‘Their issues are our issues’

Georgia Townshend


Cuba was amazing! Even if you were to take away all of the sight-seeing and events, the students, teachers and schools were incredible.

On the first day of union business we visited a primary, a secondary and an independent music school. The overwhelming theme that resonated was the theme of love. The teachers love their students as though they were their own children. One teacher said ‘when asked how many children I have, I reply hundreds’.

The love that was shown to the students in all 3 schools was a beautiful sight. The head teacher of the secondary school told us that ‘Every student I see in a day will receive a hug and a kiss on the forehead’.

When we questioned the teachers about how they tackle racism, sexism and homophobia, they looked as us as though we were mad. ‘We are one community’ was the reply from every person we asked. ‘Their problems are our problems’.

At each of the first 3 schools we were serenaded by groups of students who sang, played instruments and showed off their English language skills. The talent that we saw, especially in the music school, was phenomenal.

We also had the opportunity to go into the classes that were being taught and see some lessons in action. They seem to put a great deal of emphasis onto the sciences as well as Maths and so these were the main lessons that we observed.

The students wanted to learn. We didn’t see any behaviour issues at all. Again when we enquired about this, we were told that it didn’t happen. If there were any issues then it would have been due to an issue which the school would then tackle. In my opinion, this first day was the most eye opening and informative day we had.

On day 2 we visited the visually impaired school where we dropped off some of the braille machines that we took over. They were incredibly thankful for these as well as the other items that we left behind for the teachers and the students. They showed us around the school and we got the chance to see some of the lessons. During a one to one session a student performed one of the tasks for us. (If you would like to see the filming of this then I have given a copy to dad to show) The young girl was learning how to make a bed and she managed incredibly well! The school put a great deal of effort into getting the students to a point where they were able to function in society without much help and support. However, the support that the school provided (Eg the braille machines) would stay with the child until they finished their education – even if that was after they had completed their PHD!

Next we went to the literacy museum. Despite the fact that it was an incredibly important part of the trip I am not going to dwell on it otherwise I would go on for hours. The main point to take away is that as a country, Cuba believes that education is the most important element of their society. Without education, they would be unable to function. They are immensely proud of what they have achieved with education, and so they should be!

After lunch we had our first visit to one of the teacher’s union offices. In Cuba there is only one teachers union although there is a separate union for university teachers. Again I could go on for hours and so here are the main points to take away.

  • Firstly, no legislation on education or teaching is able to be passed without the say so of the union.
  • Secondly, it is illegal for trainees or NQTs to be given any sort of grading on their teaching that is not a good grading. (for example they cannot be given a bad rating)
  • Lastly, and a little controversially, there is no need for them to have sub sections of the union such as women’s groups or LGBT groups as ‘Their problems are our problems’.

A lot of what was discussed at these offices was incredibly eye opening and smacked of what we should be aiming for in England.

After this we moved from Havana to Pinar Del Rio.

A lot of what we learnt in Havana was then replicated in Pinar. The more rural schools did seem to be a little more relaxed and the buildings were definitely smaller, although not by a lot. In Pinar most of the information we learnt was about the culture and everyday life of the people of Cuba. I think this would be another speech and I am happy to give it to the group or to individuals.

Overall it seemed to me that the things we could/should be taking away from Cuba and that we seem to be missing are:

  1. Loving relationships with our students
  2. Education as being the most important aspect
  3. Solidarity within schools and unions – ‘Their issues are our issues’


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Alice Marsland Fonda – Harlow+Epping Forest Young Teachers’ Officer visited Palestine as part of an official NUT delegation early in 2017.

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