CUBA is prepared to supply more teachers to prop up the shortage of Jamaica's classroom talent if the Ministry of Education needs, the socialist country's senior envoy in Kingston has said.
Ambassador Fermin Quinones Sanchez told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last week, that Cuba stands ready to assist Jamaica if or when the Government requires that kind of support.
The local education system has been in roller coaster mode following the exit of over an estimated 1,000 teachers in the current academic year, most of them for lucrative jobs overseas, in particular the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Middle East.
The Ministry of Education has said that the situation is under control although the reality is, day after day, school officials have been reporting late resignations, which have affected the rhythmic functioning of institutions. The ministry also said that several teachers who had before applied for extensive vacation leave, some for up to eight months, had put that on hold in order to reduce the shortage in schools.
Now, Quinones Sanchez said that Cuba, which has over 100 teachers in the local system, can do much more to assist the Jamaican cause.
"Of course. There is no limitation from Cuba's side about any request that would be made by the Jamaican Government and the Ministry of Education to continue supporting the education sector," the diplomat said. "There are possibilities to bring new teachers from Cuba, not only teachers in Spanish — because the great majority of teachers are teaching Spanish in Jamaican public schools — but there are possibilities for bringing more teachers in science, which is the other area where they are working in Jamaica now."
Quinones Sanchez said that his country, located north of Jamaica, would also be able to help improve Jamaica's special needs capacity, if required. There have been concerns that some schools at the primary and secondary level often fall short in handling children with special needs, even though — in terms of infrastructure — some progress has been made in the physical improvement of some institutions.
"We mentioned sometime ago to the Jamaican Government of the possibility to expand the cooperation of the bilateral agreement to tackle some special needs of children with certain disabilities that need some kind of support," the ambassador continued.
"Cuba has been developing special needs skills over many, many years, and now we have teachers who are well prepared to work with children with special needs. Cuba is ready to participate in such a programme if it is the request, of course, by the Jamaican Government."
In The Bahamas alone, Cuba has over 150 special needs teachers working with children of that popular tourist destination.
"A programme is in place in The Bahamas and it has been having very good results," Quinones Sanchez said. "Now, we are in the process of expanding educational cooperation to different areas."
Last week the education ministry said in a statement that 1,155 teachers had joined the sector in time for the new school year.
Minister Fayval Williams was quoted in the statement as saying that with the sudden resignation of scores of teachers and the employment of new teachers at short notice, the ministry had to "implement new mechanisms to ensure that new teachers are paid in the month of September.
"Under normal circumstances, for a teacher to be paid in a particular month, the employment documents must be submitted by the last working day of the previous month. For example, to be paid in September, all relevant employment documents must be submitted to the ministry by the last working day in the month of August.
"However, given that many of the new teachers were employed this month [September], the ministry extended the deadline for submission to September 12 and deployed the accounting staff to work overtime and on weekends to process the submissions.
"The ministry received a total of 782 new teachers' files on or before the September 12, 2023 deadline. Of this total, 624 new teachers' files were processed and 158 new teachers' files were deemed incomplete because they did not meet the required standard to enable payment," Williams said.
She said, too, that 373 new teachers' files were submitted after the extended deadline of September 12.
Cuban is renowned for not only assisting Jamaica in the provision of teachers, but offering scholarships (mainly medical) to Jamaican students.
The education sector aside, the popular Jamaica/Cuba Eye Care Programme is also one from which hundreds of Jamaicans have benefited since the time it was based in Havana, the Cuban capital city, to when it moved to Jamaica with adequate personnel functioning from National Chest Hospital, and St Joseph's Hospital.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic called a halt to the proceedings in 2021, however, but plans are well advanced to go back to full throttle after a phased resumption of services at Kingston Public Hospital in west Kingston.
"The Cuban team arrived in Jamaica on July 28 and in only one month they, through hard work, prepared about 150 Jamaicans for cataract surgery," Quinones Sanchez said. "They recognise that the Jamaican population needs this kind of service, hence 150 consultations in the first month.
An area at St Joseph's Hospital will house the main portion of the resumed activities, but this is still under renovation. It is expected that the programme will fully resume by the start November .
"It is the great commitment of the Cuban Government to continue supporting Jamaica in health-care matters. I said one year ago that it was a very important objective of the Cuban Government to resume the eye care programme in Jamaica as a legacy, because it is important for the most vulnerable population of Jamaica ... people coming from different places all over the country because they need this kind of high-quality services provided by the Cubans, working with the Jamaican Ministry of Health," Quinones Sanchez said.
"This is something that makes us very proud. We have been doing some surgeries at KPH and, hopefully, we will be doing other surgeries like cataracts at St Joseph's by November.
"Cuba will be supplying the human resources for the programme, specialised equipment, and the Jamaicans will be allocated the location for running the programme. There is a long waiting list that, step by step, will be cleared up when things are ready at St Joseph's," Quinones Sanchez said.