The Sandinista government is turning to its old comrade Cuba for help rebuilding Nicaragua’s underperforming education system.
A delegation from Cuba’s Ministry of Education arrived in Nicaragua on Monday to conduct a two-week evaluation of Nicaragua’s public school system to help the Sandinista government “transform our model of education,” according to first lady and national spokeswoman Rosario Murillo.
Murillo said the education overhaul is part of the Sandinista government’s effort to “restitute rights” by “strengthening” and “updating” the public school system according to Nicaragua’s capacities and values.
But critics of the Sandinista government think the Sandinistas are more interested in social control and political indoctrination than genuine education reform. Cuba’s education system, while celebrated for its achievements in math and language, is also known to be heavy on the political indoctrination—the product of an island that’s been under the same single-party political management for the past 50 years.
The Sandinista government, with Murillo at the helm, is also keen on indoctrination. In recent weeks the first lady has been eagerly promoting her recently contrived “Live Pretty” (Vivir Bonito) campaign—also known unofficially as the “Murillo Doctrine”—in schools and neighborhoods to encourage everyone to act a little more “Christian, socialist and in-solidarity.”
But the Sandinistas’ politicization of the education system started well before the mandate to “live pretty.” Opposition congressman Wilber Ramón López, vice president of the National Assembly’s Education Commission, says new elementary school textbooks introduced to the third and fourth grade last year glorify the history of the Sandinista revolution and present a very one-sided view of the 1980s.
“The textbooks are embarrassing,” López told The Nicaragua Dispatch. “They present a story where everything the Sandinistas did was good and everything everyone else did was bad. It’s not history; it’s indoctrination of eight- and nine-year-olds.
López says a woman from his district in Carazo came to his office last year to complain that her third-grade daughter was being indoctrinated in the local public school. The woman reportedly said her daughter was given a failing grade on a history test that asked students to identify “The best government Nicaragua has had in the past 30 years.” The eight-year-old answered “Violeta Chamorro,” which was not the answer her teacher was looking for.
López says that’s when he started to investigate the use of the new textbooks, which are now mandatory in private schools as well. He said his Independent Liberal Party (PLI) is preparing a declaration of protest over use of the new textbooks, but admits that’s all his emasculated party can do in a system under the total control of the Sandinista Front.
The arrival of Cuban advisors this week will only hasten “the indoctrination of party ideology in the education system,” López concludes.
Cubans meet with Nicaraguan counterparts
The Cuban advisory delegation was dispatched to Nicaragua this week at the request of President Daniel Ortega, according to government media outlets. For the next two weeks, the Cuban team will be meeting with Nicaraguan educators to learn about the needs, challenges and difficulties of delivering quality education on the primary and secondary levels.
“The advances in the quality of education in Cuba are impressive because they are on par with very developed nations,” said Nicaragua’s Vice Minister of Education Marlon Síu, according to the official media that accompanied him to the airport to meet the Cuban delegation yesterday afternoon.
Síu said the Cubans will help Nicaragua build “the quality model” of education that the country wants.
But academics say Nicaragua should instead focus on developing an authentic and home-grown education model that responds to the real needs of the country, rather than the ideological proclivities of a ruling party.
Carlos Tünnermann, Nicaragua’s former minister of education during the revolutionary Sandinista government in the 1980s, says Nicaragua has enough of its own qualified education experts to develop a model “based on the characteristics and indentify of Nicaragua.”
While he recognizes the contributions that Cuban teachers have made in Nicaragua by teaching at rural schools where Nicaraguan teachers “don’t want to go,” Tünnermann also warns of bad advice that Cuba has given Nicaragua in the past. He says in the 1980s Cuban advisors encouraged the Sandinistas to eliminate the system of credits from universities, resulting in a major setback for Nicaragua’s higher education system (the credit system was reinstated in the 1990s).
Despite the two governments’ shared political affinities for a one-party state, Tünnermann says the differences between Cuba and Nicaragua are considerable, which is why Nicaragua needs its own educational model.