Community at the heart of education
Campaign News | Wednesday, 12 April 2023
NEU delegates report back from their thought provoking trip to Cuba
On the same day that teachers and education workers in the National Education Union (NEU) voted almost unanimously to reject the UK government’s latest pay offer, over 150 delegates at the NEU’s annual conference in Harrogate packed into a meeting room to attend CSC’s fringe meeting on education in Cuba under the US blockade.
A number of NEU members, who had visited the island in October as part of an official delegation organised by their union and CSC, reported back on their trip, spoke passionately about their experiences and urged their fellow members to learn from Cuba to inform their own fight for a better education system.
Merike Williams, Joint District Secretary of Stockton NEU, told attendees about the support that primary school teachers receive in Cuba and how the education system “gives staff early warning if something is going on in the family and let staff know how to help”. She contrasted the “toxic testing regime” in the UK with the Cuban testing model, where a sample of schools are selected to do tests, the results of which are then used as a diagnostic tool to help shape and improve the curriculum.
Griffiths Nguete, from Newham, reflected on her time visiting secondary schools just days after Hurricane Ian had devastated much of Pinar del Río. She recalled the sense of community that she witnessed in the area and how, so shortly after the hurricane, school attendance was 100 per cent after the local community and the government kicked into action to help rebuild schools. She closed by saying that “Cuba scares the world because it shows us, in terms of education, what leaders should be doing.”
Jacqui Jacques, from Buckinghamshire, expanded on this story of resilience in the wake of Hurricane Ian. “It’s a story of how communities coming together can achieve anything”, she said. “It’s a story of love, dedication, resilience, co-operation and solidarity with schools and educators at the heart of these communities.” This was something that we could learn from.
The delegation took place just weeks after the Cuban people had voted overwhelmingly to approve a new family code in a referendum. Vanessa Nelson, an NEU LGBT+ activist from Bury, reflected on her interactions with Cubans, where “most people spoke openly in support of the family code”, one which is considered by experts to be the most inclusive and progressive in the world. In a meeting with Dania Rodriguez Gutierrez, a representative of the Federation of Cuban Women, they agreed that “education is key to understanding”.
Concluding the report of the 2022 delegation with a call to strengthen solidarity with Cuba, Junior Vice-President Phil Clarke said “We’ve got to do what we can to fight against the blockade.”
Delegates then had the chance to hear from Niurka Gonzalez Obera, General Secretary of the National Union of Science, Education and Sports Workers of Cuba (SNTECD), who was visiting the conference for the second year in a row. Niurka expressed her gratitude for the invitation and for the “valuable comradeship of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and the NEU”. Niurka told the fringe about the impact of the blockade - “The human damage caused by this policy is enormous, inhumane and cruel and affects our children and young people, our teachers and our schools”, she said. “The blockade is a measure that violates international rights, interferes in the internal affairs of the Island of Cuba and violates the principle of the independence of a nation and the human rights of Cubans.” Before departing to a standing ovation, Niurka guaranteed all in attendance that “they can continue to count on Cuba in the effort to build a more just, supportive and sustainable world.”
CSC National Secretary and NEU Trustee Bernard Regan concluded the speeches by reflecting on the success of the Viva la Educación appeal, which has now raised well over £100,000 to send crucial educational supplies to Cuba. Despite the huge achievement, he urged all NEU members in attendance to continue with their efforts and to do as much as possible to beat the blockade.
Chairing the meeting, Dawn Taylor, NEU executive member and chair of the International Committee pointed out to delegates that appeals like Viva la Educación “would not be necessary if it were not for the ongoing US blockade. This is why as well as material aid appeals, we call for an end to the US blockade and for Cuba to be removed from the spurious US ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’ list which makes it virtually impossible for Cuba to receive and transfer funds with other countries. The blockade was designed to strangle the Cuban economy and force hunger and desperation on the people. Their resistance has been inspirational, as has their commitment to build a better society for all.”
The following evening, CSC hosted its annual NEU social, featuring live music from the internationally renowned Omar Puente and his Charanga Sextet. Hundreds of delegates packed the venue at the Crown Hotel and Omar and his band wowed the crown with their fusion of Cuban and African rhythms, highlighting the very best of the island’s musical heritage. A fundraising raffle for the campaign also raised nearly £450, with winners taking home Cuban rum and a host of other prizes.
CSC joined a host of other organisations in holding a stall at conference all week. As well as raising funds for the campaign with the sale of Cuban goods and gifts, we spoke to hundreds of delegates from around the country about Cuba, the impact of the US blockade on the country and the many achievements of the Cuban education system, despite the difficulties faced as a result of US aggression. Visitors to the stall also heard about the work of CSC and the much-valued links between the campaign and their union, with many expressing a keen interest in applying for the next NEU delegation to Cuba in October 2023 and even more signing up as members of the campaign.
Niurka addressed the full conference together with NEU General Secretary Kevin Courtney on Tuesday 3 April to celebrate the Viva La Educación appeal passing £100,000.