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Editorial: Cuba, Jamaica should strengthen education ties

Published:Friday | January 8, 2016 | 1:15 AM

The recent pact signed by the Cuban and United States governments for bilateral academic collaboration between the University of Havana and Virginia Commonwealth University serves as a reminder to Jamaican schools to broaden relations with their closest northern neighbour.

The US-Cuba accord will facilitate the exchange of publications and other material as well as the implementation of integrated semester and summer courses. Visiting professors and other faculty will also interact, thus indulging in a cross-fertilisation of knowledge that will benefit both countries. This development is further proof of how President Barack Obama's political boldness in re-establishing diplomatic relations is already delivering positive spin-offs that may ultimately help end a petty and ineffectual decades-old embargo.

Jamaica has had a strong relationship with the Cuban government - spanning both Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul - and consistently stood up to register opposition to the US in its counterproductive stance that punished the Cuban people without ousting the regime. This fraternal bond led to Cuban involvement in the establishment of several learning institutions here, namely, the Jose Marti, Garvey Maceo and Anchovy high schools, as well as G.C. Foster College, which is a physical education and sports training tertiary centre.

While there have been useful exchanges between Cuba and Jamaica, particularly in the field of medicine, we believe there are greater synergies that can be exploited for mutual benefit. The Ministry of Education would do well to rescue Jose Marti, Garvey Maceo and Anchovy from a conveyor belt of mediocrity by engaging in a larger vision that venerates the names of great, icons Marti, Marcus Garvey and Antonio Maceo, they represent.

These schools can become epicentres of academic learning with special focus on history and foreign languages, especially Spanish, the mother tongue of Cuba. A properly structured exchange programme involving administrators, teachers and students would be a model microcosm of the sociocultural ties both countries should strengthen.

Anglophone Jamaica is a bit of a sociolinguistic enigma in an arc of Spanish-speaking countries in Central and South America, as well as Cuba to the north and Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to the northeast. Despite the proximity, Spanish literacy in the island is appallingly low.

We believe that Jose Marti and Garvey Maceo, founded within three years of each other in the polarising days of democratic socialism, and Anchovy, which just last year launched its Fidel Castro campus, should be models of excellence in Spanish literacy and perhaps become hubs of recruitment for jobs in the Spanish hotels in Jamaica. The projected US$900-million investment by the Mexican chain Karisma group, for nine different developments would also offer hope for jobseekers with fluency in Spanish if those hotels woo Latin American tourists.

The schools, too, might also experiment by tailoring integrated history and social studies programmes that go beyond the boundaries of the Caribbean Examinations Council syllabuses and incorporate a Spanish Caribbean context as part of this cultural exchange. Cross-pollination of technical and science education would also be a welcome boon to the institutions. Similar collaboration could extend to G.C. Foster and other tertiary schools.

The upshot is that a more diverse or cosmopolitan education profile would burnish the credentials of these Jamaican students, thus making them marketable beyond our shores and stronger competitors for jobs in Latin America.

Legendary names like Marcus Garvey, Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo should not be associated with the plain and pedestrian. They require extraordinary vision.