The village primary school in El Corralito in the province of Pinar del Rio has 30 students and 15 teachers. We were invited to their celebration of the ‘Day of the Teacher’ (December 22), along with all the students and parents (almost all those attending were mothers). The day began as it always does, with the singing of the national anthem in front of the Cuban flag and a message about Cuban history: but then the fun began. Reciting poetry, singing traditional songs and a modern dance performance were followed by a hilarious send-up by the students of their teachers. They were each mimicked by one of the older girls, dressed accordingly (including one wearing a huge padded bra). Laughter and applause showed how accurate the caricatures were. Then most of the girls, dressed in their best outfits, did a modelling parade to renewed applause. The show ended with cake and soft drinks, then the children went off to their classes.
As well as the pupil-teacher ratio, several things about the school are quite remarkable, certainly compared with schools in Nicaragua. Every child looks well-fed, healthy and well looked after. They all have pencils and exercise books, and access to a library with a good supply of primary-level textbooks. There are three classrooms and they are full of pictures and teaching materials, like in an English school. There are no computers, but each classroom has a TV.
It sounds corny, but the main feature of note was the school’s warm environment – it felt like a big family, with parents and teachers kissing each other on the cheek in welcome, and the kids full of confidence with no excessive discipline in evidence. The head teacher welcomed us warmly and was justifiably proud of her school.
Critics would no doubt point to the (brief) revolutionary message which followed the singing of the anthem and the pictures of Fidel, Raul and the ‘Cuban Five’ in the small library. But what school in Britain doesn’t have reminders of British history, the monarchy, or the Empire? Cuba has a school place for every child, close to their homes even in remote rural areas, and secures effectively 100% attendance. This product of the revolution should be the envy of most if not all other countries in Latin America. And the children clearly love it.