Cuban Education: A State Responsibility

Elio Delgado Legon

HAVANA TIMES — As I have said before, illiteracy was eradicated in Cuba in 1961 and the full responsibility for education was assumed by the state, which offers it free of charge at all levels and in all areas of instruction.

By law, all children must attend school until the ninth grade. At that level, they are offered every possibility for further study. They can continue in high school and then opt for studies at the university level, or they can enroll in a poly-technical school, which have different branches in mid-level training that allow work in their specialty once they graduate (what’s more, as workers they can continue studying at the university level).

According to the vocation of each pupil, there are also specialized schools at the elementary, intermediate and advanced stages in all fields of art and culture, such as those for music, painting, sculpture, dance, ballet, the performing arts, etc. This instruction ensures that no talent in any of these art forms goes ignored or disregarded.

The same goes for schools of sports and physical culture, which are open to all children who excel in sports and have the necessary skills to pursue a career in these fields, at both the mid-level and higher levels.

For education, the Cuban government spares no effort, and — despite the difficulties caused by the global economic crisis, exacerbated by the US blockade — schools are equipped with all the necessary audio-visual media, including computers with Internet access, to provide quality education.

In the most remote areas, where there’s no electricity, schools are equipped with solar panel systems to ensure the functioning of electrical and electronic equipment. Therefore, there’s no difference between the classes taught in these schools and those in cities.

For students who live in outlying areas and can’t commute daily to classes, the Cuban educational system offers a scholarship plan that guarantees accommodation and food throughout the school year; and in the cases of school levels in which students are required to wear uniforms, these too are provided for free.

Vocational senior high schools and the military schools maintain the boarding school system for all of those students.

Cuban education is organized as a system that begins with children’s daycare and continues through preschool, elementary, lower secondary, pre-university, technical, vocational and higher education. The latter is complemented by postgraduate education, where students can receive a master’s degree and a doctorate in science.

Cuban higher education currently consists of 68 centers, including universities and colleges.

One of the subsystems to which a great deal of attention is devoted owing to its humanitarian character, is special education, which serves children with disabilities such as mental retardation, delayed mental development, hearing and/or visual impairments, autism, language disorders, physical and motor-skill limitations, behavioral disorders, etc.

In this branch of education, many students are cared for in their homes and even in hospitals by itinerant teachers.

Cuba has one of the highest teacher-student ratios in the world, with one teacher for every 42 inhabitants. More than 400,000 people are employed in this sector and about seven percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) is devoted to education.

The quality of Cuban education — which, I repeat, is completely free — has been endorsed by UNESCO. This is to say that many years ago Cuba achieved what students in many countries are demanding in the streets, facing repression of troops using tear gas, water jets, beatings and arrests. Some have even died due to such acts of repression.

The achievements of the Cuban revolution in education aren’t talked about by the information transnationals or the press paid from the north – or by dissent bloggers. That’s another truth they try to silence, though it’s in plain view.


12 thoughts on “Cuban Education: A State Responsibility

  • An so, Moses, aren’t you ashamed of yourself for making victims of the well educated. It is, after all, the embargo and other US hostilities that is responsible. Something that you will deny. And, at the same time, you will insist that the embargo, which you say has no effect on Cuba, be maintained. Makes one go hmmmmm……

  • Incapable of counter-argument me, Moses chooses to change to topic – from ‘education’ to ‘workforce allocation’. Even so, telling a jobless engineer like me that in Cuba there are “Highly trained engineers selling ice cream to make a better living” is laughable. Even my university colleagues who are employed rarely do any engineering in their jobs – most of them work in sales or management.

  • Thanks, Michael for your memory of Cuban school days. I have only one memory of a young teacher – a supply teacher. She was really hot. I can’t remember the subject she taught but I certainly remember her figure! Sexuality aside, young teachers would certainly change class dynamics where in my school days, discipline was a major component of the school experience below tertiary level.

    Talking to teachers today, looking at the dysfunctional family situations all around me and the dysfunctional social mechanisms in train in so-called first world democracies, I suspect the teaching profession must be an impossible one these days, or so I have been told.

