Last week I participated in the Cuba Study Away program, which focused on comparing the Cuban and American education systems. W&M’s School of Education, AidData and the Charles Center sponsored the program. Cuba is a unique case study for education in Latin American. Cuba reportedly has a 99.8% literacy rate, one of the highest in Latin America. Cuban third- and fourth-graders have the highest test scores for language and mathematics across Latin America.
In 1961, Cuba underwent an intensive literacy campaign to eliminate illiteracy in Cuba. Allegedly, illiteracy was eradicated in one year.
While in Cuba, I had the opportunity to visit a primary and secondary school, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Ministry of Education, and the Museo Nacional de la Alfabetización (Museum of Literacy). There was very little transparency about the Cuban education system. We did not receive answers about test score measurement, equity issues, discrimination, teacher preparation programs and curriculum. Many critics say that the government’s monopoly on Cuba’s curriculum is a form of indoctrination. Cuba’s first grade textbooks have included the slogan “Study, Work, Refile.”
Our team visiting a primary school in Havana, Cuba.
Cuba stands at an interesting juncture. There are many tensions within the Cuban system: between economic growth and social well-being of the citizens, between the country’s socialist identity and the influence of globalization. Cuba’s economy is based on tourism. There are very little economic opportunities outside of the tourist industry. Today, young Cubans are choosing to be taxi drivers over doctors. In Cuba, you can make more money as a taxi driver than as a doctor.
A first grade classroom. All students are required to wear uniforms.
As globalization and consumerism continue to influence Cuba, the future landscape of Cuba’s primary school education is in question. Will Cuba be able to attract high-quality teachers when the tourism sectors offers higher salaries? Will the government be able to maintain the consistency of education policies in the absence of complete government control? When I visited Cuba, I thought I would have all of my questions answered about its education system. Instead, I have even more questions.
To learn more about W&M’s Study Away opportunities, visit the Charles Center website.