Cuba Ranks First In Education
Cubas president launches the
school year with a speech detailing significant progress in education;
delivered 8 September 2003 at the Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana.
Dear fellow Cubans:
Of all countries, big or small, rich or poor, Cuba ranks first
in the field of education. This was achieved setting out from a
situation where 30 percent of people of school age and older were
unable to read or write and 60 percent were functionally illiterate,
if we include young people and adults who had little knowledge or
education and who had not gone beyond the third or fourth grade
in an extremely inadequate primary education system.
There were not enough teachers to educate the millions of children
and adolescents. They had to be trained. There were no teachers
or schools for the overwhelming majority when they reached sixth
or ninth grade. We had to create them; a selfless vanguard of education
students who had completed tenth grade combined the tasks of studying
and teaching junior high. Later we had to do the same thing in senior
high school with those who had passed twelfth grade.
We created facilities to accommodate 50,000 mid-level students
At that time there were only three universities which offered a
small range of degree courses. In less than 25 years, over 50 higher
educational institutions were founded which today offer more than
85 degree courses.
University education, an unavoidable necessity of any vigorous
educational revolution, is being gradually extended to all municipalities
in the country.
There were no day-care centers, no schools for children with special
needs, no sports schools, no technical schools, no professional
training schools nor enough primary schools for all school-age children
and adolescents. Our people's determination, patience and heroism
worked the miracle of creating thousands of schools where 2,500,474
children, adolescents and young people are studying and the miracle
of creating dozens of universities where, this school year, more
than 300,000 students have registered.
The Revolution has created all of this at a speed that has neither
precedent nor parallel in history.
Compare it to what there is in the Third World and even in the
Cuba today, as acknowledged by prestigious institutions, ranks
first in knowledge of mathematics and language among primary school
students. One hundred percent of children are registered for the
grade corresponding to their age, and all of that one hundred percent
go as far as sixth grade; 99 percent of them get as far as ninth
grade and all of those who go that far can continue their higher
We have a total population of 11,177,743 inhabitants, of which
only 0.2 percent is illiterate -almost all of these are very elderly
people who did not have the advantage of the educational system
which our country has today.
Cuban children today boast the best student-teacher ratio for primary
school students; 1 to 20 and 2 teachers per classroom if there are
more than 20 students. As everybody knows, in Havana the ratio was
reduced from 37 to 18 students per classroom in just two years when
789 primary and secondary schools where either extensively renovated
or new schools built.
In the summer of 2001 five schools for training art teachers were
New painting, theatre, dance and music schools were established
in all provincial capitals and other large cities.
Two new educational television channels have been set up: one of
them is already on air nationwide and the second will be fully operative
within six months.
The Book Fair, which used to be held only in Havana, is now held
in no less than 30 cities.
New printing capacity will mean that all of the population will
have access, at a minimal cost, to the best literature and to books
on scientific, political, social and cultural subjects through the
family library system. This was invented in Cuba and is now spreading
to other countries, as are methods of teaching literacy by radio
and television which are destined to bring about a revolution in
A list of inventions and new educational and cultural methods that
have great social and human impact would be endless. Even the Revolution's
most vicious enemies would not dare to deny that this is so.
What are the conditions at the beginning of the new school year
after the amazing progress made over the last four years and when
the Special Period is still not over?
After ten years of scientific research, our country has been using
the social program "Educate Your Child" nationwide since
the 1992-3 school year. The aim of this program is to train families
to help children aged zero to six years attain a good comprehensive
development. It is the family which systematically carries out basic
educational activities with their children. The gradual expansion
of the program has meant that 99.5 percent of children in that age
group have received attention in formal and non-formal ways such
as day care and pre-school centers.
A decisive factor in this program has been the involvement of family
doctors and nurses, of culture and sports teachers, of the members
of the Federation of Cuban Women, of the CDRs, of union and peasant
organization representatives, of local governments, most especially
the popular councils who work in conjunction with more than 100,000
actors, as they are called, whose responsibility it is to train,
attend to, and support families. Training the latter is done by
more than 30,000 promoters who train and evaluate. Of these, 8,286
are qualified teachers from the ministry of education.
A 1999's evaluation showed that 87 percent of a sample of 48,000
children exhibited all the development indicators for their age;
this was 34.6 percentage points higher than the results of an evaluation
done in 1994. The 84 percent of families surveyed, more than 47,000,
admit that there have been changes in attitude in their relationships
with their children: they spend more time with them, they are more
caring, they listen to them, they do not mistreat them psychologically
or physically. There is also recognition of the way the program
contributes to a family's cultural enrichment: 62 percent say they
listen to more music, 52 percent have started to visit museums and
other cultural institutions, 44 percent read more and 64 percent
make more effort to obtain story books for their children and to
read to them.
