary school teachers: 3,526 from the City of Havana, who have been trained at the "Salvador Allende" and "Melena del Sur" Schools to work here in the capital; 513 who were trained at the Vicente Pérez School in Caimito, to work in the Province of Havana; 240 trained at the Salvador Allende School, to work in Matanzas; 513 trained at the Manuel Hernández Osorio School in Cienfuegos, to work in the province of Cienfuegos itself; and 537 trained at the Cándido González School in Ciego de Avila, to work in that same province.
Invited here today as guests are a thousand young people from the capital and Matanzas who took part in the first intensive training courses for teachers offered at the prestigious school in Melena del Sur, mentioned earlier. They now have a year or more of experience as educators.
To these figures, which correspond to the schools specially created for this purpose in various provinces, we could add the 2,607 who have graduated from intensive primary school teacher training programs at the higher teacher training institutes in the other provinces, so as to achieve the same goal of no more than 20 students per classroom. They are being represented here at this ceremony by 100 of those graduates.
At the same time, at the Eduardo García Delgado School in the Havana municipality of Boyeros, sharing the ample space offered by the building with another school, a total of 1,218 young people participated in an intensive training course for computer science teachers, in order to teach this subject in the primary schools of the capital.
Another 10,856 young people took part in similar training programs in other parts of the country, thus allowing for the teaching of computer skills in every primary school on the island.
And lastly, for the experiment related to secondary education, 89 young people successfully completed a training course in Cojimar, on the outskirts of Havana.
In all, a total of 21,099 young people have entered the teaching profession through these kinds of programs over a space of less than two years. They are enthusiastic, well trained, and eager to provide their services as part of the educational revolution taking place throughout the country. At the same time, of course, this has meant the creation of more than 20,000 new jobs, and prestigious and promising jobs at that, for young Cubans.
We have not included the young people who regularly graduate every year with university-level degrees from the country’s higher teacher training institutes; last year there were a total of 3,141 of these graduates.
The idea of intensive training courses for primary school teachers, which later extended to other areas of teaching, first emerged in September of 2000. Despite the fact that Cuba comfortably occupied first place in primary school education among all the countries of Latin America --almost doubling the average knowledge of schoolchildren in the remaining countries, according to research carried out by UNESCO and other agencies-- it was discovered that in the City of Havana, the capital of the Republic, the knowledge possessed by primary school-aged children was barely half of that found in the country’s more advanced provinces.
The city was facing a genuine vocational crisis with regard to primary school teachers. There were various possible reasons for this. The physical condition of the schools themselves, aggravated by the shortages of the special period, was critical. The average number of students per classroom was close to 40, and in hundreds of schools, it ranged between 40 and 50.
An ambitious program for the construction of schools in the capital was originally planned in the late 1980s, since the Revolution had placed priority up until then on building thousands of schools in the rest of the country, and justly so. This program proved impossible to undertake, however, after the collapse of the socialist bloc and the stepping up of the United States’ economic blockade.
In our great capital city, there were always a wider range of options for education and employment than in other parts of the country. Parents, who are always the first to complain when there are not enough teachers in the schools, advised their children not to study to become teachers.
To this we could add the fact that there was no increase whatsoever in teachers’ salaries throughout most of the 1990s. This was not only a consequence of the aforementioned economic difficulties, but also a result of the extremely high number of workers in the educational sector, amounting to several hundred thousand. Any increase in salary would therefore have required large sums of money from the national budget, and so salaries in this sector have only been improved in recent years, to the extent that has been possible.
Educational services were maintained in the capital’s primary schools thanks to the heroism, selflessness and sacrifice of several thousand primary school teachers, almost all of them university graduates, and the majority with many years of service. Enduring the countless difficulties facing them, they remained in their posts, fulfilling their sacred duty of imparting knowledge and educating in the particularly difficult circumstances of our capital.
The problem seemed unsolvable, and posed a tremendous challenge to the Revolution, which was at the same time facing major threats to its independence, its national identity, the achievements that had been made, and the future of the country itself.
As always, these adverse circumstances merely served to multiply the courage, tenacity, patriotism and dreams of our valiant people.
In the heat of our battle of ideas, numerous social, educational and cultural programs have emerged and advanced at an accelerated pace. There are currently dozens of these programs underway.
Even before this intense battle was set off by the heinous and cruel kidnapping of a Cuban child barely five years old, there was a good deal of concern in the country’s cultural and communications sectors, on the part of those responsible for defending our national identity and culture, in the face of the constant, crushing and ever-increasing imperialist cultural invasion to which our own country and the rest of the world were subjected. These factors, united with the blockade and other forms of political and economic aggression, were decisive elements in the struggle unleashed, in which the educational revolution is now a fundamental bastion.
