After the Cuban Revolution, the new government placed the reconstruction of the education system as a top priority. Five key objectives were devised and used to frame Cuba’s educational system. Elementary school became mandated and available for all children. Many children who lived in poverty were now able to acquire an education for free providing them with an opportunity that eluded them before the revolution.
Following the basic restructuring and reopening of Cuban schools, the new government focused on the huge literacy problem. By April 1959, 817 literacy centers were opened and, to further reach out to all, teens and other volunteers were sent out to the countryside to teach their fellow Cubans how to read. The Literacy Campaign served two purposes: First, to educate every Cuban and teach them to read; then, to give those who live in the city a chance to experience rural living. In a short time Cuba’s new government made vast changes to the education system, and by 2000, 97% of Cubans ages 15–24 were literate. Literacy provided poor uneducated Cubans a better standing in the country and the world. Education was vital to the new government. The leaders believed that for Cuba to be strong and for citizens to be active participants in society, they must be educated.
The continuance of a long-term U.S. blockade against Cuba makes the Cubans’ achievements more impressive. For the past sixty years, education has been a top priority for the Cuban government. Cuba maintains education spending at 10% of GNP, twice the spending levels than its more wealthy neighbors.
AND HERE IS WHERE IT ALL STARTED
The Cuban Literacy Campaign was a year-long effort to abolish illiteracy in Cuba after the Cuban Revolution. It began on January 1, and ended on December 22, 1961, becoming the world’s most ambitious and organized literacy campaign.
Before 1959 the official literacy rate for Cuba was between 60% and 76%, largely because of lack of education access in rural areas and a lack of instructors. As a result, the Cuban government of Fidel Castro, at Che Guevara’s behest dubbed 1961 the “year of education” and sent “literacy brigades” out into the countryside to construct schools, train new educators, and teach the predominantly illiterate guajiros (peasants) to read and write. The campaign was “a remarkable success.” By its completion, 707,212 adults were taught to read and write, raising the national literacy rate to 96%.
Literacy Brigade Volunteers
In 2011, producer and director Catherine Murphy released the 33-minute documentary Maestra (link) about the Cuban Literacy Campaign. The film includes interviews with volunteers who taught during the campaign and archival footage from 1961.
Watch this 8 minute film highlighting the most meaningful time in these young peoples’ lives as they gave a part of their lives to educating the uneducated.
An inspiring video. (additional videos on Cuban education follow)
Higher Education in Cuba
University education is free to all students in Cuba. The education provided at these universities in Cuba is of a high standard and the teachers are often Doctorate degree holders. Many students from other countries come to receive their further education in Cuba due to the cheaper costs and good standards of education on offer. University graduates in Cuba are expected to serve two years community service in the discipline in which they received their education, usually in poor rural communities in Cuba, and for a very low wage, after which they may continue or branch out.
All higher education institutions are public. The University of Havana, Cuba’s oldest University, was founded in 1728.
Primary Education in Cuba
Cuba’s preschool educational structure enrolls about 145,000 students from age 6 months to 5 years. The curriculum is based on the child’s age; it emphasizes group play; seeks to assure the physical, intellectual, moral, and aesthetic development of the child; and establishes the basis for future learning.
Jose Marti, the Peoples National Hero. His statue is found at all primary schools.
Cuban Schoolchildren in a Rural Classroom.
The number of teachers has fluctuated during the last 60 years, but the pupil-teacher ratio has continually decreased during the period. From grades one through four, classes are 30 minutes in duration. The curriculum focuses on Spanish language (reading, writing, and oral expression) and mathematics. These two subjects together account for 57 percent of classroom time. Scientific approach, life training, economics, labour, artistic topics, and physical education are other subjects. A new topic was introduced in the mid-1990s, the “World in Which We Live”—a blend of natural and social ecology, health, and morality (Ministry of Education 1996). The curriculum emphasizes basic education, productive activity, and social benefit and responsibility. Classroom learning is often integrated with basic skills, such as gardening, pruning, wood and metal crafts, and handicrafts. The boundary between classroom and practical learning is blurred into a holistic learning environment. In grades five and six, classes include Cuban history, natural science, geography, aesthetics, civil education (to convey political, ideological, moral, and judicial information), economics, and labour education, which is an initial linkage of classroom learning to productive work. The behavioral goal is to encourage independent working habits and cooperative learning skills. The students are again expected to demonstrate competence in each discipline. All students must complete the sixth grade, and those who fail may retake examinations. Less than 1.0 percent of students drop out of primary education, and 98.2 percent continue their studies after the sixth grade (Ministry of Education 1996).
Special education is a sub-system of the primary schools designed to provide appropriate training and instruction to develop the intellectual and vocational abilities of “special needs” children. These children are initially evaluated by specialists in one of Cuba’s Diagnosis and Guidance Centers that refer them to an appropriate school. There are schools providing specialized instruction for students with mental disabilities, blindness, visual handicaps, amblyopic, physical disabilities, deafness, speech impediments, behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, and language disorders. Often these schools have relationships with local schools which allows for mainstreaming of students where appropriate.
Latin American Medical School (ELAM)
See the story of ELAM, the largest medical school in the world, training students from around the world, under the HEALTHCARE web site heading.
Education – Is a Human Right
Free education is a universal right up to and including higher education. “Mobile teachers” are deployed to homes if children are unable to attend school. Many schools provide free morning and after-school care for working parents who have no extended family. It is free to train to be a doctor in Cuba. There are 22 medical schools in Cuba, up from only 3 in 1959 before the Cuban Revolution.