Education Opportunities in times of COVID-19 in Cuba

En ocasiones la oscuridad nos permite ver y la confusión ordena las ideas.

By: Yasmira Calderon Fulbright Humphrey Alumni and Expert in Cuban Entrepreneurship and Education

Greetings: ¡Good morning! First of all, I want to thank you for having me here and your interest for sharing and exchanging experiences beyond borders as sisters and brothers, children of the same humanity.

Let me introduce myself. I´m Yasmira Calderon from Cuba, an archipelago located in the Caribbean Sea. Our population is near 12 million. In spite of being a country with many and very serious economic constraints, our whole Education and Healthcare systems are utterly free of cost for more than 50 years. One of the consequences of our economy weakness is my absence by zoom to this Virtual meeting, but I´m very glad and proud to share with you through this colleague that I deeply respect and admire, Rachel Goodman.

I´m a Hubert Humphrey Alumni from 2018. During my studies at Michigan State University I had the honor of interacting and work with some educators from LATTICE for different professional activities.

Before develop this report, I would like to share with you a phrase which inspires me to write this paper. Sometimes darkness let us see and confusion put ideas in order. It is with this attitude that I wanted to make the Cuban report. I know the situation today is extremely sad and we have extra reasons to be scared. According to a report of the Cuban Ministry of Public Heath (MINSAP) on March 31, the number of infected persons with COVID-19 was 186. Of that number, 6 had died. There are more than 2,800 patients hospitalized for clinical-epidemiological surveillance in the insolation and care centers created for this purpose. In the middle of this crisis, educators are being an opportunity to enlightening, support and encourage the population to live and live well. The purpose of this report is to show you how educators can be not only school teachers, but also government officials, journalist, scientists, religious organizations, peoples…groups and a responsible population who has risen with not much luxury but, with solidarity, and respect for the life as its main values.

So, my invitation today is to see the Education in a broad sense.

One of the best ways to prevent diseases and fight against them is Education. This has been a usual practice in Cuba with previous diseases such as Dengue, Zika, HIV, among others. At the present time,) we have implemented a set of tools to educate our population in facing the Coronavirus pandemic.

Here are some examples:

