Regional education workshops in the rural sector provide an opportunity for the exchange of experiences. Pictured is a meeting held in Camagüey province in 2015. Photo: Miguel Febles Hernández

WRITING about the achievements of education across the country, having barely traveled beyond the capital, can be challenging. As such we must take advantage of any opportunity to learn firsthand about what teachers are doing in other provinces and the distinctive features of their territories.

In this effort, we met with Master in Educational Sciences, Obdulia María Vistorte Pupo, head of Primary Education in Las Tunas, in the east of the country.

She informed us that in this province, rural school teachers are working with classes of children in different grades. We also learned that Las Tunas has a total of 489 elementary schools, including 375 rural schools; and that there are a total of 35,633 school children, of whom 14,621 are studying in rural areas. Thus began our conversation.

Does this number include enrollment at boarding schools?

All are external students. We now have the same possibilities as the urban sector; the children can participate in national contests and have obtained gold, silver and bronze medals. The province has for three consecutive years secured first place in these national gatherings that are related to Spanish Language, Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Cuban History.

How are efforts coordinated to serve the rural sector?

First we organize the methodological preparation with directors in each area, we gather them together at the municipal level. We then work with team leaders differently, depending on the composition of each school. Then we meet with teachers, depending on the complexities of the multi-grade system.

We work with teachers who have simpler combinations (first and second grades, third and fourth, fifth and sixth), and then with those who have more complex groups, such as those teaching first through sixth grade.

In addition, we perfect the work with methodologists to organize the methodological side. I’m referring to visits to rural centers of physical education specialists, librarians, art instructors, computer studies teachers, a group of people who influence the training of teachers in terms of methodology.

We have students with special educational needs who are served differently, with speech therapists and psycho-pedagogues, among other specialties.

In what way are students prepared to provide solutions to the needs of each territory? How are they advised as to the employment opportunities they may have in the future?

We have devised career interest circles in all rural schools that respond to the real needs of the territory where the school is located. They are attended by instructors from the agricultural, industrial, mechanical sectors, as well as the pedagogical interest circles. We must work on the training of teachers. From the earliest ages, we encourage children toward this career interest circle.

What are the main challenges faced by rural teachers in multi-grade schools?

The main challenge is methodological training specially designed for several grades. This is quite complex, but now we have books, manuals. In addition we are working on events in the rural sector. These really benefit teachers. An example is the Pedagogy event, where teachers with the greatest experiences come together and explain everything they have done over the school year.

In small rural schools children receive the same knowledge and develop the same skills as in centers located in cities. Photo: Jorge Luis Terencio Cautín

Systematic evaluation is also a major challenge. How to assess our children using the same test, but with different contents?

What is the situation regarding teacher coverage?

In Las Tunas there are no problems with teaching coverage: we have 24 schools with two teachers for up to 25 students, which is an elementary education objective, and there are already 123 groups with two teachers in the rural sector.

What is the secret to achieving the same levels of knowledge seen in urban elementary schools?

The basis is in the methodological training of our teachers and in how they organize the processes they lead. The fact is we are at the same level. When an evaluation is undertaken, the rural result is equal to the urban sector, with the same knowledge and the same abilities.

How we achieve this is what is pending, as we already know what to do. In addition we have other means: worksheets to be completed at home, which strengthen the education of the child, and with which we pre-pare parents to work on systematization as a family. That is, how we work through levels of knowledge so that the child continues to advance until this knowledge can be applied.

We now have an important resource: the “Pa’ que te eduques” program, produced by Cinesoft. Even when a child can not visit a museum, they can now do so via a virtual tour, they can see the Granma Yacht by means of a virtual museum.

This is a tool that is provided so they can continue to deepen their knowledge. In this way, despite not having museums in their local area, children can observe them through the television. There are several ways in which we can ensure the child is constantly learning.