AN interest in learning about the Cuban educational system marked the visit to the island October 22 – 28 of a delegation composed of primary and secondary school teachers from the UK.
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) delegation visited primary, secondary, music, sports, and special education schools in Havana and Pinar del Río, where they presented several donations, including musical instruments and a Braille machine.
During their trip, they also spoke with officials from the Cuban Workers’ Federation (CTC), the National Union of Education, Science and Sports Workers (SNTECD), the Federation of University Students (FEU), the Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) and the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC).
Speaking to Granma International, Kiri Tunks, junior vice president of the NUT, noted that members of the delegation were astonished on learning of the degree of student participation in school decisions, through the José Martí Pioneers Organization and their representatives on school councils and governing boards.
They were also deeply impressed to hear that Cuban educational policy is not changed without the agreement of teachers, students, and unions. They were surprised to know that monthly union meetings and other activities serve to channel sector professionals’ concerns and proposals to government authorities.
The NUT junior vice president also noted that they had observed support for the arts and the practice of sport in Cuban schools. In contrast, she added that the current government in the UK is cutting back on the time and resources allocated for the arts and sports in the national curriculum, and downplays the importance of cultural activities in the learning process. Access to these areas of education is thus becoming the privilege of children from wealthy families and those in private education.
Kiri explained that the close relationship between Cuban teachers and their students, expressed in greetings that include hugs and kisses, had impacted her. She noted that this level of trust influences the learning process in a positive way, an approach which allows the teacher to come to know each one of his or her students, identify their academic qualities, and be aware of their home and social environment.
The secondary school teacher explained that the NUT has a membership of 334,000 teachers across the United Kingdom, making it one of the largest among the eight teaching unions in the country.
Several British trade unions, including the NUT, maintain fraternal ties with Cuban unions and support the Revolution and the campaign for an end to the genocidal economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States for over fifty years. They also work to inform the British public regarding the social achievements of the country.
In this sense, as part of their activities, the SNTECD awarded its 55th Anniversary medal to Bernard Joseph Regan, a founding member and secretary of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) and member of the NUT’s national executive, in recognition of his efforts in support of Cuba.
Speaking to GI, he noted, “It has been an honor to receive an award in Cuba and I accept it on behalf of my colleagues for their solidarity work to support the Cuban Revolution in the UK. We were very active in the struggle for the freedom of the Five Cuban Heroes unjustly imprisoned in the United States.”
He added that NUT promotes travel to Cuba among its members, both to visit schools and participate in educational events. He noted, “Right now in London we are hosting an exhibition of the work of 31 young Cuban artists, to raise funds and buy teaching materials that can be sent here for arts education.”
Speaking of his love for Cuba, Bernard stressed, “I am inspired by the strength of a people consistent with their revolutionary ideals and political principles. I admire Cuba’s internationalist struggle, especially in Africa against apartheid.”
He also praised Cuba’s international medical collaboration in over sixty countries, especially in assisting victims of natural disasters and more recently in the fight against Ebola in West Africa and the cholera outbreak in Haiti. He concluded by assuring, “I will continue to work for Cuba until I draw my last breath.”