As a result of the system of educational care for children from
birth to 6 years of age, 96.8 percent of children who completed
pre-school education this last year adequately developed the basic
skills that will allow them to have a successful start to their
The incorporation of computer education at pre-school level in
our country is something new and unique because of how widespread
it is and because of the scientific and educational principles and
concepts which underlie it. The generalized introduction of computer
education goes hand in hand with research that allows us to define
our position on the use of computers in educating pre-school children
according to our understanding about preventing, identifying, controlling
and eliminating any and every risk factor presented by the use of
computers at this age.
Last school year 117,868 boys and girls in the pre-school grade
of grammar school had 30 minutes a week of computer education. Starting
this year, the 23,527 children registered in the pre-school grade
in day care centers will also receive computer education. To that
end we plan to install the necessary equipment in day-care centers
There are 832 teachers who have been trained as computer skills
educators for these ages and they are receiving further training
to teach the next level. The studies done so far show the contribution
computer education makes to developing children's fine motor skills
and intellectual skills; this is something they need to do by the
time they finish their pre-school education and which serves as
the foundation for first grade.
This school year there will be 20 children or less in 84 percent
of primary education classrooms.
There is a reserve pool of teachers in all provinces except La Habana,
Matanzas and Camagüey where efforts are being made to overcome
The excellent current situation was made possible by employing
more than 14,662 young teachers trained in intensive courses; this
has been a great success.
Both morning and afternoon sessions have been established for more
than 96.6 percent of primary school children all over the country.
But the most important change has been in the way school organization
has been improved to allow for a single timetable in which teaching
activities take place both in the morning and in the afternoon session.
This will increase the number of times a week Spanish language and
mathematics classes are given. Priority will be given in the first
to spelling, using the dictionary, handwriting and drafting and
understanding texts. In mathematics more attention will be given
to addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, problem solving,
measurements and geometry.
English will be taught, using audio-visual methods, once a week
from grade three to five, twice a week in grade six. This will begin
The development of 41 software packages will bring about basic
changes in the teaching-learning relationship between the classroom
teacher and the computer teacher. They will work together, in both
teaching and extracurricular activities and this will allow us to
improve the quality of learning and to provide a general, all-round
An assessment of the quality of education in Havana carried out
in 1999 revealed that children there did not learn the material
taught in each grade quickly enough nor well enough. Proof of this
is that in grade four, only 43.3 percent of responses in mathematics
and 53.5 percent of responses in Spanish were correct.
The special measures applied to education in Havana revealed that
in June of this year the number of correct response in mathematics
had risen to 71 percent and to 86 percent in Spanish. The assimilation
of the knowledge provided at each grade level was 60 percent better
than in 1999.
Special education this school year, as has been the case for some
years now, will ensure that all physically and learning challenged
children will be given attention tailored to their ability to learn.
There are currently 51,938 of these children and our system has
14,600 teachers and specialists for them. There will be 1,386 children
taught at home by 580 teachers while 372 children will be receive
their lessons in 22 hospital classrooms.
An outstanding feature of this type of education is the introduction
of new treatment methods for 241 autistic children, for 106 deaf
and blind children and for 14 with cochlear implants. We have been
working on introducing and testing new methods and equipment to
make it easier for students with certain disabilities to have access
to computer education: tactile screens, visual-voice, switches,
intelligent keyboards and scanners.
We shall employ 252 more sign language interpreters and support
teachers for deaf and blind students and for those with physical
disabilities. This will allow to improve the quality of care given
This school year a modern Braille printing press became operative
to print books and other texts to allow blind students to improve
their general education. We have 193 diagnosis and guidance centers
nationwide which employ more than 1,056 specialists who assess and
diagnose students with special educational needs.
The computer education program has continued to develop at all
educational levels, and everybody registered benefits from it. There
are 46,290 computers in pre-school, primary and junior high schools
facilities, including all rural schools. To be able to install these
we had to supply electricity with solar panels to 2,368 schools
-93 of these have only one student- which attests to the conscientious
effort that the Revolution puts into the education of every child,
The current curriculum teaches students to operate a computer,
to do word processing, work with graphics and tables, to create
multimedia presentations and web pages and to solve problems from
various subject areas. And this is extremely important: computers
are being increasingly used as a tool for teaching other subjects.
