Cuban students return to classrooms amid crisis

Havana, Sep 5 (EFE).- About 1.7 million Cuban students on Monday returned to school with the resumption of the 2021-2022 school year after the summer vacation.

Among those students, ranging from preschool youngsters to high schoolers, was a group of kids who gathered in a semicircle with their parents on a street in downtown Havana to listen to the principal of their school.

“And kids with their hair in two colors have until this week to get a haircut,” she warned while several of the students looked at one another in surprise.

She continued with her short speech, listing – one by one – the teachers at the school. Each name was accompanied by applause from the kids and parents, and finally two children held up a Cuban flag and everyone sang the national hymn together.

At the end of the ceremony, the crowd began to disperse and the kids flooded into the Agustin Gomez Lubian School to get back to their classrooms for the last several months of the school year, which ends in November.

According to the Education Ministry, 10,793 schools and 253,000 teachers on Monday welcomed about 1.7 million kids back into the classrooms.

“I wish the more than 250,000 teachers and 1.69 million students who are resuming the 2021-2022 school year a Happy Monday on their return to school,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel wrote on Twitter.

Getting students back to school has been a priority of the government, which is only too aware of the serious economic crisis besetting the communist island.

The return, in addition, comes after a summer break marked by constant power outages, which are becoming more and more frequent and prolonged.

According to figures from the state-run Electric Union (UNE) examined by EFE, there have been electric power blackouts on 60 of the 62 days in July and August.

In that regard, Education Minister Ena Elsa Velazquez said on Aug. 30 at a press conference that the schools themselves would be the ones to plan what measures to take to deal with potential blackouts during classes.

Since August, in Havana authorities have been scheduling four-hour power cuts from 10 am until 2 pm, a situation that would affect the schools. In the other provinces, the public is dealing with even longer power outages.

Added to the energy crisis are the other economic problems facing Cuba, which have also created concern amid the return to classes.

“Rain or shine, we’re going to continue with the school year; and amid adversity we’re going to provide a good school year,” said Diaz-Canel during a meeting at the Palace of the Revolution on Aug. 30, as reported by government media.

Cuban authorities have said in recent weeks that students will have basic materials available for the rest of the school year. The great majority of Cuba’s schools are publicly run and the state is required to ensure the availability of the resources they need.

However, in recent days the independent press has reported the complaints of parents over the higher prices for school materials, an increase linked to the country’s high inflation rate.

During the first six months of this year, inflation in Cuba officially amounted to 13.70 percent, this after prices rose in 2021 by 77.3 percent.

Nevertheless, independent analysts estimate that the price increases in the extended informal market on the island last year amounted to between 500 and 700 percent.

Monday marks the start of the latest phase in the past two years, whcih have been unusual given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on school cycles.

Education authorities have assured the public that 2023 will be when things get back to normal in the nation’s schools.

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