Education in Cuba

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Education in Cuba
National education budget (2002)
Budget$2752 million CP ($246 CP per capita)[1]
General details
Primary languagesSpanish
Literacy (2011)

Education in Cuba has been a highly ranked system for many years. The University of Havana was founded in 1727 and there are a number of other well-established colleges and universities. Following the 1959 revolution, the Castro regime nationalized all educational institutions, and created a system operated entirely by the government. Education expenditures continue to receive high priority.[5]


Spain colonized Cuba from the early 16th century until 1898, when the Treaty of Paris granted the island independence following the Spanish–American War. The University of Havana, founded in 1727, is the oldest university in Cuba and one of the oldest in the Americas.

In 1900 Cuba had a literacy rate of 36.1%[6][7] - depending on the source, one of the highest among developing countries.[citation needed] By the early 1900s Cuba had a strong education system, but only half of the country’s children participated. Schools remained inaccessible to the poorest Cubans and this resulted in a low literacy-rate for rural areas compared to the cities. The 1953 census found that of the Cubans over the age of 15 years, 22% were illiterate, and 60% of the country was semi-illiterate because many rural Cubans had a third-grade education or less.[8]

Public Education in Cuba has always been free.[citation needed] After students passed the required entrance examination to their particular course of study, even attendance at the University of Havana was tuition-free,[according to whom?] except for the cost of books.[citation needed] After the Cuban Revolution of 1958-1959, the new government ranked the reconstruction of the education system along Marxist ideological lines as a top priority.[9] Five key objectives were devised and used to frame Cuba's educational system.[citation needed] Many children who lived in distant rural areas were now able to acquire an education provided them by visiting teachers.

Following the basic restructuring and reopening of Cuban schools, the new government focused on the huge literacy problem.[citation needed] By April 1959, 817 literacy centers were opened[10] and, to further reach out to all, teens and other volunteers were sent out to the countryside to teach their fellow Cubans how to read. The Literacy Campaign served two purposes:

  • to educate every Cuban and teach them to read
  • to give those who live in the city a chance to experience rural living

In a short time Cuba’s new government made vast changes to the education system, and by 2000, 97%[11] of Cubans aged 15 to 24 were literate. Literacy provided poor uneducated Cubans a better standing in the country and the world. Education was vital to the new government.[citation needed] The leaders believed that for Cuba to be strong and for citizens to be active participants in society, they must be educated.[citation needed]

Private universities and schools were nationalized in 1961.[citation needed]

Female participation[edit]

The Cuban Revolution in 1959 brought many changes to the country, especially for women. Before the Revolution many women lived as housewives and for those who needed to work there were very few choices.[12] Many women in rural areas worked in agriculture, and for women in the city, working as a maid or as a prostitute were the only choices. The Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) was founded[by whom?] in August 1960 with a clear goal to involve all women in Cuban affairs. After years of being excluded, the women of Cuba began to play an active role in the government. The Federation of Cuban Women wanted to see women involved with the social, political, economical, and cultural issues Cuba faced.[13] This required the building of schools and programs to provide multiple services to Cuban women.

The Literacy Campaign was created[by whom?] to increase Cuba’s literacy rate and to initiate communication between the countryside and cities.[14] Students and volunteers went to rural areas to teach people to read and to provide information on current Cuban politics. Rural women received schooling and job training if they chose to receive it, which allowed them to work outside of agriculture. For women working as prostitutes in the cities, the new government created programs to reeducate them once prostitution in Cuba was suppressed in 1961. Separate but similar programs were set up for maids, offering schooling and job training along with free daycare and housing, which allowed the women full opportunity to rebuild their lives. Healthcare was provided focusing on the mental health of Cuban women that had previously been oppressed in the work place.[15]


A 1998 study by UNESCO reported that Cuban students showed a high level of educational achievement. Cuban third and fourth graders scored 350 points, 100 points above the regional average in tests of basic language and mathematics skills. The report indicated that the test achievement of the lower half of students in Cuba was significantly higher than the test achievement of the upper half of students in other Central and South American countries in the study group.[16][17]

