Elio Delgado Legon
HAVANA TIMES – I have never forgotten, nor will I ever forget the two people who used to live near my home, in the rural area I lived when I was 7-12 years old.
I never learned what their names were, neither did they. They were the mute boy and girl to all of us, a brother and a sister who were born deaf and didn’t have the opportunity to go to school and learn how to write and communicate, just because special education didn’t exist back then, and normal education was scarce and insufficient too.
Before 1959, there were only eight institutions which used to take in 134 children with special needs, and they were all sponsored by private individuals or patrons. However, special education didn’t exist in the public education system, so every center was governed by their directors’ educational criteria.
After the Cuban Revolution triumphed in 1959, Special Education began to be structured into the national education system, which was created for every child in the country, without any discrimination, including those children who needed special attention because they had a physical or mental handicap.
The Department of Differentiated Instruction was founded in the 1960s, and with it began the training of special ed teachers. It also drew up study plans and programs and created over 50 special education schools across the country, in order to cater for every child with special learning needs. It also created diagnosis and guidance centers in order to assess and place children who needed special education.
Organizational measures were gradually taken, including a new name for the department which is now the Department of Special Education, a defectology school was created and teachers/therapists were trained to work in these special education schools. Teachers were also sent to study in several socialist countries in Europe, to gain degrees in the different branches of defectology.
In the 1970s, the Special Education Directorate was founded. Between 1976 and 1980, 140 schools were built and enrolments went up to over 33,000 students. Special education schools were built afterwards and the total number went up to 48, including the the Solidaridad con Panama school, for children with physical/motor special needs. Two more were created in 2019, one in Santiago de Cuba for the eastern provinces and another in Santa Clara for the middle of the country.
Some figures can give us a better idea about the development of Special education in Cuba, from the Revolution’s triumph in 1959 up until the present day, as it would be too much to write everything that was done in order to achieve what we can say is one of the most noble and optimistic ideas Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution had.
From eight schools in 1959, which 134 students attended, with 20 teachers, today Cuba has 357 schools, which teach 35,600 students, with 15,278 special needs teachers.
The education system also has 608 mobile teachers to teach 1,651 children, who can’t go to school because of their disability. Plus, 560 special rooms have been created at day-care centers or at special education schools. At regular schools, 12,172 students receive special attention, at different levels of education: primary, high school, pre-university, technical and professional colleges.
Like all education in Cuba, special education never sits still, it continues to develop and become more fine-tuned so that never again will a child, teenager or young person end up marginalized from society because they have certain disabilities. Cuban sign language was created for the deaf, so that there will never again be a young person, in any corner of our country, who people refer to as the mute because they don’t know their name.