Cuba’s education system is a global leader in the realm of publicly funded education: It contributes 7% of its gross domestic product (GDP) to education, allowing it to be fully state subsidised from primary school to university, while enjoying some of the highest teaching standards in Latin America. Dan Domenech, Executive Director of the School Superintendents Association (AASA) stated that “Cuba’s education system might as well be considered the ultimate wrap-around institution for children”.

How has Cuba created such as system and can it be replicated?

 

The Cuban education system

Cuban education starts from the age of 1 at a preschool, in both formal and informal settings, which includes education from a number of local experts, including tuition from families or family members who are trained in various professions to give children a wide range of experience, as well as more formal teaching in a classroom setting.

Primary school is from grades 1 - 6 and consists of exposing students to different subjects, including art and drama, and trying to forge a strong bond between family and state. Next comes the basic secondary schools, from grades 7 - 9, which largely focus on general education and practical skills.

Grade 9 constitutes the end of mandatory education: From here, students decide whether they wish to choose a polytechnic or academic route in their education or pursue a career-based option. This sees them continue to a pre-college school, to educate them in their preferred field of study, or enter a technical school, where they are educated as a mid level technician in their chosen field.

Cuba’s education curricula is primarily based around education on loyalty to the state: There is an increasing focus on political education, with recent reforms mandating a closer allegiance to the state. Additionally, there has been a push towards a more technical education, which seems to be a trend in Latin America, addressing the dearth of technical workers in Cuba.

 

In pursuit of universal education: Quality or quantity

Universities are plentiful, with Cuba being home to more than 60 to choose from. However, none of these breach the top 50 universities in Latin America, which may indicate a quantity over quality approach. Indeed, this ensures Cuba’s policy of guaranteeing everyone is tutored that wishes to be; but not necessarily ensuring good quality.

Indeed, the policy of ensuring universal education may have required a sacrifice in the quality of education facilities, with some classrooms being based in disused garages, poor internet infrastructure across the island, and many teachers having to make do with fewer than adequate government sanctioned textbooks.

 

The role of quality teachers and literacy campaign in education outcomes

Even so, less than adequate facilities do not necessarily imply inadequate educational outcomes: Cuba’s students in the worst state schools test similarly on most academic tests as some of the best private schools elsewhere in Latin America. This is attributed to an emphasis on teacher quality, receiving education from a young age, consistent teacher training and assistance, and a strong national curriculum, which is lacking in many other states.

Overall, Cuba has one of the lowest illiteracy rates in the Caribbean, with barely 0.5% of the population being illiterate. The country has implemented multiple literacy campaigns: For example, their 1961 literacy campaign mobilised 280,000 social workers. Within a year, 700,000 people who were previously illiterate received educational support.

 

Education: A human capital asset

Today around 7% of the population has a university education, the average level of education is around 9th grade, and enrolment levels in university are about 68%. Many other nations have looked to Cuba’s education approach for inspiration. For example, the teaching method of “Yo si pedo” (Yes I can), has been used in 28 different countries and 14 languages to educate 3.5 million people to read and write.

Cuba’s education provision as a component of social protection has provided an impetus for concrete engagement with the international community. MEDICC is a non-profit organisation that works to enhance cooperation between Cuba and the United States (US) “to inform the quest for health equity and universal health worldwide”. This is achieved by publishing regular journals on the latest research by scholars from Cuba on medical inequity. Additionally, they assist US medical students and graduates of the Latin American school of medicine to return home and practice in areas of provider-shortage.

Such efforts are an example of an ever increasing interest in Cuba’s education and knowledge assets: Spanish speaking countries are pursuing cooperation with Cuba and there has been an increase in diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US – in recognition of the county’s human capital. This will likely reinforce and further incentivise Cuba’s approach to education and social protection.  

 

Strategic social protection

Cuba’s education system certainly has room for improvement in terms of its facilities and even its content. Even so, thanks to high teaching standards and well targeted education campaigns, it has produced one of the most literate and well educated populaces in the world. By ensuring education within its social protection system, Cuba has developed the human capital of the country, which has improved livelihoods, while inspiring engagement from the international community at large.