The 1998 study by UNESCO was particularly impressive, because for the first time all of the countries in the study had agreed on the indicators and procedures in advance. Also, the study was taken during the height of an economic depression; Cuba’s economic development has been severely restricted by the U.S. trade embargo. Cuba is one of the poorest countries in the region and lacks basic resources yet still leads Latin America in primary education in terms of standardized testing.[18]

The facts of a relatively poor economy and a long-term continuous sanctions on trade makes the Cubans' achievements more impressive. For the past forty years, education has been a top priority for the Cuban government.[19] Cuba maintains twice the amount of public spending on education as its more wealthy neighbors, at 10% of GNP.[20]

Cuba shows how important education is by keeping a student to teacher ratio of 12 to 1, which is approximately half of the Latin American average. In addition, the youth illiteracy rate in Cuba is close to zero, a figure unmatched by all other Latin American countries.[21] Cuban schools are closely integrated with the community. Teachers are very active in the communities of the children that attend their schools, and build strong relationships with parents and families to enhance the learning process. It has been demonstrated that there is a strong commitment to the educational sector on the part of the government[citation needed]. Equal opportunity for a high quality education for all students is one of the key factors that explains that the Cuban educational success is not a miracle or an accident, but the result of many years of concerted efforts and commitments, by the government to its people.[20]

The Cuban education system has faced teacher shortages in recent years.[22] According to the U.S. Department of State, censorship and indoctrination "permeates all levels of Cuban educational system, but is enforced unevenly."[23]

Primary and secondary education[edit]

Schoolchildren in Havana

School attendance is compulsory from ages 6 to 15 or 16 (end of basic secondary education) and all students, regardless of age or sex, wear school uniforms with the color denoting grade level. Primary education lasts for six years. It consists of grades 1 through 6. Secondary education is divided into basic secondary education and pre-university secondary education. The curriculum in primary and secondary schools is based upon principles of "hard work, self-discipline and love of country".[citation needed] The primary-school curriculum includes dance and gardening, lessons on health and hygiene, and Cuban revolutionary history.[5] At the end of basic secondary education, pupils can choose between pre-university education and technical and professional education. Those who complete pre-university education are awarded the Bachillerato. Technical training leads to two levels of qualification - skilled worker and middle-level technician. Successful completion of this cycle gives access to the technological institutes.[24][failed verification]

As of the 2010s, however, the lingering economic crisis, emigration, and teachers' meager salaries have led to a critical shortage of educators in primary and secondary schools throughout the island, with schools severely understaffed. Private remedial instruction is on the rise, as are private schools that teach English and other supplemental skills.[25]

International students[edit]

Foreign students must hold a Bachelor's or an equivalent degree, have a visa and take compulsory Spanish classes. Preparatory facilities offer courses in Spanish. During the 2000-01 school year Cuba allowed 905 U.S. students to visit and study.[26] In 1999 a program was implemented to attract students to study medicine in Cuba from less privileged backgrounds in the United States, Britain and Latin American, Caribbean, and African nations.[27] Cuba currently hosts 3432 medical students from 23 nations studying in Havana.[28]

However, Cuba has also provided state subsidized education to foreign nationals under specific programs, including U.S. students who are trained as doctors at the Latin American School of Medicine. The program provides for full scholarships, including accommodation, and its graduates are meant to return to the US to offer low-cost healthcare.[3][4]

Educational cooperation[edit]