  • Before having cases infected by Covid-19 in Cuba, the Public Health System trained people on Coronavirus prevention measures, hygienic rules, and main symptoms identification. The population had been well informed of phone numbers and places to report people sick or suspected of infection. This training was primarily intended for workers from public and private sectors whose jobs are highly related to the tourism such as airports, hospitality industry, travel agencies, restaurants, car rental, drivers, etc. Teachers and students from all levels were also trained, despite the lack of basic means at schools such as soap and water. The campaign against the propagation of the virus has been extensive through Radio and television broadcasts. Instructive videos include topics such as how to wash your hands, how to make a protective mask at home and how to use it.  radioreloj.cu
  • Upon Cuba detected the first cases of Coronavirus, a press conference by the Cuban Ministry of Public Health has been televised every day and retransmitted in the National TV News.  On this Conference, the population is informed about how many cases have been diagnosed with COVID-19, where they are from, age, source of contagious, health status, and how many patients died and the reasons. In addition, they report how many cases are suspected of infection, under surveillance at home, hospitalized, and how many COVID- 19 tests have been done in the day. Also, the doctors explain to the audience who are the people with more risk and why, and reinforce advises about preventive methods.
  • Every day at 6 p.m. we have a TV program called Round Table. Nowadays is usual to give update information about the daily decisions made by the government regarding to COVID-19. The President of the Republic of Cuba, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez and the rest of the Ministers announce the decisions; answer the population´s questions, opinions, requirements and complaints. The main tools of communication between the people and the government are the social network, phone and email.  The subjects under discussion are very wide and include healthcare, education, agriculture, food, finance, economy, water resources, private and public worker´s rights, taxes, etc. This space has been important to our population, even though it is not perfect, it has showed the government´s desire to prioritize the population, its capability to listen the people´s voice, an encouragement to work together as a country in a co-responsibility manner through the dialogue.  Messages of confidence, encouraging to live, to preserve the own life and the others life are transmitted with peace, without panic or weakening the importance and severity that this moment demands. On the other hand, the basic needs of the population are not covered. Cuba is far from being self-sufficient; the country is also suffering the effects of the economic blockade imposed and worsened by the US government.   There are long lines of people waiting to buy food, detergent, soap and other basic needs. It is not uncommon to see people getting very close to each other, showing a lack of risk perception.
  • Also, the social networks have been impacted in many ways by this pandemic. Today they are more than ever a double-edged sword. We have been victims of many fake news that have skyrocket the levels of anxiety and stress typical of this situation. To face that, Cuba has found some solutions to evacuate our doubts and restlessness on the matter. Some examples are:
    • The App COVID-19-InfoCU developed by INFOMED with update and reliable information about Coronavirus Covid-19. The link can be retrieved in juventudtecnica.cu
    • The Public Health System shares phone numbers to inform and receive questions, opinions and recommendations by the population. Retrieved in juventudrebelde.cu Published on Tuesday March 12, 2020.
    • In addition, many of the fake news that we find in the social network are denied with scientist arguments on TV.
    • With this kind of education, I have perceived on the social network less news created of panic and false remedies and more messages encouraging people to stay at home and safe, not only for themselves, but also for the others. Public awareness with the labor of Health System workers has greatly increased.                                                                                                                                                           Moreover, the population is asking for more presence of the police on the street and making sanctions like fines to people who violate the social isolation, or do not use the mask and other protective measures. Some comments regarding these issues, can be found on  cubadebate.cuCUBADEBATE March 31, 2020.
  • On the other hand, medical students all across the country are trudging from house to house trying to identify cases of the coronavirus. They ask about the number of people living in the house, if they have been in contact with foreigners or Cubans returning from outside the country, if someone is showing some respiratory symptoms, etc.  The main purpose of this initiative is stopping the coronavirus pandemic from spreading in the island. At the same time, it is a vocational training for those who have chosen such a serious and sacrificed profession.
  • Other interesting experience was the closure of the schools and universities and suspension of classes since March 23. This was one of the measures most requested by Cubans. The Ministry of Education decided broadcast educational programs on TV to tackle objectives and contents corresponding to the different educational levels, school grades and subjects.  Furthermore, there is a site and telephone where parents and students can make consultations. University students have their own website and online platform with materials, bibliography to review and scholar projects to develop.
  • Other way of education that we cannot ignore is the leadership by example. That is why Cuban medical brigades are present in more than ten countries; some of them are in the most affected regions like Lombardy in Italy. actualidad.rt.comRT. Published March 29, 2020 03:35 GMT. Therefore, solidarity is one of our main values as a country and it has been always showed and taught to our children, adolescent and youth, but now is more remarkable. At the same time, we have received and important support from China that includes knowledge, sharing experiences, lesson learnings and different materials.
  • As we all know, pandemic join quarantine, social isolation and other compulsory measures raise anxiety, stress, fear, uncertainty, denying; therefore, unproductive and unhealthy behaviors. In order to support people and families to deal with this feelings and emotions the Cuban Psychology Society in its Psychological orientation offers Counseling service to workers of the health system, families, elder people and so on.
  • Similarly, Loyola Center of Havana that belongs the Jesuit Religious Company is located in Los Sitios, Centro Habana. This is a community in vulnerable conditions such as alcoholism, domestic violence, overcrowding, single mothers, elder and so on. This Center offers regularly services of education, counseling, food for elders without family and recreational activities. The center also teaches and promotes values such as friendship, service to others, teamwork, family life, business with social corporate responsibility, solidarity economy, and community wellbeing, among others. On these days some of us, as collaborators of different services are thinking together how to support the community in the distance and beyond to carry them some food or to talk about Coronavirus. We are thinking, so far, about some initiatives to encourage these families to live and spend quality time together. We could support this idea by providing games, riddles, telling stories and playing music by phone. Another useful tool could be sharing psychological tips with the community members to help them to deal with the routine and family conflicts. Counseling services could be provided by phone and WhatsApp., support with the classes from home.

Until here, I wanted to show you some examples about how education in Cuba has taken different shapes, contents, ways and protagonists to face the impacts of COVID-19 Pandemic. However, from my point of view, this is only the tip of the iceberg. We can take many lessons from this very sad experience. Maybe, on times of COVID-19, many of us have had the chance to read some of the writings or videos which talk about how in these few months the level of pollution and contamination has decreased in the air and oceans. How we are coming back forcedly: to produce food locally, to value and respect more people who work as farmers producing food, to stay more at home with our family, to spend more quality time parents and children together, to have enough time to spend doing things that really matter to us, and which we never should let them go. From this, I have some questions and dreams:

  • As educators, how can we promote this kind of deep, existential and humanity thoughts in our students?
  • Today our disciples are children, adolescents and youth; they are the future. Therefore, how this present can help them in order to be better human beings, afterward?
  • How can we support them to improve their self-awareness, sensitivity and citizen responsibility?
  • I would like to they become outstanding people who won´t need another Covid-19 to behave more respectfully with the nature, to see one another as what we are, sisters and brothers.
  • I dream of our students become inclusive women and men because they care who we are instead of how much we have; since they are convinced each individual is needed and matter.
  • How can we help our students to confirm that Education and Healthcare systems can´t be a part of a business because when we privatize these essential human rights, we are carrying out genocide?
  • How may we encourage them to fight against these injustices from whatever position or role they choose to take?
  • How can we encourage them to feel a healthy and mobilized anger not matter how old they are, place of residence or class?
  • When this nightmares of COVID-19 go away; how will we welcome back and support these children who have lost families and loved ones during this time?
  • How will teachers encourage children, adolescents and youth with solidarity, collaboration and empathy after the devastating effects of this global mandatory stop?

For sure I do not have the answers yet. Hardly, I am seeing a light at the end of the tunnel but I am certain that education is one of the most powerful tools to make the world a better place, so I´m in, with you all.

Thank you very much.

 

One comment

  1. Thank you Yasmira for the great job you’ve been doing in Cuba.
    Were there a few more devoted citizens like you, Cuba could be the best place to live in the world.
    Gracias! 🙏

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