HAVANA – Cuba started on Monday its 2016-2017 school year with more than 1.7 million students who will take classes at some 10,600 schools, local media reported.
These educational institutes have only an estimated 94.2 percent of the teaching staff necessary, but that is some 1.1 percent better than during the last school year.
The teacher deficit in recent years has worried the island’s educational authorities, and is a problem that has eased but still persists, though to a lesser degree, in the provinces of Ciego de Avila, Havana, Matanzas, Artemisa and Mayabeque.
Education Minister Ana Elsa Velazquez said last week that the solutions being studied for the new school year include reemploying retired teachers, hiring other professionals and giving university students a start at teaching.
Velazquez believes the continuing deficit in these provinces is “less than in the previous school year” and gave the example of Havana, which she said has four times less of a shortage than it had, though it continues to employ more than 2,800 teachers from other provinces.
Nonetheless, she admitted that the “exodus” of teachers to other occupations has not stopped and that in some provinces it gets worse every year.
“Sometimes the number who choose not to stay with us is greater than those who come to us from teacher training centers,” she said.
This year the education system has 14,200 new teachers for the preschool, elementary and special-needs levels, according to Education Ministry (Mined) figures.
Among them is the first graduating class of English teachers who will work in elementary schools, in line with an Education Ministry strategy to perfect the learning of the English language starting at the elementary school level.
Meanwhile, higher education has some 200,000 students in the classrooms, where starting this school year 29 university courses will be reduced to four years, a measure that will apply to 23 majors, from Pedagogical Sciences, Tourism and Meteorology to Physical Culture, Industrial Design and Visual Communications.
Starting this school year, university courses will require that students demonstrate their command of the English language in order to graduate.
Universal free education is a banner of the Cuban Revolution, though for some years the shortage of teachers and the poor quality of classes have been a cause for concern on the island, where students represent almost a fifth of the population.