June is the month when students finally launch themselves on their books, serious scholars review their notes, and we parents jeopardize our wallets to pay for private tutors. For years, the existence of these informal teachers has been undervalued when taking stock of Cuban education, but those of us with children in the middle grades know well their importance. Right now, if a teenager doesn’t receive extracurricular attention from a private tutor he has few chances — or none — of being accepted into college. Teaching — paradoxically — has been privatized, but without public acknowledgement.
Demand is so high that in these last weeks of classes the houses of freelance professors are packed. The cost of one hour’s review varies between 20 and 25 Cuban pesos, one-tenth of the average monthly salary. Attending the classes compensates for the incredibly low level of secondary and high school educators, especially in the subjects of mathematics, physics, chemistry and grammar. But it also must be said that there are many high school students who want to cram in the last minute all the content they paid no attention to in more than ten months of classes. The material and conceptual impoverishment, excessive ideological indoctrination, and the lack of seriousness during the school day, take their toll during final exams, and thousands of parents are willing to pay rather than accept failure.
The reality makes a mockery of the slogans. Those who have resources can provide their progeny with additional teachers; those who don’t, will have to settle for a frame on the wall with just a 9th grade diploma. Lately, in the living room of any apartment, you see fingers writing as fast as possible, taking notes like nobody’s business, total silence and a great show of interest. These are the students with their private tutors, the extra teaching support without which they can’t go very far. They know that each of these classes is a sacrifice for the whole family, so they absorb the words, the digits, the theorems. They will, without a doubt, take one more step toward the starting line, with an additional advantage over those who never had a private tutor.