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"Private tutors are in fashion. I sent my daughter there, because everybody goes there. Those who do not go, get worse grades."

"Does this occur because they are learning less at school, or because teachers condition grades on attending review classes?

"Well, the teachers say that missing their review class shows a lack of interest on the part of the student. In fact, those who do not come are in trouble. Everything is pretty subjective. I couldnt tell what would happen if my daughter missed that class. All I know is that those who do not attend get worse grades. If the grade is conditioned on that, or if they are learning less, thats something I couldnt possibly know.

Angelita Domínguez has a daughter in secondary school. Although her child is not yet in the 9th grade and she does not know what she wants to study, her mother wants to guarantee her a good education. Her husband is self-employed, so for her its not a problem to pay 40 pesos a month for a private tutor.

But for María Elena Cabrera, a single working mother who is raising her son alone and on a low income, it is not "great" to pay for extra classes for her child for the same teacher he has at school. "My child was always getting six in the test scores," she said. "I was upset and went to talk to the teacher. She explained to me that my son was not going to the review classes, and that influenced his grade."

"When I got home, I wanted to skin him alive. How come youre not attending the review classes! Then he told me that those classes were not at the school, that they were a day a week and that they cost ten pesos each."

"He didn't want to ask me for the money, because I could have thought that he wasnt studying enough and that I was having to pay for that. Then I talked to other mothers of his classmates and they told me they were paying because in that way they could get better grades. In the end, I fell for it too. Now he goes every week, except when I cannot pay the ten pesos."

Stories like the one above are more frequent in daily educational life in Cuba. This was confirmed by the Juventud Rebelde newspaper in conversations with parents from Havana and Camaguey. Most of them see the private tutor as a necessary evil. They support this idea due to "the lack of confidence in the education their children are receiving at school."

Some go to retired teachers in professional branches with plenty of experience. Others, instead, go to their same teachers at school.

Taking the challenge

Maria Antonia Diaz, an educator with more than 20 years of experience, does not admit that teachers charge for review classes. She says that this is a harmful practice, but it should not be controlled or suppressed. "We should not fall in preposterous prohibitions that everybody can violate," she says.

"How could this system be eliminated?

""With the commitment to greater quality in the education given at schools, and with nobody using the school insufficiencies to commit this act. In my opinion, it harms children, and in some way reveals the familys responsibility.

"Its the parents duty to review with their children what they have learned at school. It has always been that way."

«"There are good schools in which parents also hire the services of a private tutors.

"Because it has become a lifestyle, another way to "show off" that the family has resources. People think that a service is always better if there is money involved./ A High School in the Exact Sciences Costs a Lot of Money

One of the biggest challenges of the students when they finish the ninth grade is the entrance exams to high schools in the exact sciences. The instruction received by the students in these schools is higher than that in other high schools.

Thats why it has been common for many years for youth interested in entering these schools to get private tutors. However, in the last few years, youth are not going to private tutors when they enter the ninth grade, but when they enter secondary school.

Parents of secondary school students explained to Juventud Rebelde that they send their children to private tutors to train them for the entrance exams because knowledge gaps are combined with the fact that their children do not have to deal with mid-term and final exams, which are preparation to successfully deal with rigorous entrance exams.

Mireya Rodríguez, a mother of two secondary school students and another child who already went through the "jitters" of a rigorous entrance exam to apply for a high school of exact sciences, explains, "Its not easy for your kids to get a top score of ten points and at the end be left out. My daughter was lucky, because I paid, month after month, for two courses from private tutors of mathematics and Spanish. It is sad to see brilliant students fail their exams with scores of even zero points."

Marina González, grandmother of a seventh grader, says: "There are people who tape the video-classes to review their children and there are people who pay private tutors, since their children are in seventh grade so the content is not lost. However, many of us do not have those means and were worried by what could happen at the entrance exams."

Some of the students surveyed by this newspaper voiced other aspects of this problem:

•There are students who decide not to take the test, and they are not always the poorest performers. There are some students who have good prospects and do not feel ready to take the exam. Those who pass have almost always paid for a private tutor.

•The truth is that the evaluative homework, assignments, written quizzes and exams of the System of Valuation of Quality of Education (SECE), are nothing like the entrance exams.

•Private tutors do thorough reviews. They even keep entrance exams from previous years so students get used to the approach and complexity of the questions.

•Not everybody can afford a private tutor, and those who cannot know they are at a disadvantage with respect to those who can. Students always want to go to private tutors, because they have a higher degree of specialization than General Comprehensive Teachers (PGIs).

Regarding this teacher, Odalis Rodríguez, who has been revising entrance exams for the High School of Exact Sciences for a decade, said, "It is sad to see how many students make it to the ninth grade and then fail these exams, even when they have a high G.P.A. Its necessary to analyze this situation."

Home PGI

Not only retired and former teachers provide their services as private tutors. Young teachers who are exercising this profession have joined this practice with their own students. That is the case of an English teacher. She goes to two of her students houses where she meets with groups of her students.

