Cuba’s revolution in education

While the forces of imperialism lead the world into ever-greater barbarism, socialist Cuba is working to create the most cultured, educated and humane society that has ever existed: a pathway of hope for a better world. JIM CRAVEN examines the steps Cuba is taking to deepen the revolution through socialist education.

A better socialism is possible

In recent years Cuban revolutionaries have admitted they could have done much more to advance their socialist society, even with the limited resources available during the Special Period. In particular, they have come to understand the central importance of raising the educational and cultural level of all the Cuban people, even beyond the outstanding levels already achieved. Only when the people have knowledge and ideas can they fully participate in solving their problems and building a better socialist society. Education is crucial: for better child care and family life; for handling the difficult transition from childhood to teenager; for improving health, diet and hygiene; to satisfy cultural needs and make people whole, rounded, fully human beings; for political understanding to withstand imperialist cultural domination and brainwashing; for reducing privilege and relative poverty and hence the social exclusion, crime and anti-social behaviour that stems from them.

Of course, bourgeois liberals and academics also often talk about transforming the world and ending poverty through education. There have been countless such national and international programmes. The fact they get nowhere is not simply due to the necessary resources not being made available, but that the social relationships and economic class interests in capitalist societies run counter to any egalitarian, universal advanced education system. In a socialist society such as Cuba, working to eradicate class distinctions, the possibility of success exists.

Education to transform society

The Cuban vision is spectacular. In a recent speech to an international conference on pedagogy, Fidel Castro put it this way: ‘In the last three years, life has led us to a great Battle of Ideas and the need to instil a critical rather than a self-complacent view of our work and our historical objectives.

‘There are new and higher challenges and an important lesson. We are currently undertaking programmes that we could never have dreamed of in our early years as revolutionary young radicals.

‘It is a fact that eradicating total illiteracy within one year constituted a feat; doing so with functional illiteracy took far longer. Now, with a large human and ethical capital, a great internationalist spirit and an elevated political culture, any objective in education and culture, both artistic and political, is within our reach. These compact words merely synthesise the essence of the educational revolution.

‘With fabulous means of transmitting knowledge and culture, linked to the introduction of new concepts in the organisation and improvement of the educational system, there is nothing unusual in increasing three, four or even five-fold, the knowledge that our children, our adolescents and our students are receiving.

‘Future developments in our education will have notable political, social and human connotations.

‘Today, ideas are the essential instrument in the battle of our species for its own survival. And ideas are born from education. The fundamental values, including ethical ones, are sown in this way.

‘As education is the instrument par excellence in the search for equality, well-being and social justice, you can better understand why I qualify what is currently taking place in Cuban education in search of higher objectives as a profound revolution. It is the total transformation of society itself, one of whose fruits will be a general integrated culture accessible to all citizens.

The very material future of our people is to be based on knowledge and culture.’

100+ programmes
Over 100 programmes are underway as part of this educational revolution. They include extending higher education to the whole population through the televised University for All and intensive courses for those who would not previously have had the opportunity. Over 85,000 high school graduates training as social workers, 80,000 unemployed young people and thousands of redundant sugar workers are already benefiting from this programme. New municipal universities are planned and the number of university students is set to rise by 50% in the next five years. The amazing aim within ten years is to raise the average educational standard to graduate level.

Improvements in the school system include reducing primary class sizes to 20 and junior high school classes to 15. Within two years an extra 4,500 extra primary teachers will be trained. A major programme of classroom construction and school refurbishment was completed in record time last September, thanks to the voluntary help and participation of parents and the community. Every school now has access to IT facilities and 70,000 teachers have been trained in their use. In a radical change to educating those in the difficult 12 to 15 years age group, a less specialised, more student-based approach has been adopted and 30,000 high school students have been recruited as classroom assistants for their younger comrades.

To ensure an all-round, cultural education every university must now offer arts and humanities courses. Seven new arts schools are to be opened in the municipalities and 4,000 new art teachers are to be trained so as to ensure everyone has the opportunity to pursue their talents and interests. Every village and neighbourhood now has a cultural centre where video films are screened and discussed.

In socialist Cuba no-one is to be excluded

But if these educational programmes are to achieve a qualitative change in Cuban socialism, we must remember they are only a means to a more important end. The very concept of what it means to be a member of society is to be transformed. In capitalist society those who own the means of production and their associates – the ruling class – are society, and the rest of us merely bystanders, servants, scapegoats. In Cuba, as Fidel said, knowledge and culture are to be the material basis of society and no-one (so far as is possible before a communist society can be established) is to be excluded from that process.

FRFI 172 April / May 2003


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