    Moses, of course, will tell us of every problem ever reported in Cuban schools. Presumably his Franchise has never set foot in an inner city public school in their country, or they choose not to tell us about it.

    What I vividly remember seeing in Cuba over and over again were children in crisp school uniforms on their way to school and back. In every other Latin American country that I have visited, the children you mostly encounter as a tourist are ones begging in the streets or selling chiclets for pesos., an unavoidable result of capitalism where, unlike in Cuba, begging is on display no matter where you go.

    I was also struck by the 100% literacy rate that is obvious when you visit Cuba. Everyone can read and write, an uncommon occurrence elsewhere including, shockingly, in the country the Moses Franchise lives in – number 45 on Wikipedia’s list of countries by literacy rate. And number one on the list? Cuba.

    Looking at the Franchise’s coloured ‘observations’ of Cuban schools:

    “The staff steal the food the government designates for the children. As a result, parents either send their children to school with bag lunches or bring something to the school for the kids to eat at midday.”

    Bag lunches are encouraged in schools here due to the proliferation of junk food on sale in school cafeterias. School lunches, of course, are free in Cuba. You see no starving children or morbidly obese ones that are a common sight in US and Canadian schools, the result of the relentless and shameless marketing of junk food to children by the marketing ‘profession’ here, something Cubans don’t have to deal with.

    This puts “staff” who “steal the food” in a different perspective – petty pilfering that has no impact on children’s lives.

    The Moses Franchise cites bathrooms that “are a disaster because of stolen fixtures and poor maintenance” – a common sight in poor communities in the US. Lifting the 50-year insane embargo would certainly improve matters but the Franchise does nothing to lobby its government for change, no doubt too busy writing its pathetic propaganda on this website.

    The Moses Franchise writes, “The books the children use are old and often outdated” – again, common in poor communities in the US, the ones that one in six Americans live in – over 15% of the population who are below the poverty line, more than 47 million people or four times the population of Cuba. So the Moses Franchise has four times more opportunity to see outdated books in their own country but choose to focus on outdated books in Cuba.

    The Moses Franchise writes that “The state of education in Cuba has diminished to levels “normal” for the rest of the world” – an interesting admission, but not backed up by independent observation. Check out the Wikipedia entry, ” Education in Cuba”.

    The Moses Franchise doesn’t like independent, peer-reviewed sources of information like Wikipedia. Propagandists never do.

  • Michael, it is common knowledge in the elementary schools in Havana that the staff steal the food the government designates for the children. As a result, parents either send their children to school with bag lunches or bring something to the school for the kids to eat at miday. The bathrooms are a disaster because of stolen fixtures and poor maintenance. The books the children use are old and often outdated. Finally, most, not all, the teachers are so poorly prepared and motivated to teach that actual learning is minimal. At the secondary level, tests and grades are purchased on a regular basis. The state of education in Cuba has diminished to levels “normal” for the rest of the world but certainly no longer reflect the idealistic plateau once achieved early in the revolution.

  • To return to the essence of Elio’s article, however, which is the Cuban education system, what so impressed me when I saw it first hand, over 40 years ago, was the integration between teachers and students. Many of the former were but a few years older than the latter. While their methods were laughable (for the most part, lecturing–even reading directly–out of lesson plan books, since many of their students had not even had previous formal educational opportunities, they are motivated to learn, earnestly taking notes on whatever their teachers said. What immage utterly sticks in my mind after all these years: during a break in classes (at a high school “school to the countryside” on the Isla de Pinos/Isla de Juventud, both teachers and students took a smoke break (!) together, amiably chatting to one another. At the time I had recently attended a high school where student smoking was strictly forbidden, where we had to sneak a smoke in the boy’s bathroom, and where those teachers who did smoke–and there were many in those days–had their own smoking lounge, where they would never think of permitting any of their charges to share their vice). It is difficult, however, for Revolutions to maintain this original enthusiasm (as revealed recently by Erasmo’s woeful experiences at the high school where he most recently taught). Also, as reflected in the alumni of the elite “La Lenin” prep school who now have Miami, New York, Madrid and Toronto addresses, that these schools teach the official ideology is no guarantee that its graduates will remain loyal to the Revolution–or that they even did so while attending!

