HAVANA, Cuba — When it comes to education, Cuba is the Finland of Latin America and the Caribbean. Although one of the poorest countries in the region, education in Cuba is incredibly good. Statistics from UNICEF show that Cuba has universal access to a free education and a youth literacy rate of 100 percent.
Education was, for a very long time, the main focus of the communist regime in the country. According to The Atlantic, at one point the percentage of Cuba’s total budget devoted to education was the world’s highest at 34 percent. The communist regime invested heavily in education because it was a tool in “the process of ideological transfer” and could create an educated population loyal to the regime and its leaders’ Marxist ideology.
Although there was free education for all (including at the university level) during Fidel Castro’s long stay in power, access to education was dependent on the prospective student being able to show his loyalty to the regime and his commitment to the communist ideology. This requirement is what the Academic Exchange Blog calls “political clearance” and is likely to soon disappear, as Cuba seems to be moving in the direction of democracy and greater freedom of expression. With such political changes education in Cuba has to evolve as well to reflect a new world order.
Even if access to education during the communist regime was dependent upon conformity with the state, the education system established under communism left Cuba well-prepared to face the future.
Academic Exchange claims that today Cuba continues to invest a vast 13 percent of its national budget in education and education is still 100 percent subsidized by the government, allowing “all students at all levels to attend school for free.” Education in Cuba has also been praised by the World Bank for having the highest-level teaching faculty in all of Latin America and the Caribbean. With well-prepared teachers and the lowest student-to-teacher ratio in the region, things bode well for Cuban students.
The Novak Djokovik Foundation (NDF), working “for every child to have equal access to a quality preschool education” is extremely impressed with the state of education in Cuba. The foundation claims that “primary school gross enrollment is close to 100 percent” and 98.2 percent of Cubans continue studying after completing their primary education. Education in Cuba is so good, they say, that they seemed to have thought of everything. No matter where the students live, what their parents do or any disabilities they might have, each child can access the education system.
As an example of how devoted the Cuban government is to providing an education for absolutely everyone, the NDF cites that “the Cuban educational system offers a scholarship plan that guarantees accommodation and food throughout the school year” to those who would find it too difficult to commute to school. Furthermore, there are “mobile teachers” that travel to children’s homes if they cannot attend school due to sickness or disability.
Beyond achieving universal access to education, Cuba has taken big steps towards innovating teaching and learning. The school day is packed with activities like art, sports and music that help enrich the children’s experience and expand future opportunities. Schools also ensure that there are no overweight or undernourished children in school by providing all students with free, healthy and balanced school lunches. This all means that children can make the best use of education in Cuba because they are mentally and physically prepared for learning.
– Christina Egerstrom