Speech by the President of the Republic of Cuba, Fidel Castro Ruz, at the ceremony for the reopening of 254 schools that were built or refurbished in the country’s capital, held at the "Astral" Theater on August 13, 2002
Compatriots of the capital and of Cuba:
Around 20 months ago, in December of 2001, a slow and exhausting effort began. It was necessary to totally refurbish and furnish over 734 primary and secondary schools in the country’s capital, refurbish 12 that had been abandoned, and build 33 new ones. This work would considerably improve the conditions in all facilities of this kind, and would increase the number of schoolrooms by 2616, something needed fundamentally for a new primary education program, for which existing classrooms were limited in number and saturated with students. Of the 536 primary schools, 513 had lunchrooms which served food prepared at the schools or brought in from outside, in highly unfavorable conditions. The state of the existing kitchens was precarious; the food storage and preparation equipment was obsolete and none of it worked. Everything had to be replaced in order to serve the needs of close to 130,000 primary school students who required these services, since their parents or other relatives were unavailable to provide them with lunch at home because of work or other obligations. To this number was added the 10,673 special education students who take their meals at school.
One can imagine the list of additional problems, such as the total lack or interruption in the supply of running water, the lack of cold water drinking fountains in all the schools, missing doors and windows, leaking roofs, and serious shortages and difficulties in sanitary services, affecting many schools.
The average number of students to a classroom was 37, although in several hundred schools the figure ranged between 40 and 50 per classroom.
In the capital, the material conditions in the schools and the shortage of primary school teachers were the most difficult in the whole country. The longstanding blockade, and very particularly the special period and the enormous shortage of resources it entailed, combined with the supposed loss of the teaching vocation among our young people, had left profound and seemingly insurmountable scars on such an extraordinary and decisive revolutionary and social task as education.
Studies carried out demonstrated that children in the primary schools of the capital possessed roughly one half of the knowledge of primary school-aged children in Santiago de Cuba. In comparison with the rest of the country, the children of the City of Havana were in the same position as the primary school-aged children of Latin America in comparison with Cuba. As has been shown by research conducted by international organizations, our primary school-aged children, as a whole, possess twice the average knowledge of primary school students in those countries.
The situation in the capital’s schools had to be remedied, no matter how severe the shortages of material resources were, or how many sacrifices had to be made.
In September of 2000, at the beginning of the school year, we set ourselves the ambitious goal of solving the city’s primary school problem within a period of no more than two years, while at the same time applying measures and concepts throughout the country that would maximize and increase the knowledge possessed by children at this educational level. This would serve to place our country far above any other in the world.
In groups of 100 or more schools, concluded restorations have been periodically inaugurated throughout this time.
At a ceremony held on April 27, 2001, in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución, the first 144 refurbished schools were inaugurated. And this past June 29, in the municipality of La Lisa, the third group of refurbished schools was inaugurated with the completion of school number 402. At that point in time, there were still 344 schools to be refurbished, plus the 33 new schools whose construction was yet to be concluded; in several of them, it had not even begun.
There were only slightly more than two months left for the task to be completed within the time projected. September was the deadline for the conclusion of this noble and colossal endeavor, which would benefit over a quarter of a million children and adolescents in our capital, in less than two years.
During this brief period of time, we also took on the task of training over 4000 new primary school teachers through intensive training programs. The students in these programs had volunteered to participate and were selected from among the last-year students of senior high schools with a pedagogical profile in the City of Havana studying in schools in the countryside in the neighboring province of Havana.
The first 500 began their studies at a school in the municipality of Melena del Sur, specially prepared and equipped with the necessary materials and proper conditions for intensive study, with a distinguished and select group of educational specialists.
Despite the fact that the students boarded at the school and only left it every two weeks – there were 401 from the City of Havana and 100 from Matanzas, to be precise – not a single one dropped out of the program. The same was true of the two subsequent courses. This was truly a remarkable accomplishment on the part of the directors and instructors at this prestigious and now famous school.
The excellent results from these first graduates, their dedication, their enthusiasm, their efficient work as teachers, each one under the supervision of a university graduate in primary education, have definitively struck down the erroneous belief in the lack of a vocation among our youth for studying and carrying out necessary tasks, when these are combined with their own particular professional interests and with wide-ranging and varied prospects for continued university studies.
At a very young age, barely 19, they will already be carrying out paid work that is highly respectable and of extraordinary importance and social prestige.
When this program began, practically all we had to count on was the heroism of the city’s teachers, the revolutionary spirit of our people, the numerous educational facilities and the enormous human capital created by the Revolution. The minimal resources available for such a program needed to be maximized and multiplied.
As we near the deadline, suffice it to say that the cost of the important and vital construction program for the capital’s schools is less than 10% of the damage suffered and cost incurred for the reconstruction and repair of the destruction caused by Hurricane Michelle.
Nothing is impossible for the tenacious, intelligent, combative and patriotic people of this city. The battle of the schools could not be lost and will not be lost. Everything had to be done with maximum order, without interrupting or affecting any other project involving production facilities and essential services.
It was vacation time, there were no classes or teaching activities; work could continue day and night, turning each day into two, three or four. And this is precisely what was done and will continue to be done by our brave forgers of schools, in almost all of the projects underway. Select forces from other provinces have shown their solidarity by supporting the school construction projects in the capital.
