From Western Australia to Cuba, teaching sans frontieres
“You see a guy who's dressed like a rapper, but is studying to be a doctor”. Gaynor Manning
Nicole Asher, South Western Times, Australia
The east of Cuba and remote Western Australia may not seem to have a lot of things in common, but a former art teacher from Bunbury begs to differ.
Gaynor Manning spent a month teaching and learning in a remote part of east Cuba earlier this year to discover more about the country's education system.
Following a trip to Cuba in 2012 Gaynor returned to Bunbury with two questions.
She wanted to know how a developing country had achieved perfect literacy and how the government enticed people to work in rural areas.
Gaynor, a former art and photography teacher and engagement and transitions manager at Bunbury Senior High School, returned home determined to find out more about how the country ran.
Building on an interest established through her involvement with the Australian education system and her work in remote communities she began to plan a return trip to the communist country.
She had noticed similarities between the issues faced by remote communities and schools in Australia and schools in similar situations in Cuba.
Using the internet she attempted to begin researching but found few resources available from the country where fast internet is a rarity.
Finally she was able to connect with a Canadian woman married to a Cuban living in Santiago de Cuba, the country's second biggest city located on the south-east coast.
"I found someone and said I want to teach, I want to have an exchange about education," she said.
Her Cuban contact helped her plan an intercambio, or exchange, in the country.
Gaynor explained that although intercambios were common, it was rare for an Australian, or person from an American allied country, to take part.
In May this year, after a year of planning, Gaynor packed two 23kg suitcases with art supplies, made the trip to Santiago de Cuba and then onto a sugar-plantation town where she worked with an artistas’ collective.
During her visit she taught alongside Cuban teachers and found the answer to her questions.
Teachers were bussed in and out of remote communities and harsh penalties applied to children who did not go to school.
Gaynor explained that the nation had a different view of education, with most people having access to some form of higher education.
"You see a guy who's dressed like a rapper, but is studying to be a doctor," she said.
"They say everyone can be a doctor, it's all in the training.
"There are university branches in tiny towns.
"It's a very interesting system."
Upon her return to Bunbury she discovered an intercambio of a different kind had taken place between Edith Cowan University in Perth and some Cuban artists.
Her intention now is to establish an exchange between people in Cuba and WA by forging partnerships with a variety of organisations.
"Ultimately my aim is to maintain the friendships that I found and build an artists' exchange.
"To have an exchange between students at schools would be brilliant."
Gaynor is planning her return to Cuba, a country she sees herself returning to many times in the future.
IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE
FOR PEOPLE WHO READ IN ENGLISH: ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS IN ENGLISH OR TRANSLATED. PUBLICATION DOES NOT MEAN WE ENDORSE OR REJECT CONCLUSIONS OR STATEMENTS OF AUTHORS