There are 19,227 computer teachers teaching the program, 13,805
of these are new jobs. There are two new educational software packages
in use: "Multisaber", which has 41 programs for primary
and special education and "El Navegante" with 37 programs
for secondary education. These will enable the use of educational
software to support the teaching of all subjects at primary and
The most notable features of these software packages are that they
are highly interactive, they use multimedia resources, such as videos,
sounds photos, specialized dictionaries, explanations from experienced
teachers, exercises and educational games which help with assessment
The forecast is that registration at the schools for art teachers
this school year will be 4,840 in the first year, 4,038 in the second,
3,605 in the third and 3,523 in the fourth and final year.
The teaching staff at these schools is made up of 2,929 professors,
of whom 948 are generalists and 1,981 specialists. Actually, 1,384
of them are professional artists.
Of the 158,800 students who graduated from grade nine last year,
89,100 have gone on to senior high and 69,700 have gone on to technical
and professional schools.
In September 2001, the overall upgrading course for young people
was created. Two years later, we have been able to assess the enormous
impact this has had on the family, the community, on teachers and
students as a result of the
Behavioral changes exhibited by these young people.
The last course had 102,005 student registered, 64,488 of whom
are studying for their high school graduation certificate and 34,318
have gone on to higher education.
The Alvaro Reynoso educational program began during the 2002-2003
school year and this year there is a total of 128,377 workers involved.
Of these, there are 38,103 whose job is studying; they are 30 percent
of the total. On the other hand, 4,786, because of their high educational
level, are working as instructors and the remaining 85,488 combine
work and study.
In this coming school year, and as a result of the Revolution's
plans, more than 100,000 Cubans will start higher education. There
has been a significant increase in the registration of students
in the degree programs taught in the municipalities-this is a
new paradigm in Cuban higher education at its current stage of development.
The basis of the universalization model in teaching degree programs
is that students are taught in 5,204 teaching institutions or micro-universities,
where they are under the supervision of a tutor who works with them
for the whole degree course. The basic texts for each degree have
been provided to each student on a compact disc. Counting both faculty
members and tutors, 41,973 teaching personnel will be involved.
In 2003, the creation of a plan for the extensive renovation of
110 schools in the rest of the country this includes increasing
the number of classrooms to ensure there are 20 or less children
per classroom in primary schools and a morning and afternoon session
in junior high-- and totally replacing school furniture and fittings
has given a strong impetus to efforts to improve the quality of
education in all provinces.
Of the 110 schools in the 2003 plan, 31 were ready by the start
of this school year, 56 will be completed by the end of September,
20 in October and 3 between November and December. A special effort
will be made to extensively renovate 200 more provincial schools
in 2004. We would have liked to renovate a larger number but we
should remember that an extremely important health sector program,
which involves a lot of building projects, is presently underway
across the nation.
A characteristic of this 2003-2004 school year and one that will
make it go down in history, is a profound and unprecedented revolution
in Cuban secondary education, that is, grades seven, eight and nine.
This will have worldwide implications.
Teaching at this level, decisive in forming the personality and
the life of all children and adolescents, is extremely complex and
is an educational disaster on an international scale.
In an educational system where overspecialized teachers teach classes
of 200 to 300 students divided in groups of 30 or 40 students, they
cannot even learn the names of all of their students, nor get to
know their individual characteristics, or their personal problems,
or anything about their families or the social environment they
live in, or give students the careful and individualized attention
that every adolescent needs. If education, and Luz y Caballero especially
wanted to say this in a prophetical way in his famous phrase which
we interpret in this way: it is more important and more difficult
to educate than to instruct. This is an irrefutable truth. We believe
that in our country today we can do both things. In the world today,
where massive education is required, the traditional system can
neither educate nor instruct, regardless of the professors' efforts
and the quality of their own training.
An American, the 1988 winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, Leon
Max Lederman recently said something very interesting. He said that
it is imperative to improve education, that what is important is
that when teenagers leave junior high school they think scientifically,
never mind what profession they choose later on. He added that junior
high must be reformed so that students are in sync with the 21st
century so that they can handle accelerated development and its
socio-political consequences. He said that they have to be able
to earn their living but at the same time to be committed to rationality
as a way of life, able to deal with a constantly changing world.
He went on to say that if all this happens the new junior high
graduates will leave school knowing more about science than those
who have got their high school graduation certificate and more even
than Harvard graduates. There is no doubt that they would be better
parents, sons and daughters, workers and human beings. The student
who is now labeled average would become a genius.