"I teach one class on Monday in one house and the other on Tuesday in the other house. Two hours each class and I charge 25 pesos. There are two elementary school children, siblings of my students, whose mothers want them to get used to listening to English. I dont charge them. I do not condition the grade on attendance to my private classes, but those who attend are better prepared."

One PGI from secondary school gives private lessons at home. According to her, this method helps her students to overcome the difficulties of previous years, and it is also a complementary source of income for her.

"I dont force them to go, but they know it improves their grades. They come with many problems. I devote an entire day to going over the contents of the month. The rest of the time I do drills and explain. I bring the complexity of the explanation to that of lower grades so they can understand what Im going to teach them in the classroom."

«"How many students do you have?

"Ten regular students. I charge them 40 pesos monthly.

"What do the parents think?

"They are very happy because they see that their children are learning.

"Do you give better grades to those who take review classes?

"I do not cheat on the grades. What happens is that those who go to review classes do better in school, because they study hard and understand the classes better. Of those who do not go to the review classes, there are two who get good grades because their parents review things with them.

"Do you give review classes at school?

"Yes, I do. I do the ones that are in the curricula. But its not enough. They provide for really poor preparation, and they have problems fixing their attention on the TV lessons. They need extra classes.

"But there are no doubts that there is an economic interest beneath...

"Nobody can live on their wages alone. Thats no secret. If Im a teacher I cant be selling candy on the corner like other people do. What I do is not harmful to anybody, all the contrary, I help those children. If the parents are short of money, I give the class for free and they give me the money later, its not a problem. But if they can afford other things, I dont think its a sin that they pay to me too. If I want something, I have to buy it. Im not given things for free at the grocery store or at the stores in hard currency, not even if the parent of a student works there. I dont steal, I dont take time from my other duties; it is just another job."

In the survey, economic needs prevail as the main reason for private tutors charging.

A way of maintaining oneself

"I live in a large building, and I give review lessons of Spanish and history to elementary and secondary school children. I help them with their homework, especially with spelling. I do it on Wednesday and Tuesday evenings, after six oclock in the afternoon, and sometimes on Saturday afternoon. Thats all the time I have."

"I charge them ten pesos for every class. Its the easy way to charge them, because if I set a fix price for the month and they do not come to classes, thats a problem. Besides, they come if they need it."

These are the words of a student with the social science major at Havana University who prefers not to give his name. He also said that one of his neighbours is a teacher at a technological class, and that she gives review classes on math, physics and chemistry.

"Children receive full preparation. She gives them review lessons on days different from mine, so they have somebody to study with all the time."

"But then, the child that attends the lessons everyday would spend 50 pesos a week.

"That depends on the childs difficulties and the possibilities of the mother.

"Would you tutor free of charge?

"Well, it hasnt happened. They know the price and I do it because I have economic needs, if not, I would spend my time doing something else.

What about the ethical and pedagogical tradition?

Not all Cuban teachers calmly accept the decision made by some of their colleagues. Most of those who spoke with JR prefer to do their best with all their students and do not assistance them with private lessons because it goes against their ethical perceptions. They said there will be a state re-evaluation on attention given to teacher s and the place of the Cuban pedagogical tradition, which aims atequal and free education for all, over economic needs.

"I would feel embarrassed if I ask a parent for money to tutor his child. If I am not able to have a student to learn in the classroom, I pay special attention to him, assign him special homework," said Vanesa León, PGI from the municipality of de Plaza de la Revolución, in Havana.

"We already know that all students are not the same, some have more difficulties than others. Thats where I have to focus my attention.

"I do not criticize those who teach private lessons; thats their problem. I dont and wont, because it seems to me that it would be an abuse of my students family."

Marta Figueroa is an experienced teacher who works in a technological school. She knows that some of her co-workers work as private tutors, but she has not joined them.

"I respect every persons opinion, but I would never pay a private teacher so that my son would get better grades. I think we have to be confident on the school and value the childs capacities.

"Sometimes, the children do not attend the lessons because deep down they are not interested in what they do there. Parents should not pay a teacher to teach them what they do not learn in the classroom for being messing around. I think that from one part, the school must rescue its professional authorities; and from the other, the family must orient their children better, make them respect the school and the teacher. That way they will learn more.

"I have had students who are not able to answer a question in the classroom because they have their heads in the clouds all day long. Then, their parents pay them a tutor, and not even like that they can get them to pass. I think there is still much to be done in the school and also in the education on the familys part. Thats essential."

Raquel González, who has worked in this field for 40 years, is among those who cannot think of charging for a lesson. She said that "The great majority of private teachers do not follow the methods used in high school, or the changes that have been implemented.

"Without paying attention to ethics, I think they follow a merely economic objective. Who would teach ten, twelve and even more students on weekends and at night in the living-room of their house for free?

"This does not mean that private teachers do not know about what they are teaching, but that they do not know about how to teach it. This is where the student runs into a contradiction between the way they learn with the private teacher and the way they do so in the school. This lack of consistency leads to an improper learning on the part of the student.