At the same time, education has always been, from the very moment of the triumph of the Revolution, and will always be, one of the fundamental objectives in our epic struggle for a truly just, free and humane society. The experience we have gained and the results we have achieved more than fully justify this decision. What began with a literacy campaign in a nation where the immense majority of the population was totally and functionally illiterate --where less than 10% of adolescents and adults had a sixth-grade education, and political consciousness was stunted by the limitations entailed by the mind-numbing system of economic exploitation, lies and alienation imposed on our people– is now being transformed into the most extraordinary case of educational and cultural development ever known by any society in all of history.
In less than two years, the revolutionary response and the efforts of the young primary school teachers graduating here today, those who graduated before them, and their brilliant professors, united with the feat achieved by the construction workers and all the people, have made it possible, with a minimum of economic resources, to convert the capital of Cuba, a city with a population that exceeds two million, into the first in the world where every single primary school has a maximum of 20 students per classroom, as of tomorrow, September 3, 2002.
This is something long dreamed of but never before achieved, not even by the world’s most developed countries. This amazing accomplishment will very soon extend throughout the entire country, although the vast majority of schools in the other countries already have 20 students or less per classroom, thanks to previous efforts.
We should look upon this achievement as the first great victory, and simply the beginning of the long but accelerated and fruitful course to be followed by our educational system in the years to come. There are a great many innovations to be undertaken in education. As an adult, looking back on my own life experience, as far back as I can remember, I have often thought about all the things I would have liked to learn, but was never taught; all the time that was wasted; all the formal and dogmatic methods used; all the simplistic, backwards ways of imparting knowledge.
Many years have passed. I believe that today’s teachers have new and more efficient methods. There is proof of this in the talent and knowledge demonstrated by these children in our weekly mass rallies, and the way they express themselves when approached by the media.
The world has changed a great deal in the last few decades, and some truly wonderful means of transmitting information and knowledge have emerged. Yet they are almost always used, for commercialistic reasons, to deform and alienate minds, and to destroy the very best that has been cultivated in children and adults by teachers, professors and parents themselves, who are or should be every child’s first educators.
We are striving to use these means, to as great an extent as possible, as tools for the science and art of instructing and educating. Such means, however, can never replace, and much less surpass, the efforts of mothers, fathers and educators. Educating is the key word.
José de la Luz y Caballero, an eminent Cuban philosopher and educational theorist, engraved this concept in letters of gold when he declared, over a century and a half ago, that teaching was not the same as educating, and that "only he who is a living gospel can educate."
For me, to educate is to sow values, to instill and develop sentiments, to transform children who come into the world with natural imperatives that are often contradictory to the virtues we most admire, such as solidarity, generosity, bravery, fraternity and others.
To educate is to ensure that conscience prevails over instincts in the human race. Sometimes I express this in a rather crude manner: to turn little animals into human begins.
Parents should be the first to educate their children. And to guarantee the education of our children, we must guarantee the education of their parents.
You, the young graduates of these intensive courses for primary school teachers, are now responsible for the most important task in human society. Families place in your hands what they most cherish, their greatest treasure, their most legitimate hopes. The Revolution offers you the greatest of privileges, the highest social responsibility, the most noble and humane of all tasks; it has placed and will continue to place all of the necessary resources within your reach. Full social recognition will come from your individual and collective efforts.
The erroneous belief that the vocation for teaching had disappeared among our youth has been crushed, without depriving anyone of even an iota of the freedom to choose from among many other worthy and noble options for university degrees in education or other areas of the humanities, and in full observance of the established rules and commitments.
The smiles and affection of the children you will educate, the gratitude of their parents and other relatives, and the profound admiration of all of society will live forever in your memories.
At a rather early stage in your lives, you will be taking on a prestigious and promising job. You will live off of your own wages, earned with your own efforts and the creativity of your minds. All who propose to do so can reach the greatest heights in higher education institutions, earning master’s degrees and even doctorates. Your parents can leave behind any worries about the future and destiny of any of their children here at this ceremony. You will enjoy your country’s gratitude and the world’s admiration.
Tomorrow, September 3, in the capital of the Republic alone, over 170,000 children, from kindergarten to sixth grade, will welcome you with open arms in the new and beautiful schools of the capital of the Republic; and hundreds of thousands of children in Ciego de Avila, Cienfuegos, Matanzas, the province of Havana and other provinces will open their arms to embrace the teachers trained in intensive courses at schools created for this purpose or at the higher teacher training institutes of the Ministry of Education.
May you all be, as educators, the living gospel dreamed of by José de la Luz y Caballero!
Long live socialism!
Patria o muerte!