For us, who for some time now have been aware of the need to do
something about teaching at this level, the basic difficulty is
how to reconcile the qualification needed by the teacher, his or
her personal vocation, the amount and number of times per week each
subject is taught and the total number of teachers needed.
In the midst of the battle of ideas, we sought high and low for
ways to solve this problem. One of the ideas that came up was that
of training all-round teachers. Although this was an enormous task,
we did not hesitate to go down that road.
On the other hand, what were we to do with the large number of
excellent specialist teachers who had been trained over many years?
Our restless search for solutions finally led us to ways that,
based on many other ideas that had already been tested and on concrete
experiments, enabled us to come up with the daring and revolutionary
method that we finally adopted, whose implementation on a mass scale
begins today, September 8, 2003.
This combines the solid expertise of the specialized teachers,
a powerful contingent of young intensively trained teachers who
are committed to teaching all subjects and to teach and be with
the same class for three years, and an exhaustive and systematic
use of the most up-to-date audiovisual methods.
The final outcome will be one teacher for every 15 students, mostly
in classrooms with 30 students; two teachers who cooperate closely
but each of whom is personally responsible for everything to do
with the education and character formation of 15 students, their
tutoring, guidance and preparation for life during this decisive
The biggest difficulties, as is usually the case, were to be found
in our country's capital. Since many thousands of young people had
been recruited there to be trained as social workers, intensively
trained primary school teachers, equally intensively trained nurses,
physiotherapy and other healthcare technicians, computer skills
teachers, students specially chosen for the University of Information
Sciences --already up and running and expanding rapidly although
still not formally opened-- the city did not have enough young people
with grade twelve education who could be intensively trained as
junior high school teachers. Added to that was the fact that education
in Havana was the most deficient in all of Cuba and the consequences
of this could be seen in the level of knowledge and training of
its young people.
There was not a minute to lose. More than four thousand excellent
young grade twelve graduates came to Havana's rescue from all of
the other provinces and they started their training at the prestigious
Salvador Allende School and will be teaching what they have learned
this year, aided by very valuable specialized teachers. And that
is what will happen successively every year with the new intensively
trained teachers who graduate from the Salvador Allende School until
Havana has enough teachers. They will later go with their students
when they go back to their home provinces.
The results from the experimental Yuri Gagarin School and another
similar school, the José Martí, in Havana Vieja offer
proof of the advantages of this new concept of junior high school
education which is a novel and revolutionary contribution to education
Some of the most important results are as follows: better and more
punctual attendance at classes; persuasion and self-regulation by
the students themselves is the predominant form of discipline; good
teacher-student-family communication and a high rating given to
the quality of the lessons. Better learning results are obtained
than under the previous model when compared with the initial assessment
of students made using the tools of international standards in mathematics
These results are:
At the beginning of the school year in October 2002 in the Yuri
Gagarin School: 31.9 percent of answers in mathematics were satisfactory;
in May 2003, the figure increased to 65.7 percent. Knowledge of
Spanish, initial stage, October 2002: 57.9 percent of answers were
satisfactory; in May 2003, 77.3 percent.
At the beginning of the school year in October 2002 in the José
Martí School: 30 percent of answers in mathematics were satisfactory;
in May 2003, the figure increased to 54.3 percent. Knowledge of
Spanish, initial stage, October 2002: 57.2 percent of answers were
satisfactory; in May 2003, 70.1 percent.
The control schools Jorge Villaboy and Enrique Galarraga. At the
beginning of the school year in October 2002: 31.9 percent of answers
in mathematics were satisfactory; in May 2003, 44 percent. Knowledge
of Spanish, initial stage, October 2002: 59.1 percent of answers
were satisfactory; in May 2003, 54.7 percent.
Students at the José Martí and Yuri Gagarin Schools
doubled their knowledge as compared to the control schools which
continued using the traditional teaching methods. Moreover, at the
end of the 2002-2003 school year 99.16 percent of Yuri Gagarin School
students passed the course and only 3 students out of 358 students
failed. At the experimental José Martí School, a much
more complex place, 98.8 percent of the students passed and 14 out
of 1,167 students failed.
One hundred percent of all the junior high schools in the country,
with an attendance of 494,318 students, started the school year
using the methods outlined above. These can be defined as a synthesis
of all the experiences obtained, including, as is to be expected,
the experiences of the experimental Yuri Gagarin and José
The way in which the teachers working in junior high schools responded
to the challenge, 33,281 of whom, that is 94.8 percent, said they
were willing to take part in the program --given the role they play
in our society makes them worthy of the name of all-round teachers--
is one of the main reasons for this success.