"In my school, we have had a worrying experience. We had to interrupt a lesson because a student said in the middle of the class, 'My private teacher did not teach me that like this, teacher. Its not like that... And this does not happen a single time during the day, or in only one group, but in several groups at different moments.

"There is a need to find solutions inside our schools, implement them efficiently and do not wait up to the end of the academic course. In the high school I lead, for instance, in addition to work individually with the student in the classroom, which is the main work and what the Resolution 226 pursues, we have implemented hours to attend to students specific needs."

Different opinions

A minority of the parents and teachers polled said it is appropriate for retired teachers to increase their incomes, by offering their knowledge to those who may need it because this does not affect society. It could help to solve the presently existing educational deficits and improve knowledge acquired in the school. Others think that the educational system could design formulas where schools take advantage of this sector, giving a new dimension to the lives of an increasingly old society, at the same time those retired professionals could increase their incomes.

Pilar Herrera is 70-years-old and has devoted all her life to teaching. For a long time, she taught mathematics and physics in an urban high school; but when this type of school closed, she decided to retire.

"I didnt want to go to a boarding school or a secondary school, which was a different level from the one I had always taught. Since then, I teach private lessons in my house to children who want to study in the Lenin school "a vocational high school", to those studying in high school and have difficulties passing the entrance exams to the university, and even to those who are pursuing majors related to sciences and have problems."

"What do you do with the teaching programs?

"I have lots of saved material: previous entrance exams to the Lenin School and to the university. It the end, maths and physics are always the same.

"What are the students main doubts when they come to you?

"Most of them arrived with lots of reasoning problems. They do not know what way to follow in order to solve a problem. In that way, its impossible for them to learn.

"How do you establish the price?

"That depends on the lesson frequency and the subjects. I work as tutor almost everyday, and on Saturdays I tutor those studying in boarding schools. For instance, the training for the entrance exams o the university costs 100 pesos a month.

"Do you feel satisfied with your work?

"It is difficult when any of my students fail the exam. I have even worked with students that had failed tests and they have improved. There are some who have studied with me from high school up to receiving their university title.

Specially free

A long time earlier there were Comprehensive General Teachers on the Isle of Youth. This teacher "a trained geographer and philosopher" explained either a mathematical problem or a chemical experiment to his students. In his history lessons, the similarity of the Cuban revolutionary process to a light beam "wave and corpuscle" can be learned, while social phenomena can be analyzed y comparing them to the hearts systole and diastole.

An experienced teacher, Roberto del Sol, has been a free private tutor for three decades.

But he demands a really high pay back from his students: 95 points or more in every test they take. And its really rare that one of his students does not pay him back.

For him, teaching "is to know about the permissible identities of the person who needs us. It is to have the time other people need; to understand young people; to know they have the right to get bored if, after several lessons, the teacher does not find a way to motivate them. It is, specially, to convince."

He has worked as a private tutor from 1973. At that moment, he was a philosophy student and as a political economy teacher. He has also trained people to take the entrance exams of the IPVCE and the University.

"I would never charge a penny to anyone because I am a product of this Revolution, because time is priceless if it is not paid back with a personal realization. Those who spent our time the most are the people we love the most. This has an invaluable price: to feel alive after death in the instant or everlasting memory of the people to whom we devoted part of us."

"How do you manage to integrate so much knowledge and puts it at the service of the class?

"When the men arrive to the conclusion that Culture is everything, that there is no a professional field that is not related to the rest, they find the formulas of what to say in the classroom. That criterion shows you that there is only one diversity. If I am going to explain certain content and approach it only historically, the student attending the class who wants to be a lawyer gets bored. If I speak about Martí and say that he organized the War of 1895, but that he also stand out as one of the main figures of the Latin American literature and that his ideas were spread through the press... It is to talk about the garden without mentioning any specific flower, for each student to select their favourite one.

"From your point of view, what causes the existence of paid private tutors?

"Despite the weakness of those who charge students, the main causes are the actual and visible difficulties of our National Educational System. I can be wrong, but then, let us question those who go to these tutoring lessons, their parents, or in the last case the university teachers who perceive the differences in the training of the students they receive.

"To teach, one must love what he does and love the person with whom one is doing so, offering what one has with great patience, with an at-all-proof empathy. The teacher must teach the method more than the content. He must teach the way of appropriating the contents. That way, students will be always better than the teacher. And this, in our work, is the greatest pride."

"What do you think about the current teaching transformations, based on technologies?

"All educational process has its limitations and its advantages. Thats why, they need to be combined. Eighty-five percent of knowledge is acquired through the sight, but the technology can replace men. To think of the TV as a panacea is a mistake. To deny it as a support is also a mistake.

"Modern stuff cannot completely deny old things. The words, chalks and blackboards are irreplaceable, when a teacher that loves what he does, gets moved and transmits that emotion.

"From my point of view, the most important is "whatever the way used" the active role the student. They are not only a sponge. They have to develop their thinking; they have to research; they have to grow up. And teachers need to know how to guide them to do so."


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