Around 22,000 professional construction workers, made up for the most part by workers from the most prestigious contingents in the capital and the experienced mini-brigade movement, supported every hour and every minute by thousands of volunteers – including men and women of all professions, teachers, students, children, adolescents, young people and even senior citizens – working with order and discipline, a guaranteed supply of materials, good organization and political and technical leadership, have achieved the feat of concluding the restoration or construction of 254 schools in only 45 days, between June 29 and August 13. There are still 123 educational facilities whose restoration or construction must be completed in order to conclude the program.
If I had to find a name for this feat, I would name it after the Russian novel recounting the Red Army’s heroic defense of Moscow from the Nazi hordes: Days and Nights, written by Constantine Simonov.
At times, of course, there were mistakes made, or cases of inefficiency, lack of discipline or coordination, and other human errors, during this highly complicated and immense construction program, yet such shortcomings were battled incessantly and without rest. Because of this, what stands out overwhelmingly is the discipline, efficiency and spirit of hard work and sacrifice that prevailed. Nothing could tarnish this accomplishment.
In this final stage, work is advancing on the basis of the tremendous experience already accumulated, and with the help of reinforcement, in each of the projects yet to be concluded, from the most qualified personnel from already finished projects, as well as much greater productivity and renewed enthusiasm.
The weather has been and continues to be the fundamental concern. This summer has not been a very rainy one, fortunately.
The preventive measure was adopted of placing priority on the laying of foundations and construction of roofs, so as to ensure that the final phases of each project would not be interrupted by rain.
The ingeniousness of our technicians has shone, as has the commitment shown by every single one of the heads of the organizations and enterprises whose construction workers and volunteers have contributed to the restoration and building efforts.
One principle has been applied with the utmost rigor: the quality of every work carried out has prevailed over everything else. Systematic vigilance and control have been constant. In turning their children’s schools into the pride and the greatest interest of all the neighbors, millions of eyes watched with special care over the quality and beauty of what was being created.
It should be remembered, in addition to all of the foregoing, that each completed school is equipped with a modern computer lab, young teachers specially trained to teach computer skills, audiovisual equipment in every classroom, and an educational channel at their disposal.
The spectacular performance of our capital has been highly encouraging during this hot summer. The reports of schools being refurbished in the other provinces are excellent as well.
Aware of the immense effort awaiting us throughout the country in order to achieve a leap in quality in our educational services and a genuine revolution in this field with a minimum of expenditures and relying fundamentally on our human capital, our confidence and certainty have been reinforced.
And as I said three days ago at the graduation of 741 students from the Intensive Training School for Nurses in El Cotorro, we are not forgetting and will never forget another area of the utmost importance: health care services, which have also been severely hit by the special period, in addition to the brutal and bloody imperialist blockade, while subjective factors and the incompetence of some officials continue to play an important role alongside the objective difficulties.
This area will be given solid and profound emphasis to guarantee the tremendous advances already achieved and to reach even greater heights through the full use of the enormous human capital available to it. With their scientific skill and spirit of solidarity and humanism, those who make up this human capital have astonished the world with the services they are currently providing in numerous other countries.
On this very night, thousands of new health care professionals and technicians will be graduating. The forces of our glorious army in the battle for life, vanquishers of pain and death, are growing and multiplying. Their fighting spirit will grow ever stronger; their knowledge, more profound. In close unity with our researchers and scientists, they will be examples and champions of a new conception of the noble function of health care services, a conception totally divorced from the vile commercial spirit sown by the imperialist, capitalist and neoliberal system ruling the world today.
It must not be forgotten that during this same year, 2002, the city victoriously waged, throughout 70 consecutive days of incessant struggle, without a single day of rest, the battle against dengue, totally eradicated here and in the rest of the country. Moreover, for ten months our people have been working to repair the damage caused by the most destructive and devastating hurricane of the last 100 years; that work will be completed in less than 12 months.
These and other areas so vital to justice, well-being, freedom and dignity for all human beings will advance forcefully in the midst of our now historic and impressive battle of ideas in the convulsed and desperate world surrounding us.
The upcoming month of September will be unforgettable because of its transcendental importance for education in Cuba.
On September 2, over 5000 young people will graduate from Intensive Training Courses in Primary School Teaching, hailing from the provinces of the City of Havana, Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Ciego de Avila. They will be joined in the same ceremony by the first thousand graduates, already fully exercising their beautiful profession.
On September 9, the Intensive Training Course for Secondary School Teachers will be inaugurated at the Salvador Allende school facilities, with 4500 students from throughout the country. This will mark the beginning of an equally important phase that will revolutionize secondary school education, which is currently facing a profound crisis that is worldwide in scope and seemingly insurmountable.
And September 16 will bring the official inauguration of the 2002-2003 school year.
The children of Havana and the rest of the country, for their part, will begin classes on September 3.
Congratulations, compatriots of the capital and the whole country!
Battle after battle, we will continue confronting dangers and overcoming obstacles.
I do not want to go on any longer. Actions always speak much louder than words.
Thank you for everything you have done!
Thank you for the profound educational and cultural revolution you are carrying out, which will not only benefit our people, but also many others!
Thank you for the example you are offering the world today through your tenacious, heroic and creative struggle!
Long live socialism!
Patria o muerte!