Since the revolution of the 1950’s the Cuban Government has worked hard at improving Cuban education standards in terms of a long-standing policy that made education the nation’s top priority. A recent UNICEF study reconfirmed that the island nation has one of the best education systems in the world – how did such a poor nation achieve this and what lessons may other nations learn. Let’s consider a few statistics first:
Approximately 25,000 new primary schools have been built in the past half century, including in the remotest and least populated rural areas.
These schools forward students to 2,100 secondary schools, 50 centers for advanced learning and 11 universities.
Education at all levels is free, although secondary students and university graduates are required to do community service in return. The rate of literacy has been rated 100%.
The average student-teacher ratio is 1:13 and the school retention rate approaches 100%. Close to 25,000 educators teach at higher level institutions and 10% of Cubans hold university degrees.
The program that achieved these results began in 1961 when the Cuban education authorities progressively escalated the minimum education level target from 6th through 9th to 12th grade. During this time secondary school and university students were formed into voluntary educational brigades who went out into rural areas on a part-time basis to teach peasants how to read and write. A similar outreach program encouraged workers to study at night school. By the end of 1961, 80% of children were being educated, compared to 40% in 1959.
While Cuban education may be free for all unfortunately Cuban pupils are still deprived the freedom to think for themselves. The principles of marxism remain high up on the curriculum and any form of religion is banned. As early as primary school a child’s cumulative school file is opened in which a record is kept of their revolutionary integration or otherwise. Blotting this copybook can have dire consequences for higher education and future careers.
The lesson of Cuban education history is not how to achieve results, but how not to. As George Bernard Shaw remarked, progress comes about because of unreasonable people who persist in adapting the world to how they believe that it should be. For as long as that principle is still denied in Cuba, then Cuban education is unlikely to change for years to come and will continue to be not really free.