Equally important was the decisive and extraordinary contribution
made by the teaching staff of the Salvador Allende School made up
by 409 teachers, 89 of whom have masters' degrees and 43 have PhD
This school year, 95 percent of all students at junior high school
will have the benefit of having both morning and afternoon sessions.
In the framework of the educational revolution, the use of television,
video and computers is an irreplaceable instructive and educational
element which plays a major role in awakening students' interest,
in making them more motivated, in stimulating independent thought,
critical thinking, the love of research and creativity, all of which
will enable us to go on improving the learning-teaching process
in a ceaseless effort to raise the quality of education.
Computer science that had been assigned 172 hours in the curriculum
will have this year 216 hours. In grades seven and eight, 50 percent
of teaching time will be spent teaching computer science and 50
percent of the rest of the time computers will be used as an educational
tool with the involvement of the computer science teacher and the
all-round teacher. In grade nine it will be used as a teaching method
in all subjects.
The efforts made by teleteachers and advisors to create attractive
and innovative classes that use a scientific approach and arouse
students' interest and motivation are considered highly positive.
They do this by employing didactic materials, learning techniques,
study methods and activities that use new technologies and are intended
to developing logical thought.
The program of video classes for junior high school will have all
mathematics, Spanish, literature, history and English classes recorded
for all grades as well as physics for grades eight and nine. This
will be a wonderful tool for teaching both students and teachers.
Classes are recorded with teachers working in teams of two and
in the presence of junior high students. In Havana, 28 tele-teachers
and 252 students divided into 14 groups took part. In the provinces
of Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba, 24 teachers and
216 students were involved, giving a total for the country of 52
teachers and 468 students who took part in recording video classes
in their vacations and will continue to do so until the end of the
school year. They showed amazing enthusiasm for and dedication to
Additionally, the curriculum for junior high has increased to five
the number of times a week that mathematics and Spanish-literature
are taught and has added 20 percent more new subject areas such
as computer science, technical training and history in grade nine.
It is significant that that the content of each subject will be
taught in both sessions and the material taught on the television
and video will be practiced, reviewed and consolidated three or
four times a day.
The subjects included in this curriculum are art education in grade
seven, biology, geography and chemistry in grades eight and nine
and technical training also in grade nine.
To extend the morning and afternoon sessions to all junior high
schools in Havana, 550 classrooms, four new junior highs and three
extensions were built. Likewise, 13 groups of residences were created
to house the all-round teachers who will be working in junior high
schools in the capital. The work was done discreetly but the effort
made with the help of other provinces was really amazing and commendable.
To ensure that most of the country's junior high school students
have both morning and afternoon sessions, a joint effort was made
with other agencies and organizations to find the necessary space.
This, plus the allocation of 120,000 more school desks for this
program will mean that all of the locations will have the necessary
In September, we will have 177 junior high schools providing school
snacks to 93,169 students and 9,728 workers. If we add to these
the 115,110 students at this level who are boarders, we shall be
providing this service to 42 percent of the total number of junior
high school students.
From now until September next year, one hundred percent of non-boarding
students will receive this snack at midday containing about 40 percent
of the protein needed at that age.
Finally, I should indicate that eight countries, both large and
small, including one from the OECD are using the Cuban method of
teaching literacy by radio and television. The interest in and requests
for Cuba's technical cooperation and advice keep growing. This unstoppable
movement could put an end to the shameful and endless figure of
860 million illiterate and billions of semi-literate people in the
Our most treacherous enemies within and without the country are
amazed by our people's heroic resistance and the Revolution's successes.
And especially since the battle of ideas began and neo-liberal ideology
and the unfair economic order imposed on the world, already at the
height of its decline and in a profound crisis, began to progressively
crumble. There are some sly people who can hardly wait to launch
new attacks; they are incapable of understanding that there is no
power in the world that can defeat the Cuban revolution if, as we
have done for half a century, we are able to perceive and overcome
our mistakes and preserve the virtues which brought us, as they
will always bring us, victory.
The name of Cuba will go down in history forever because of what
it has done and is still doing for humanity in the fields of education,
culture and health in the most difficult period that our species
Our country is blockaded by the only superpower and almost blockaded
by Europe, but these together will not be able to defeat the Cuban
revolution, among other things because together they do not have
and will never have either the human capital or the moral values
to do what socialist Cuba has been able to do.
Long live socialism!
We shall overcome!