Cuban Schools

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Schools achieve outstanding results,despite Cuba has endured the longest trade embargo in modern history, one that was enacted during the American John F. Kennedy's administration of the 1960s and remains intact today. Not being able to trade with the biggest economy in the world, especially when it so close to home, has isolated the island nation to a large extent. Thus, Cuba is still a developing economy.

However, the education system is a surprise success, being of an outstanding quality. While most first world countries throw money at under-performing schools, Cuba's leaders got to the source of the issue, going straight to all the people in the country and providing them with accessible and free primary, secondary, and higher educational opportunities.

Comparison with Latin American Countries

cuban schools - school children

Comparing the schools to those of countries in the vicinity with similarly sized economies and resources, one finds that Cuban students regularly outperform students from other countries. In 1998, a prominent UNESCO report showed that Cuban students scored far better than students in neighboring countries. For example, third and fourth graders in the schools achieved a score of 350 points on language and mathematics exams, 100 marks above the regional average.

Furthermore, the report showed that the lower half of Cuban students performed better than the upper half of students in other nations in South and Central America. This report was especially impressive because the criteria and guidelines were agreed upon by all participating countries before the exams took place, and at the time of the exams, the country was in a recession. This particular research piece was solid evidence of Cuba's superb system of schools.

Background and Origin

Cuba education - Cuban schools

In the late 1950s, Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara led their revolutionary forces from the coast through the mountains and down to the capital city of Havana, effectively overthrowing the dictatorship of Batista. When Castro came to power, he initiated several sweeping reforms. Included in these was a Cuban school reform. Castro and Guevara believed that everyone in the country should have access to government-sponsored education. Additionally, the literacy rate was poor, with 22% being classified as illiterate, and 60% being listed as being semi illiterate, possessing the education of a third grader.

By spring of 1959, over 800 literacy centers had been set up throughout the country. The Literacy Campaign educated each and every Cuban citizen, giving them the means and knowledge to read and write. Also, the educators from the cities got a chance to go out and experience the lifestyle in the countryside. This effort brought people closer together, it also increased literacy to a rate higher than 98% in just 2 years.

Specialized Areas of Expertise

The new government also nationalized all colleges and universities, making them free for all who wanted to continue their educations. Now, Cubans could complete their high school and go on to be trained in a specialized area, helping them obtain a professional job. Additionally, some specialized schools began to take shape. During the revolution, Fidel Castro personally invited renowned ballet dancer Alicia Alonso to return to Cuba to direct a new dance company and school, becoming the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. In modern times, the school is the largest ballet school in the world and offers superb, internationally recognized training in ballet dance.

How Do They Do It?

When educators from other countries tour schools on the island, they are impressed at the high level of excellence at each and every institution. In 2000, the World Bank produced an analysis of the education system in Cuba and thought that it was excellent due to several things.

  • An extensive, free network of schools for children and adults
  • A high level of attention to teachers
  • Low-cost materials of high quality
  • Non-discriminatory in its offerings, especially for rural and special needs students
  • A teacher to student ratio around 1 to 13

During the past 50 years, the government transformed the educational system from a semi-private one to one controlled by the government. It reached out to all Cubans, even in the most remote parts of the island. Despite the decades of economic issues, this system has outperformed those in neighboring countries and continues to showcase the talents of the students.

Further Information

Higher education in Cuba Havana University

Other sources of information include a 2007 report from UNICEF and a piece in the New York Times entitled, Cuba Leads Latin America in Primary Education, Study Finds.


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