In 2006 Venezuela and Cuba began jointly sponsoring education programs in El Palomar, Bolivia.[29] Cuba also maintains close co-operation on education with the United Kingdom[30] and other nations in the European Union.[31] In 2002 the Minister for Education in the Welsh Assembly Government Jane Davidson and representatives of the Universities of Swansea and Glamorgan in Wales visited Cuba to create provisions for officials in Britain and Cuba to liaise over educational projects.[32] In the United States, the Cuban and Caribbean Studies Institute, a part of Tulane University, has developed relations with Cuban counterpart organizations for the purposes of academic collaboration and exchange, curricular development, cultural exchange and international development and dialogue.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tabla No Archived 13 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ unstats | Millennium Indicators
  3. ^ unstats | Millennium Indicators
  4. ^ unstats | Millennium Indicators
  5. ^ a b Latin lessons: What can we Learn from the World’s most Ambitious Literacy Campaign? by Nina Lakhani, The Independent, 7 November 2010
  6. ^ Torres, Carlos and A. Puiggros. "Part Three," Latin American Education. Colorado: Boulder, 1997: 291.
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ "Education in Pre-revolutionary Cuba". Census of the Republic of Cuba, 1953.
  9. ^ Compare: Chomsky, Aviva (2015). A History of the Cuban Revolution. Wiley Blackwell. p. 42. ISBN 978-1-118-94228-4. Mass education was a key means of overturning centuries of inequality nd empowering the poor. The mobilization of some 250,000 urban Cubans, including 100,000 students, was also a part of the project of political education [...].
  10. ^ Britton, John A. "Part Five," Molding Hearts and Minds. Delaware: Wilmington, 1994: 168.
  11. ^ ^ "Education". UNICEF, 2007.
  12. ^ Evenson, Debra. "Women's Equality in Cuba: What Difference Does a Revolution Make". Law & Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice. University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing, 1986: 295.
  13. ^ "Federation of Cuban Women". Cuba, 2010.
  14. ^ Thrupkaew, Noy. "Cuba: Cuban Women, Beyond Prostitution". Green Left Weekly #461 (2001).
  15. ^ Lewis, Oscar & Ruth. "The 'Rehabilitation' of Prostitutes". The Cuban Reader. Duke University Press, 2004: 395.
  16. ^ UNESCO report ranks Cuban students first in international math and reading tests 1998
  17. ^ Cultivating Minds Joel E. Cohen and David E. Bloom International Monetary Fund Magazine 2005
  18. ^ ^ Marquis, Christopher. "Cuba Leads Latin America in Primary Education, Study Finds," New York Times, 14 December 2001.
  19. ^ ^Kirk, Margo. "Early Childhood Education in Revolutionary Cuba during the Special Period" The Cuba Reader. Ed. Phillip Brenner, Marguerite Rose Jimenez, John M. Kirk, William M. LeoGrande. Lanham, MD.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Oct. 2007.
  20. ^ a b ^ Gasperini, Lavinia. The Cuban Educational System: Lessons and Dilemmas. Country Studies Education Reform and Management Publication. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, LAC, Human Development Dept. 1999.
  21. ^ History of Education. Ed. Daniel Schugurensky. 1998. 3 March 2010 <>[permanent dead link].
  22. ^ Pentón, Mario J. (3 September 2017). "Some 40,000 Cuban teachers have left the profession under Raúl Castro". Miami Herald. Retrieved 1 August 2020.
  23. ^ Department Of State. The Office of Electronic Information, Bureau of Public Affairs. "Intellectual and Academic Freedom in Cuba". Retrieved 1 August 2020.
  24. ^ Cuba - Education system UNESCO World Higher Education Database (WHED)
  25. ^ [2] TEACHERS WANTED. By Denise Blum and J. Ruth Dawley-Carr Archived 4 November 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ Students eye Cuba for study abroad Cable News Network 7 January 2003. Accessed 20 May 2015
  27. ^ Cuba trains disadvantaged US medical students Archived 15 March 2005 at the Wayback Machine Kay Brennan. Student British Medical Journal online
  28. ^ US medical students in Cuba may be forced to leave British Medical Journal online 3 July 2004
  29. ^ Venezuelan and Cuban aid win fans in Bolivia - International Herald Tribune
  30. ^ House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 18 Apr 2006 (pt 23) Archived 19 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ External assistance and Latin America[dead link]
  32. ^ Cuba Solidarity Campaign : Cuba Si : Welsh Education Minister meets Fidel

External links[edit]