 

References:

AASA The School Superintendents Association. A Look at Cuba's Education System: High Literacy Rates, Free College Come at a Price. Accessible: https://learningfirst.org/blog/look-cubas-education-system-high-literacy-rates-free-college-come-price

ACEI-Global (2015). 15 facts on Cuba and its education system. Accessible: https://acei-global.blog/2015/01/08/15-facts-on-cuba-and-its-education-system/

Carnoy, Martin (2012). “Cuban Students Excel in Latin America”, The Phi Delta Kappan. Accessible: https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/41497534.pdf?ab_segments=0%2Fdefault-2%2Fcontrol&refreqid=search%3Ae1e59eaf0f70bcda2db73e9408f15128

Coe, G. et al. (2004). “The Children of Cuba”, YC Young Children. Accessible: https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/42729124.pdf?ab_segments=0%2Fdefault-2%2Fcontrol&refreqid=search%3Ae1e59eaf0f70bcda2db73e9408f15128 

Collins, S. et Al. Social Services in Cuba, National Association of Social Workers. Accessible: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.409.4625&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Cruz, G. (2017). “A Look at Cuba’s Education”, Questar II. Accessible: https://www.questar.org/2017/04/28/look-cuba-education-system/

Cuba News (July 2019). Spain wants more cooperation with Cuba in the education sector. Accessible: https://oncubanews.com/en/cuba/spain-wants-more-cooperation-with-cuba-in-education-sector/

Global Health Workforce alliance. Medical Educational Cooperation  with Cuba, Accessed 10/7/2019. Accessible: https://www.who.int/workforcealliance/members_partners/member_list/medicc/en/

Gomez. S Andy, et al. (2015). “How education shaped education in communist Cuba”, The Guardian. Accessible: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/02/how-education-shaped-communist-cuba/386192/

Kronenberg, C. (2015). “Why Cuba is an education success story and what it can teach Africa”, The Conversation. Accessible: https://theconversation.com/why-cuba-is-an-education-success-story-and-what-it-can-teach-africa-50211

Mandrapa, N. Education System of Cuba-Path to Success. Accessible: https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/education-system-of-cuba-path-to-success/

Marsh, S. et al. (2017). “U.N. rights expert praises Cuba social welfare system; hopes for more dialogue”, Reuters. Accessible: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-rights-idUSKBN17G1JK

MEDICC (2011). About. Accessible: http://medicc.org/ns/about/

Mesa-Lago, C. Social Protection Systems in Latin America and The Caribbean Cuba, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Accessible: https://repositorio.cepal.org/bitstream/handle/11362/4057/1/S2013094_en.pdf

Nedlcu, D. Q (2014). “Cuban Education between Revolution and reform”, International Journal of Cuban Studies. Accessible: https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/10.13169/intejcubastud.6.2.0205.pdf?ab_segments=0%2Fdefault-2%2Fcontrol&refreqid=search%3Ae1e59eaf0f70bcda2db73e9408f15128

Sabina, E.M. et al. (2009). “Thoughts in Cuba Education”, Latin American Perspectives. Accessible: https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/27648188.pdf?ab_segments=0%2Fdefault-2%2Fcontrol&refreqid=search%3Ae1e59eaf0f70bcda2db73e9408f15128

Scholaro, Pro. The Education System in Cuba. Accessible: https://www.scholaro.com/pro/countries/Cuba/Education-System

Spain Exchange. Education in Cuba. Accessible: https://www.studycountry.com/guide/CU-education.htm

 

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Labour market / employment programmes
    • Active labour market programmes / Productive inclusion
      • Public works programmes
        • Cash for work
        • Food for work
  • Social assistance
    • Subsidies
      • Service subsidies
        • Educational fee waiver
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Laws and Policies
  • Programme design
    • Benefits design
  • Programme implementation
    • Benefits payment / delivery
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Universal Social Protection
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Education
  • Human capital
Countries: 
  • Cuba
Regions: 
  • Latin America & Caribbean
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's