Cuba is one of those countries that some like to criticize without actually knowing anything about it, especially the k12 education system. Many people that are critical do so because the news station they listen to, or the politicians they follow, also are critical and they don’t bother to check the facts. One major accomplishment that far outdistances most of Latin America is the Cuban Public School system, the K12 education system there boasts a 97% literacy rate for Cubans aged 15 to 24. Compare this to most of Latin America where nearly half of the students don’t attend school.
The Past History Of Cuban K12 Education System Was Bleak
In the early 1900s, the K12 education system in Cuba was similar to many poor countries throughout the region where only half of the eligible students attended at all, and then those that did had to travel long distances to the larger cities. Having an average of a third-grade education was normal at that time.
After the Cuban revolution, there was a strong priority placed on education throughout the entire country. Schools were built near even the smallest villages so there were no longer any excuses not to attend. At the same time, attending elementary school became the law of the land through age 16, and was strictly enforced on all levels.
After The Revolution, All Schools Were Nationalized
While this may sound like the wrong path to take for a country struggling with a poorly educated population, strict high standards were implemented at the same time. The school system developed a top-down management system similar to the military where no excuses for poor performance were accepted.
In the Cuban economic system, education took priority over all other branches of government. All students were accepted into schools regardless of race, religion, economic status or location. They’re were given free uniforms and two meals per day while attending school. Class sizes were reduced, starting above 25 and slowly worked towards 15, with the current teacher to student ratio standing at just 12 to 1.
After School Programs Were Instituted
As with most poor countries in Latin America, most Cubans had very few, if any, books in their homes. Even fewer had TVs, electricity, or even phones. This made studying and doing homework extremely difficult in most households in the country. So after school study programs were started that kept most schools open for 12 or more hours daily, staffed by volunteers from throughout the entire country.
This served a dual purpose in that many parents had jobs that kept them working long hours into the evening, so kids that were studying in school were also considered to be in daycare as well. Children that become ill or suffer from accidents and can’t attend school are put into a program where they can take advantage of special traveling teachers so they don’t miss out on their education while recuperating.
Nearly Every Student Graduates With A Profession
Most Latin America students that attend school will graduate from 6th grade with the equivalent of a 4th-grade education. This means they can barely read a newspaper, add or subtract, and there is very little else they can do.
On the other hand, Cuban children attend school many more hours per day than the Latin American average and they study a wider range of subjects too. The basic Cuban education will include dance, history, writing, reading, math, gardening, herbal medicine, music, and health.
Then, once students graduate from primary grade six and then another four in secondary school, they are either entered into a technical program that teaches them a skilled profession, or they are entered into a pre-university program.
In their pre-university studies, they continue to study a broad range of subjects in order to later enter one of the 47 universities in Cuba. Since the entire Cuban educational system is subsidized by the government, a university education is 100% free. Cuba also has the most medical schools per capita in the world at a staggering 27 on the island.
While the country of Cuba has been much maligned by many in the West, they have achieved a certain status second to none in the Latin American Community. Literacy is considered to be universal, with 100% of all children ages 6 to 16 attending school. Cuba has the lowest infant mortality rate in Latin America, universal access to safe drinking water and sewer, plus one of the longest life expectancies in the hemisphere as well.
Their health care system is second to none and entirely state sponsored with some of the best doctors on the planet. Suffice to say their k12 education system is working better than many countries that spend far more money. With the new travel opportunities opening for Americans to visit Cuba, it’s hoped that many visitors will take the time to understand what makes Cuba unique in the world both the good and the bad.