By Tom Griffiths
Havana — Some 5000 educators from all over Latin America, including school teachers, academics and Ministry personnel, attended the biannual educational conference in Cuba, "Pedagogia 95", February 6-10.
Co-Sponsored by UNESCO, UNICEF and AELAC (Association of Latin American and Caribbean Educators), the event was an intensive week of 22 commissions, 16 round tables, special conferences, more than 1200 papers and the convergence of widespread experience in the problems for education in the region.
The phenomenal amount of work and interest in the event within Cuba is indicative of the importance education achieved, and continues to have, with the revolution of 1959. Indeed, many Cubans noted that it was the first priority of the revolution, followed by health care and general social services.
Education has not been immune from the effects of the "special period" in Cuba, resulting in shortages of materials and equipment and infrastructure in need of repair. However, unlike its neighbours, not one school has closed and not one teacher is without work in Cuba today.
Prominent themes of the conference were the need for Latin American unity in order to maintain an indigenous and popular culture, the linking of study with productive work for all students in order to instil collective values, and the importance of an education for all that enables students both to understand the world and to act effectively within it.
For a large part of the region, Cuba is still not only a model for a humanist, universal education, but increasingly also a centre for educational expertise and services across a range of areas. Numerous events, conferences, postgraduate courses for teachers and students, and educational materials are on offer throughout the year, making education something of a new export industry.
An unusual aspect of the meeting here, at least in comparison with Australia, was the strong presence of staff from the Ministry of Education, academics and classroom teachers from all levels. More than 15,000 papers were submitted by Cubans alone, from which 560 were selected for inclusion in the event. All contributed to debate, from their different perspectives, with the common objective of improving education's explicit function of supporting the development of Cuban socialism, through the preparation of students ideological/moral views, and through their preparation for work.
As expressed by Dr Luis Ignacio Gomez Gutierrez, Cuba's minister of education: "This conference is a new passage that advances the common points of our pedagogy that reflect the interests and realities of our countries, the blood and flesh of our cultural identity; a pedagogy that speaks with our own voice; a conference that holds internationalism as a permanent point of reference; and that has at its centre the interests of our youth and students, their expectations; and forges a Latin American consciousness and culture of resistance in the face of the nihilistic discourse of postmodernity".
The hard realities confronted by teachers and educators brought together here, with the disastrous consequences of neo-liberal prescriptions for "development", and the overwhelming opposition to the current state of the world and Latin America's position within it, suggested that such a consciousness continues to grow.