Havana, Cuba – Cuba has made education of their citizenry a high priority. They are proud of the fact that their education is free from cradle to grave. Individuals can attend the university system and earn as many undergraduate and graduate degrees as they might have the inclination to achieve, at no cost. Although higher education is available and free, students have to go through an interview and examination process and meet the university standards in order to be admitted.
For grades 10-12, students have the option of pursuing an academic track that would prepare them for the college entrance exams or vocational programs that will prepare them for the world of work. For many years, Cuba has been graduating an impressive number of engineers, medical doctors, scientists and college professors. The socialist economy guaranteed them all employment after graduation. However, recent changes in the economy have reduced the number of jobs available to those holding academic degrees while at the same time, there has been an increasing demand for skilled workers.
Our group had the opportunity to visit the Restoration Workshop in Old Havana. Many young Cubans apply for admission into a program that will only accept 200 students. Applicants have to be at least 18 years old and must go through an interview process that gauges their personalities and abilities. Throughout the two years of the program, participants are taught the skills necessary to restore the many historic, but aging and decaying, buildings in Havana. They earn a modest salary while in the program. We saw the quality of their work in many of the buildings they have restored in Old Havana as well as at the current reconstruction of the Cuban Capitol.
The graduates are now very much in demand by Cubans who are buying many of the old buildings to establish restaurants and night clubs in the burgeoning privatization sector. Although in the prevailing socialist economy the majority of Cubans still work for the government, there is a growing number of individuals who have set up their own businesses and are employing individuals to work for them. Most of the 1950s vintage American cars that Cuba is so famous for are now taxis owned and operated by individuals, not the state. Trained mechanics are needed to keep those cars running.
Because of these factors, more students are opting to learn job skills that will earn them a higher income than if they had a college degree. In this regard we note that, as Cuba’s tourism grows, many of the tour guides are well educated professors and professionals who have abandoned their careers for the higher income they earn as tour guides.
Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. His blogged about the April 17-22 AASA Delegation to Cuba.