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May Day: Teachers leading the way

primero de mayo fotoOver 40,000 teachers and students from pedagogical schools, accompanied by their families, will lead the May Day march to Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, according to Ismael Drullet Pérez, secretary general of the National Union of Education, Science and Sports Workers, speaking to Granma International,who commented on the achievements which have seen the sector awarded the honor of leading the mass procession.

“Firstly, due to the contribution of Cuban education professionals to the country’s development. All the work done in the economic, scientific and cultural spheres has its foundation in the education sector.

In fact, the national literacy campaign is celebrating its 55th anniversary this 2016; a cultural revolution which impacted the scientific-technical development of the country and the world. Born out of this campaign was the Cuban “Yo sí puedo” (Yes, I can) literacy method which has benefited 12 million people in 30 countries worldwide.

The celebration also coincides with the 55th anniversary of the founding of our trade union. The National Constitutive Congress was held from November 22 to 23, 1961, in order to unify different teachers’ associations. The union leadership was composed of Dr. Gaspar Jorge García Galló, who served as secretary general, and poet and Professor Raúl Ferrer Pérez, among other outstanding compañeros active in the struggle for better labor rights before the triumph of the Revolution.

The union had a 99% membership rate during those years of intense struggle. We support professionals working in the fields of general, pre-school, technical-professional, special and university education; athletes; sports trainers and workers from scientific facilities not affiliated with the BioCubaFarma Enterprise Group, in addition to over 14,000 sector retirees.

The Union’s chief tasks have been the effective functioning of the organization, with an emphasis on successfully educating and representing workers; creating a supportive climate in every educational facility; and remaining committed to continuing to strengthen the values and ethics, which together with the example set by the workers themselves, we wish to transmit to our athletes and students.”

What activities are planned?

This event coincides with a group of noteworthy activities. Right now we are celebrating the 55th anniversary of the creation of pre-school day care centers. The national act took place in Pinar del Río where participants honored pre-school education, designed to educate children in their first years.

During the event we presented the Estrella Martiana Award to institutions and individuals who have made outstanding efforts to promote the legacy of the work of José Martí within schools.

We are likewise putting on other activities paying tribute to union leaders, important workers, including that of exemplary teachers, as well as sporting establishments which have produced Olympic gold medal winning athletes. Higher education institutions are recognized with the University of Excellence distinction.
In honor of the occasion we are carrying out various repairs and maintenance initiatives to improve sanitation and hygiene across educational facilities. The country is currently involved in an intense campaign to combat the Aedes mosquito which causes dengue fever, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever epidemics, and constantly monitor and attend to our establishments in order to prevent the spread of vectors. Our students participate in mobilization efforts, visiting houses and explaining sanitation methods to residents.

The event is an opportunity to motivate workers to improve the quality of services they provide, with a focus on better training.
May Day is a joyful, celebratory occasion, where we will also be demanding an end to the genocidal U.S. economic, financial and commercial blockade and the return of the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo Naval Base.

What initiatives will you be bringing to the march?

We are going to express the unity of the Cuban people and our commitment to the homeland and the Revolution. Our professionals educate children and young people in human and altruistic values which benefit our society. During the parade we will reaffirm our patriotism in a strong and colorful display, with our national symbols. We will raise our flags for Cuba and other countries of the continent, plagued by neoliberal policies.

We will be marching in honor of our greatest teacher, Fidel Castro on his 90th birthday. We will have lanterns used by the literacy campaigners, pencils, teaching guides and manuals, all symbols of that great educational achievement.

Our athletes will wear their competition uniforms and we will see glories of Cuban sport alongside those who have qualified for Río de Janeiro, in Brazil, during the march.

Have other international organizations confirmed their participation on May Day?

We will see leaders from the Confederation of American Educators (CEA)an organization, with which we are affiliated. Representatives from Mexico’s teachers’ union, the Federation of University Professors of Nicaragua and union leaders from around the world, will all be coming to the march.

Union delegations from England, Canada, Portugal and friendship organizations from the continent are scheduled to attend. We hope to see a delegation of education professionals from the Bahamas, together with their president, as well as other friends who accompany us every year.

Tell us a bit about activities going on in 2016…
Last December we held our first union conference and this year we have organized actions geared toward implementing the agreements reached during the meeting.

There, we discussed how to resolve the contradiction between quantity and quality; improving the professional level and training of teaching staff; perfecting the education system; strengthening the school’s role as a cultural institution within the community; guaranteeing the mechanisms to apply decisions made in the teaching-training process; aspects of employment legislation; and creating a positive environment for teachers and the school as a whole.

Through our actions we aim to better meet the needs of those who work or have worked in the humanist and complex task of educating. We make the most of every institutional anniversary to hold acts to commemorate the work.

What distinctions has the Union received over 55 years of work?

It is a very seasoned union, which joined the Cuban Workers’ Federation (CTC) in 1993, when it was created, and stands out for its support of ideas regarding social change. A large number of government and institutional cadre directors have pedagogical training.

Teachers participate in all the country’s social and political activities. For example, if a census is taken, workers and students participate, as well as in national events and mobilization campaigns.

Tells us about the Union’s links with similar international organizations…
In regards to the international university and pedagogy event which we hold every year without fail, we host the forum on education in Latin America, organized by the Confederation of American Educators (CEA).Our Union is one of the vice-chairs of this international organization.

We have ties to over fifty trade union organizations around the world and more than thirty in the region. We support common issues such as collective discussions, teacher performance assessments, union membership, quality of teaching and staff training.

We live in a world where there is a tendency to privatize education, limiting access to the majority of the population. Private institutions don’t establish the conditions in which to form a trade union.

In Cuba the education system is state-run and we will continue to defend our right to free and quality education, an experience which is of interest to the other organizations.

The Cuban system is noteworthy for its teacher training programs and although we don’t have enough teachers to complete school staff rosters, we have progressed in pedagogical and postgraduate training of our teachers and professors.

We receive many delegations interested in Cuba’s experiences, even from the United States.
Relations are good in the region; our Union is renowned and is considered to be a reference, which is why international delegations will be accompanying us this May Day.


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