  • I gues, Lawrence W., that “The Three Stooges” feel like they can accomplish more over here at HT than they can over at “Generacion Y,” where they’d be “preaching to the choir!” But you’ve articulated an essence about the HT, which differenciates it funamentally from “Generacion Y,” in that the contributors to HT want to improve the Revolution, want to make it more democratic and accountable to those in whose name it was made more than a half-century ago, whereas Joanni wants to replace it with a neo-librarlist system.

  • My, my, my, look at what we have here – three capitalist apparatchiks falling all over themselves to denigrate Cuba’s school system. Seems they don’t want it to be seen that Cubans excel at anything in case someone might think the 50-year embargo is something beyond absurd into outrageous. Only two countries supported it in the last UN vote – the US and Israel.

    But of course they are doing it for another more sinister reason, aren’t they? A comment was just posted to the HT “US Democratic Party Pays Homage to Cuban Dissident” article giving a link to a Wikileaks cable that reveals the role the US is playing in relation to Cubans critical of Cuban government policy. The cable is titled, “Paths to regime change”.

    It shows the US government, in promoting dissent, is looking for “critical mass to bring down the regime”. Most damningly it noted that one well-known dissident who recently died, Oswaldo Paya, “gets his cash quietly” from the US government. Bringing down the regime is not what HT writers sound like they are trying to do, only to make it workable.

    So we can naturally expect US government supporters like the Three Stooges here, to be attracted to websites like HT that offer a voice to dissent as golden opportunities, like flies going to dogshit. And that’s what we are seeing here.

    The Stooges missed it big time however. There’s certainly things needing changing as HT writers tell us, but education is one of the Cuban governments crowning achievements. Some folks just don’t know when to stop being agony aunts it seems. They become their own worst enemies.

  • Luis I do not disagree with the aim of your comment except to say that Cuban children don’t stay children. They grow up in the real world of falling buildings, balseros (rafters escaping Cuba), jineterism, and broken expectations. This acclaimed education then serves to intensify a heightened awareness of the huge difference between their learned potential and their inescapable reality. Highly trained engineers selling ice cream to make a better living. Surgeons who have to work as bartenders. Even teachers who prostitute themselves with tourists to make more money with one customer than they could earn in two months working in the classrom. This is the reality in Cuba. Here is the link to the study you noted:

  • I think Martin Carnoy’s study that led to the publication of his book, ‘Cuba’s Academic Advantage: Why Students in Cuba Do Better in School’ should be enough talk.

  • High literacy rates are great. Now if only the Cuban people had access to books, a free press and the internet they might have something to use their literacy on.

    Additionally, the country’s 99 percent literacy rate is a lot easier to come by when the nation considers a first to third grade reading level “literate.”

  • In Cuba education is part and parcel of the authoritarian control system. Education is in large par indoctrination.
    Children of dissidents are expelled from school or university. Even in primary school children of dissidents are harassed because of the political views of their parent.
    The regimes various “agencies” control access to university with – for example – letters from the CDR required to get a place in a good medical school.

    On Cuban education:

  • Elio writes “Cuba has one of the highest teacher-student ratios in the world, with one teacher for every 42 inhabitants.” The New York Times published an article in September 2009 ranking class size around the world. According to this report, Cuba is not among the top 30 countries in teacher-student ratio. It would be helpful if Elio would name his sources. I also assume that Elio is a few years out of school and therefore does not share the opinion most parents of Cuban schoolchildren share about their schools. He comments, “schools are equipped with all the necessary audio-visual media, including computers with Internet access, to provide quality education”. I challenge him to identify even one school in Havana that meets that description. During my time in Cuba, most of the schools I visited lacked fans, working toilets, and drinking fountains let alone computers with internet access. The computers I did see were 10 years old and used outdated software hardly usuable for 21st century learning. I am well aware of the strides made against illiteracy and towads universal education, but the times they are-a-changing and the quality and quantity of instruction in Cuba is diminishing dramatically. The easy culprit is the embargo but there are causes beyond the US policy which could and should be addressed. Elio’s post is misleading.

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