Havana, Cuba – Public education is one of Cuba’s top priorities. Within a year of ousting President Batista in 1959, the country set the ambitious goal of eliminating illiteracy throughout the island. By 1962, illiteracy in Cuba had dropped from 23.6 percent to a mere 3.6 percent. Today, Cuba boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world.
We heard this at a meeting with Dr. Paul Torres, a high-ranking official in Cuba’s Ministry of Education. Cuba offers a free education from cradle to grave. From pre-school programs to doctorates, education is free and available to all.
Education is mandatory through the 9th grade. After that, youngsters have the option of three years of a pre-university program or going to a vocational school.
Currently, about 60 percent of Cuba’s students opt for the academic track but the country is attempting to reverse those ratios. The economy is demanding more trained skilled workers and fewer academicians. This is due in part to the growing private sector in Cuba where skilled workers are in demand and can earn higher wages than academicians.
With increased tourism, privately owned restaurants (known as “paladares”) as well as privately owned night clubs are in need of skilled workers to reconstruct and modernize the aging buildings they occupy. It’s obvious that Cuba has its toe in the capitalist lake. How far they are willing to go is a topic for conjecture among many of the Cubans we met.
Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. His blogged about the April 17-22 AASA Delegation to Cuba.