Education in Cuba

Education in Cuba has been a highly ranked system for many years. The University of Havana was founded in 1727 and there are a number of other well-established colleges and universities. Following the 1959 revolution, the Castro administration nationalized all educational institutions, and created a system operated entirely by the government. Strong ideological content is present, with the constitution stating that educational and cultural policy is based on Marxist ideology. Education expenditures continue to receive high priority.

Cuba was colonized by Spain from the early 16th century until 1898, when the island was ceded to the United States following the Spanish-American War. The University of Havana, founded in 1728, is the oldest university in Cuba and one of the oldest in the American continent.

In 1900 Cuba had a literacy rate of 36.1% to 42% depending on the source, one of the highest among developing countries. By the early 1900s Cuba had a strong education system, but it was only attended by half of the country's children. Schools were not accessible to the poorest Cubans and this resulted in a low literacy rate for rural areas compared to the cities. Before 1959, of the Cubans over the age of 15 years, 22% were found to be illiterate and 60% of the country was found to be semi-illiterate because many rural Cubans had a third-grade education or less.

Public Education in Cuba has always been free. After passing the required entrance examination to your particular course of study, even attendance at the University of Havana was tuition free, except for the cost of your books. After the Cuban Revolution, the new government placed the reconstruction of the education system along Marxist ideological lines as a top priority. Five key objectives were devised and used to frame Cuba's educational system. Many children who lived in distant rural areas mwere now able to acquire an education provided them by visiting teachers.

Following the basic restructuring and reopening of Cuban schools, the new government focused on the literacy problem, which they falsely claimed to be huge. By April 1959, 817 literacy centers were opened and, to further reach out to all, teens and other young adults were conscripted and sent out to the countryside to teach their fellow Cubans how to read. The Literacy Campaign served two purposes: first, to indoctrinate every Cuban along Marxist ideologies, and to use reading as the platform for this indoctrination. 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, closely mimicking pre revolution numbers in the major cities . Literacy provided poor uneducated Cubans a better standing in the country and the world. Education and indoctrination 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 into the Marxist socialist policies of the new government .

Private universities were nationalized, without reimbursement to the owners, along with private schools in 1961.

Female participation
The Cuban Revolution in 1959 brought lots of changes to the country, especially for women. "Before the Revolution many women lived as housewives and for those who needed to work there were very few choices." Many women in rural areas worked in agriculture and for women in the city working as a maid or prostitute were the only choices. The Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) was founded in August 1960 with a clear goal to involve all women in Cuban affairs. After years of being excluded, the women of Cuba began to play an active role in the government. The FMC wanted to see women involved with the social, political, economical and cultural issues Cuba faced. This required that schools and programs be built to provide multiple services to Cuban women.

The Literacy Campaign was created to increase Cuba's literacy rate and to initiate communication between the countryside and cities. Students and volunteers went to rural areas to teach people to read and provide information on current Cuban politics. Rural women received schooling and job training if they chose to receive it, which allowed them to work outside of agriculture. For women working as prostitutes in the cities the new government created programs to reeducate them once prostitution became illegal in 1961. Separate but similar programs were created for maids, offering schooling and job training along with free daycare and housing, which allowed the women full opportunity to rebuild their lives. Healthcare was provided focusing on the mental health of Cuban women that had previously been oppressed in the work place. Skills to build confidence and pride were taught because the new government believed that all women deserved dignity. The Cuban Revolution brought about drastic change for women allowing them to become very active in their own country, which is what many in the revolution hoped for.

Level of achievement
A 1998 study by UNESCO reported that Cuban students showed a high level of educational achievement. Cuban third and fourth graders scored 350 points, 100 points above the regional average in tests of basic language and mathematics skills. The report indicated that the test achievement of the lower half of students in Cuba was significantly higher than the test achievement of the upper half of students in other Central and South American countries in the study group.

The 1998 study by UNESCO was particularly impressive, because for the first time all of the countries in the study had agreed on the indicators and procedures in advance. Also, the study was taken during the height of an economic depression; Cuba's economic development has been severely restricted by the U.S. trade embargo. Cuba is one of the poorest countries in the region and lacks basic resources yet still leads Latin America in primary education in terms of standardized testing.

The facts of a relatively poor economy and a long-term continuous blockade on trade makes the Cubans' achievements more impressive. For the past forty years, education has been a top priority for the Cuban government. Cuba maintains twice the amount of public spending on education as its more wealthy neighbors, at 10% of GNP.

Cuba shows how important education is by keeping a student to teacher ratio of 12 to 1, which is approximately half of the Latin American average. In addition, the youth illiteracy rate in Cuba is close to zero, a figure unmatched by all other Latin American countries. Cuban schools are closely integrated with the community. Teachers are very active in the communities of the children that attend their schools, and build strong relationships with parents and families to enhance the learning process. It has been demonstrated that there is a strong commitment to the educational sector on the part of the government. Equal opportunity for a high quality education for all students is one of the key factors that explains that the Cuban educational success is not a miracle or an accident, but the result of many years of concerted efforts and commitments, by the government to its people.

Primary and secondary education
School attendance is compulsory from ages 6 to 15 or 16 (end of basic secondary education) and all students, regardless of age or sex, wear school uniforms with the color denoting grade level. Primary education lasts for six years. It consists of grades 1 through 6. Secondary education is divided into basic secondary education and pre-university secondary education. The curriculum in primary and secondary schools is based upon principles of "hard work, self-discipline and love of country". The primary-school curriculum includes dance and gardening, lessons on health and hygiene, and Cuban revolutionary history. At the end of basic secondary education, pupils can choose between pre-university education and technical and professional education. Those who complete pre-university education are awarded the Bachillerato. Technical training leads to two levels of qualification - skilled worker and middle-level technician. Successful completion of this cycle gives access to the technological institutes.

As of the 2010s, however, the lingering economic crisis, emigration, and teachers' meager salaries have led to a critical shortage of educators in primary and secondary schools throughout the island, with schools severely understaffed. Private remedial instruction is on the rise, as are private schools that teach English and other supplemental skills.

International students
Foreign students must hold a Bachelor's or an equivalent degree, have a visa and follow compulsory Spanish classes. Preparatory facilities offer courses in Spanish. During the 2000-01 school year Cuba allowed 905 U.S. students to visit and study. In 1999 a program was implemented to attract students to study medicine in Cuba from less privileged backgrounds in the United States, Britain and Latin American, Caribbean, and African nations. Cuba currently hosts 3432 medical students from 23 nations studying in Havana.

However, Cuba has also provided state subsidized education to foreign nationals under specific programs, including U.S. students who are trained as doctors at the Latin American School of Medicine. The program provides for full scholarships, including accommodation, and its graduates are meant to return to the US to offer low-cost healthcare.

Educational cooperation
In 2006 Venezuela and Cuba began jointly sponsoring education programs in El Palomar, Bolivia. Cuba also maintains close co-operation on education with the United Kingdom and other nations in the European Union. In 2002 the Minister for Education in the Welsh Assembly Government Jane Davidson and representatives of the Universities of Swansea and Glamorgan in Wales visited Cuba to create provisions for officials in Britain and Cuba to liaise over educational projects. In the United States, the Cuban and Caribbean Studies Institute, a part of Tulane University, has developed relations with Cuban counterpart organizations for the purposes of academic collaboration and exchange, curricular development, cultural exchange and international development and dialogue.