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Cuba - Secondary Education

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Cuba's secondary education system generally has two components: compulsory and non-compulsory. The compulsory basic secondary education system includes grades 7 through 9. There are two different forms of secondary schools: urban and rural. Urban schools have 35 weeks of class and require 7 weeks of work in the countryside. Rural schools have 37 weeks of class and require 5 weeks of work in the countryside. Each has approximately three weeks of testing.

In 1966, the "Schools to the Countryside Program" started when 20,000 basic secondary education students and their teachers moved to the country to work with farmers and agricultural workers. In 1971, this practice was institutionalized as the "schools in the countryside," which are boarding schools that operate during the work-week on a year round basis. Boarding schools divide their students; while half tend crops in the morning, the remainder learns in the classroom, and in the afternoon the groups exchange tasks. Again, practical knowledge and classroom materials are integrated into a single curriculum focused on observation and problem solving. During the summers, the schools are vacation centers where students are joined by their families. Families receive free room and board and participate in various recreational programs, including trips to beaches and parks, but they are expected to work two hours per day (Carnoy and Werthein 1983).

Only 3.3 percent of students drop out of basic secondary, and 92.8 percent continue their studies after the 9th grade. Following completion of the basic secondary curriculum, students seeking additional education can pursue one of several options: pre-university, polytechnical training, or vocational/trade school education. The attendance at this level is free, but is not compulsory.

The course content in pre-university education is more evenly distributed across the curriculum. Mathematics and Spanish comprise only 42 percent of the course contact hours; natural science is about 20 percent. History, geography, art, and physical education constitute about 18 percent. Labor education, civics, military preparation, and fundamentals of Marxist-Leninism constitute about 10 percent of the curriculum and occur in a patterned manner—labor and civics in the seventh through ninth grades and military and Marxist-Leninist studies in the tenth through twelfth grades (Ministry of Education 1996).

Pre-universities are divided between urban and rural locations. They operate in a fashion similar to basic secondary education. Significant emphasis is placed on study of the environment, especially the interplay between ecological and social problems. Classes last 41 weeks. The twelfth and final year has two main goals: completing the pre-university courses and strengthening knowledge to prepare for university entry.

The other two options following basic secondary are poly-technical institutes, where students can delve deeper into scientific and technical subjects while gaining vocational and professional guidance, and vocational/trade schools, which offer specialized technical curriculum for students and for workers seeking skill enhancement.


Universities: Between 1962 and 1964, following a period of upheaval, efforts to reorganize the university system were initiated by the government, students, faculty, and party officials. By 1964, a multi-tiered system had been created with campus-based participation by the above noted groups, answering to the Centralized National Council of Universities and responsible to the Ministry of Education.

For a decade after the Revolution, higher education was not a major concern, as emphasis was placed on literacy and basic education. Equally as important, the pre-Revolutionary professorate had been hired by, and had trained, the children of the privileged elite. Many retained their positions. For many years, university faculty were a source of anti-Revolutionary ideas and mobilization, a condition that discouraged social investment in these institutions.

By 1970, a shift in curricular focus from humanities to medicine and applied sciences was implemented at three universities: Universidad de la Habana, Universidad Central de Las Villas (Santa Clara), and Universidad de Oriente (Santiago). Problems within universities, including poor pay and resource shortages, were addressed in 1975 as part of a renewed emphasis on university learning; also the University of Camaguey was established and the Ministry of Higher Education was created (MacDonald 1996).

Since 1982, the Ministry of Higher Education has overseen diplomas and degrees granted by the 47 Cuban institutions of higher education. Administratively some are subordinate to other Ministries, including Public Health, Center State, and Education proper (Ministry of Education 1996). Cuba has four universities, each of which has departments of engineering, sciences, agriculture, humanities (including law), medicine, education, and economics. These four universities, three university branch campuses, and 40 specialized institutes collectively constitute the higher education system of Cuba (Mac-Donald 1996).

By 1975 "New Man" graduates of post-Revolutionary institutions of higher education populated industrial, cultural, social, and governmental institutions as employees and managers. Yet with the humanitiesfocused training still in place within universities, product development, technical innovation, and bureaucratic efficiency lagged. With pressing social and economic needs, Cuban officials started emphasizing the importance of higher education as a revolutionary tool in transforming the economy. The end result of this effort was the coordination of universities with national economic agencies, better aligning the needs of society with the expertise of university graduates.

In the immediate post-Revolutionary era, Cuba placed emphasis on agricultural self-sufficiency. By 1980 a shift in the focus, composition, clientele, and outcomes of higher education emerged as part of a larger social transformation (MacDonald 1996). This shift toward increased education and technology, evident from 1970 to 1995, resulted in a tight coordination of national need and educational preparation. The emphasis on mass participation in higher education increased university attendance by farmers and workers. Additionally, a strong indicator of the importance of higher education was its expansion. Student attendance changed from 24,300 pupils (per 100,000 population) in 1958; to 20,600 by 1965; and to 26,300 by 1975.

From 1980 through 1992, higher education flourished in Cuba. In 1980 Cuba had 151,700 students enrolled in higher education. Enrollment declined during the crisis of the mid-1990s, as total enrollment fell from 165,891 in 1993-1994; to 140,815 in 1994-1995; to 134,100 in 1995-1996. Despite these declines, Cuba's rate of higher education enrollment per 100,000 population has, since 1978, exceeded the Latin American and world average (Epstein 1988; Ministry of Education 1996). There were approximately 23,000 faculty members in higher education in 1995, which resulted in an extremely low faculty to student ratio, a condition conducive to effective pedagogy.

Requirements for university attendance include graduation from high school, passage of a specialty examination, a personal interview, and letters from a local "people's organization" or other indicators of revolutionary attitude. Education is free and available to all interested and qualified individuals. There are three kinds of programs available: daytime, worker in-service, and distance learning courses, with the latter two providing courses for non-traditional students—farmers and workers seeking to pursue interests and/or upgrade their skills. This student base differs greatly from the pre-Revolutionary days of students from privileged upper class status. Clearly, universities will move the Revolution to its next stage.


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almost 8 years ago

Cuba is worthy to be compared with countries such as the UK. Why is there no work in that area. The comparative juornals are stacked with comparisons between affluent countries and their cohort. Surely Cuba has been sending teachers to work all over the world. Some are even advising the UK on their education problems. Why is there no comparative studies which compare these two countries education systems. If there is can you tell me where I can find the study?

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over 6 years ago

I am trying to locate a school in Cuba called "Esteban Borrero." Can you tell me where it is and what level of school it is?
Thank you
Jano Nightingale
Phoenix, AZ