The Basics

Cuban children at a Young Pioneers rally. (Credit: http://bit.ly/XEQCkP)

The education system in Cuba is one of the best in the world, and certainly the best in Latin America by far.  It is difficult to digest this fact when taking into consideration that Cuba is a developing country without enough food to adequately nourish its people.  There are many reasons for the high priority that education holds in the government, and even more reasons for the great success of the education program.

From the beginning, even before Fidel Castro took over after his revolution, Cuba’s education has been one of the best systems in Latin America, but failed to reach Cubans in the rural sectors and to instill the importance of education in the hearts of the natives.  After Fidel took over, he completed revamped the system, making it top priority.  “I harbor the most absolute conviction that only education can save our species. Only education has received the exceptional privilege of a fabulous intelligence with the capacity of creating unimaginable values and transmitting and acting in accordance with them, without which human beings would be nothing more than the blind product of the laws of nature, full of instincts and impulses, which could never merit the qualification of people.”  Thus, ten percent of the GDP was devoted every year to education (compared to the U.S., which is only two percent), which is the highest in the world.  All education levels were made free for everyone and attendance from ages six to sixteen became mandatory.  Every factor in the education system was taken into account so that it became almost an impossibility for illiteracy to exist.

The schools consist of different levels just like in many countries: primary school for six years, then basic secondary school for another two years after that.  At the end of basic secondary school, the students can choose one of two different tracks available: pre-university or technical depending on whether a student wants to attend the university or attend a technical school upon graduation.  However, only those who complete the pre university track receive a bachillerato, or high school diploma.  The students who then attend technical school can graduate within two and a half to three, while the students who study at the university will work for four to five years to attain their licenciatura (Bachelor’s degree).  From there, a Master’s degree can be obtained after two more years of work, including two hundred hours of theoretical instruction, internship, and a final project.  The second level of a Master’s Degree (diplomado), is called the maestría, which entails two more years of in depth research and study.  However, it is also possible to continue some licenciaturas with the award of candidato a doctor en ciencias, which is an awarded certificate allowing the student to begin the doctoral process, which includes additional years of research, resulting in a thesis that must be proven before a jury.
The reasons that allow this system to produce some of the most highly educated individuals in the world are many.  These include: the importance of education in the society and government, parents’ support in the home, the teachers’ roles in and out of the classroom, high quality materials and curriculum, monthly evaluations of teachers and schools by the government, constant educational advancement of the teachers, the 12:1 student to teacher ratio, the 1:1 student to teacher ratio for disabled children, a 2.3% drop-out rate, highest standardized test scores in Latin America, free schooling for all at every level, education programs for the urban sectors, technical schools for all to gain skills, and reading centers for those who are no longer in school to become literate.  These factors have led to the fact that 98% of the country is literate.

The schools are extremely regulated and maintained by visits from the government each month, while the teachers have a collaborative meeting once a week to discuss problems they have encountered, ways to help improve the situation, and progress of previous problems, as well as the discussion of how to improve the school as a whole.  The students attend school nine months out of the year from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm with a two-hour break half-way through the day.  After school, they attend a “workshop” for two hours every day and for three hours on the weekend.  This program focuses on using the curriculum learned during class and applying it to real life situations, such as writing plays and compositions, writing music, etc.

The government regulates the curriculums that are covered in the classroom.  These include history of the revolution, math, literature, science, and the arts.  Many government associations and agencies visit the classroom and evaluate the teacher during every month to verify that the teacher is covering all of these subjects adequately, most importantly to ascertain that love for Cuba and communism is being instilled in the children.

Not only is education instilled in the classroom, it is instilled in the home as well.  The parents are extremely concerned about the education of their children and can even attend centers where they learn the latest techniques for tutoring their children with their schoolwork.  The teachers make certain that they are involved with the community and know each child and their parents on a personal level.  Education seems to be interwoven into all parts of a child’s, parent’s, and almost everyone else’s life, whether they are in school or not.  The value of education has almost top priority, just under eating and sleeping, if not even more important.  A video I watched on YouTube was a particularly good example of this.  A woman had come to donate school supplies and small bags of M & M’s to the children at a school in Cuba.  When asked if they were happy to receive the chocolate, they said yes, but they liked the pencils and notebooks moreso.

During our adventure in Cuba, I hope to see if all the information I have found is actually true, and to what degree.  Are 98% of the populace truly literate?  Do they have past a third grade education or have they had at least ten years of schooling?  I expect that many of these facts are true, but I will simply have to wait and find out!  I believe that I will be incredibly surprised since, after all, Cuba is anything but predictable.

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