Special Education in Cuba

Elio Delgado Legon

Foto: cadenagramonte.cu

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.


Elio Delgado Legon

Elio Delgado-Legon: I am a Cuban who has lived for 80 years, therefore I know full well how life was before the revolution, having experienced it directly and indirectly. As a result, it hurts me to read so many aspersions cast upon a government that fights tooth and nail to provide us a better life. If it hasn’t fully been able to do so, this is because of the many obstacles that have been put in its way.

15 thoughts on “Special Education in Cuba

  • June 6, 2019 at 11:20 pm

    It’s an interesting question Moses. My wife spends many hours at our home during the evenings and weekends with students for which she never makes a charge. There seems to be almost a custom of students giving a gift prior to the end of their final term at school to teachers who have assisted them in such ways – usually in the form of some form of food. I had never thought of that as any form of corruption, as there is no subsequent benefit. I associate corruption with the expectancy of a subsequent benefit.
    We have a young lawyer in the family, and she too has received gifts from some of those she has successfully defended. I guess that it is almost an obligatory custom.
    As a side issue, following the initial prognosis of the cancer of Hugo Chavez and subsequent surgery, Chavez gave the surgeon – who being in Cuba did not make a charge, a car. If that was corruption, it didn’t work very well, as he returned later for further surgery which we all know was unsuccessful.
    I don’t know whether such “customs” exist in other Latin American countries or whether it is peculiar to Cuba.

  • June 5, 2019 at 3:38 pm

    I dare say that the Daily doctor in your example likely did not have to sell that toddy glass to buy chicken on the black market for his family to eat. My friend Alexi, as decent a man as they come in Cuba, sold the sugar I gave him in the guagua on his way home. Corruption may not be the right word….

  • June 4, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    Good of you Moses to try to be a peace maker. Opinion upon whether Cuba is a “Third World” country depends upon ones view of its development. Is it a “developed” country or is it “developing”? I would agree that it is locked in a time warp, but that is a choice. If it is not “developed” what is missing that prevents it being described as such?
    I recall incidents of my childhood in the UK, a family drinking their tea out of old jam jars, an ill woman in Strathdon, whose hair was frozen to her pillow, eight children sharing a bath of cold water in January near Keith in Banffshire, a woman chasing her naked child along a street in Footdee, Aberdeen uttering threats of punishment if and when she caught him. Those in a country that had four universities when England had but two. I have walked on farms in Saskatchewan, Canada where the remnants of those turf houses built in the 20th century, to which I referred previously were still there and which were less adequate than mud huts I have seen in African “developing” countries. But there is no comparison between those African developing countries and Cuba. Cuba is centuries ahead of them.
    Finally, when after a prolonged illness lasting over four years a person very dear to me died, I gave the family doctor (graduate of Glasgow University) an antique Scottish toddy glass – of much more value than 5lbs of sugar – and he accepted it. Corruption?

  • June 4, 2019 at 11:38 am

    Carlyle, I think that you are both right about Cuban doctors. They are corrupt…by Canadian or US standards. My personal physician here in the United States would at best be offended if I offered him 5 lbs of sugar at the end of my visit with him. My best friend in Cuba, Alexi, a Cuban doctor would NEVER ask me for anything after an examination but it is simply understood that a token of my appreciation, like a 5 lb bag of sugar, would be gladly accepted. Is it corruption to expect and accept that sugar? Depends on perspective. My friend Alexi has been on mission to Angola and is a department head at his hospital. He is earning as much as a Cuban doctor can earn in Cuba. He is very talented as a physician and very proud. He is a strong Fidelista. He often comments that given his poor agricultural upbringing outside of Guantanamo, but for the Revolution, there would have been no way his family could have paid for his education. Nonetheless, Martin is correct. As good a Doctor as he is, he is not as well-informed as my internist here in San Francisco. Cuba is third world my friend. Despite glimpses of first world sophistication here and there, even in the wealthy Havana enclave of Santa Fe where most of the “historicos” have homes, there are still electrical blackouts and poor water pressure. Remnants of the 3rd world persist.

  • June 4, 2019 at 11:17 am

    Obviously you have never needed to receive medical treatment in a Cuban hospital nor have you sent your children to school in a Cuban elementary school.

  • June 3, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    If your sole interest Martin is in trying to insult, you are a dismal failure. It was the Professor of Philosophy of my university, who in the course of the Scottish Enlightenment introduced the phrase: “common sense” later used by Thomas Paine in the US.
    You should try and pursue it!
    Sorry that your professional pride (or conceit) compels you to condemn Cuba’s medical practitioners, so my advice to you, is don’t use them, stay away and be safe in your cocoon.
    Your comment about money being the essential for a good medical system, discloses your dependence upon it rather than necessary professional skill. Yes, the Cuban medical system is short of money – which only serves to illustrate the skills of the medical staff.

  • June 2, 2019 at 4:32 pm

    I have had the great good fortune to have travelled widely in this little old world of ours. I was most pleasantly waylaid in Canada for a few years when I was a much younger man.
    Reading about you Canadians disagreeing amongst yourselves makes me yearn for those late night drinks I used to go for in the very fine little old Canadian establishment which was my local watering hole during that era of my life.

    Apart from that, I can say that I have a young family member who is a special needs kid in Havana, Cuba. He would have been left to his own devices in certain parts of the world reliant on family who have no expertise regarding his specific needs.
    Cuba has many shortcomings but this lad, who is so very dear to me, is lucky that Cuba’s educational system caters for those with his particular needs.
    I was impressed by this when he first started school (I recall walking down the road holding his little hand on the way back from school back then) and I remain impressed today now that he is a teenager slightly taller than me……
    I shall always remain most grateful for the commendable quality of his care and schooling and for the kindness, attentiveness and professionalism of his carers and teachers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *