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.

  • June 2, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    1) The only thing I can conclude is that the fact that the universiteit you graduated from doesn’t say much about the knowledge or intelligence of their alumni.
    2) We all know very well that Cuban doctors take payments under the table. The fact that they didn’t ask you was probably because you are a foreigner. And what were your complaints? Not liver cancer or something serious I guess. The Cubans don’t even have enough money to have a good healthcare system!!!!
    3) You (hilarously) stated that Cuba couldn’t be a third world country because it has a longer history than for God’s sake Canada proving the point I made at 1).

  • June 2, 2019 at 11:36 am

    I do not retract or change a single word of my comment Martin. If as you suggest, “I know everything because I am married to a Cuban” has foundation, how do you ignore my own education in one of Britain’s top academic schools and a university founded in 1495?
    I deplore your smear about Cuban doctors being “notoriously corrupt”. I have used their services on several (I can count eight) occasions in three different cities including Trinidad and Havana, received excellent service and in our own town twice had my offer of payment rejected.
    As for your comment that “Cuba of all countries in the world has the least “ancient” civilization, I did not use the word “ancient” – that is your insertion and the statement is obviously not correct. Secondly, you have the freedom of speech to denigrate – but that as shown, does not add merit to your comments.

  • June 1, 2019 at 11:36 pm

    Elio Delgado Leon has good command of the English language if indeed his writings are his. I give him credit for not deserting his Homeland going through thick and thin in the process.

  • June 1, 2019 at 4:15 pm

    I highly doubt Mr. “I know everything because I am married to a Cuban” that the Cuban doctors are “very good”. Being a MD myself I can tell you that good education is essential to create skilled doctors and as we all know education in Cuba is of “very poor” quality to say the least. The education of MD’s in Cuba is no exception. They have no access to the newest equipment, no knowledge of the latest research and techniques and their best teachers fled the country in masses. I don’t doubt the intelligence of the Cuban doctors but I take a Canadian doctor over a Cuban in 100 % of the cases. Not only because of the fact that the Cuban doctors are notoriously corrupt, asking their patients to pay under the table if you need faster and better care. And yes, Cuba is a third world country! Age had nothing to do with that. The oldest civilisations are located maily in South America and the Middle East. In “third world” countries like Peru. They are way much older than Cuba which with a history of less than 600 years can’t even be to be considered as “old”. To the contratry, Cuba of all countries in the world has the least “ancient” civilisation.

  • May 31, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    Brad, Cuba is NOT a third world country. It’s European based history is much much longer than that of Canada – let me remind you that in the 20th century Canadians on the prairies were living in houses built of turf. The oldest house in the Americas (north and south) is in Santiago completed in 1517 and still standing there – complete! The City of Trinidad was established 505 years ago. There is a history of pursuit of the arts.
    Whereas you are correct about the deplorable conditions in Cuban hospitals (with the exception of the one shown to Barack Obama in Havana which only provides services to foreigners), that does not prevent the Cuban doctors and nurses from being very good – I know, I use them!
    As for Canadians getting sick, they ought to avoid drinking the tap water unless boiled and filtered and avoid over-imbibing of the third B of the package tour industry – the four B’s being Beach, Bed, Booze and Buffet!

  • May 31, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    If Cane Lee you are a disciple of communism, then your comment about education in Cuba may have merit. From 1976 until three months ago, the Constitution of Cuba declared the purpose of education to be:

    Article 39 (c)
    “The state promotes the patriotic and communist education of the new generations.”

    Is that Cane “this is how education is meant to be carried out and done.” ?

    Methinks you have read to much of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of Cuba (mis)information. Education and medical services in Canada are certainly superior to that in Cuba. I speak with some knowledge being married to the deputy principal of a pre-university school in Cuba with a couple of medical practitioners being closely related along with three teachers who have done contract educational work in Venezuela for the Cuban regime and having experienced the benefits of both UK and Canadian medical systems. The top medical and educational services in the US are possibly the best in the world – but the systems are of dubious merit. The US spends 17.2% of GDP on medical services – the highest figure in the world.
    These comments do not diminish my personal admiration for both doctors and teachers in Cuba who do a wonderful job in difficult circumstances. I know of their abilities and share their frustration about lack of support for their endeavors – unavailability of what most of us regard as “normal” drugs, and hospitals with broken windows, missing door handles and crumbling plaster. Teachers in finding difficulty in obtaining text books and at junior level having to use the propaganda books provided (see the photograph in my article upon Indoctrination). C is for Che etc.

  • May 31, 2019 at 8:49 am

    When Canadians get very sick they leave Cuba immediately if they can.
    The Cuban health care story is a communist myth by a poor third world country.

    Just read any of the numerous stories online about Canadians getting sick and the deplorable conditions in the Cuban hospitals.

  • May 30, 2019 at 7:57 am

    Cuba and the Cuban people are doing an excellent, excellent job in education, this is how education is meant to be carried out and done.. Same with health care, you guys are doing a great job In health care also.. the United states and Canada would be in awe. I still think there is some areas where Cuba needs to work on, but keep up the good work, and in the future the world is gonna see how special of a nation you are, and what a great job you have done.. sincerely cane..

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