Preprimary & Primary Education
Cuba's preschool educational structure enrolls about 145,000 students from age 6 months to 5 years, more than twice the number before the revolution. The curriculum is based on the child's age; it emphasizes group play; seeks to assure the physical, intellectual, moral, and aesthetic development of the child; and establishes the basis for future learning.
The academic year extends from September to June, with July and August devoted to recreation. Preprimary education grew after the Revolution as women entered the workforce. The Federation of Cuban Women initially directed preschools, which later fell under Ministry of Education control. Attendance is optional and home education is common. Home-educated preschoolers often attend nonformal groups that meet in parks and neighborhood centers twice a week. A kindergarten year offered for children aged 5 to 6 may either be taken in a daycare or a primary school.
The primary education sequence consists of two levels. The first cycle includes grades one through four, and the second cycle grades five and six. Most schools are located in the students' community, and attendance is mandatory. The number of teachers has fluctuated during the last 40 years, but the pupil-teacher ratio has continually decreased during the period. From grades one through four, classes are 30 minutes in duration. The curriculum focuses on Spanish language (reading, writing, and oral expression) and mathematics. These two subjects together account for 57 percent of classroom time. Scientific approach, life training, economics, labor, artistic topics, and physical education are other subjects. A new topic was introduced in the mid-1990s, the "World in Which We Live"—a blend of natural and social ecology, health, and morality (Ministry of Education 1996). The curriculum emphasizes basic education, productive activity, and social benefit and responsibility. Classroom learning is often integrated with basic skills, such as gardening, pruning, wood and metal crafts, and handicrafts. The boundary between classroom and practical learning is blurred into a holistic learning environment.
Evaluation is a continuous process. Tests are administered at the end of the second and fourth grades, with results categorized as excellent, very well, good, regular, and poor, instead of numerical grades. Testing, like instruction, combines formal learning and practical application, and students advance when they receive a satisfactory grade.
In grades five and six, classes include Cuban history, natural science, geography, aesthetics, civil education (to convey political, ideological, moral, and judicial information), economics, and labor education, which is an initial linkage of classroom learning to productive work. The behavioral goal is to encourage independent working habits and cooperative learning skills. The students are again expected to demonstrate competence in each discipline. All students must complete the sixth grade, and those who fail may retake examinations. Less than 1.0 percent of students drop out of primary education, and 98.2 percent continue their studies after the sixth grade (Ministry of Education 1996).
Special education is a sub-system of the primary schools designed to provide appropriate training and instruction to develop the intellectual and vocational abilities of "special needs" children. These children are initially evaluated by specialists in one of Cuba's Diagnosis and Guidance Centers that refer them to an appropriate school. There are schools providing specialized instruction for students with mental disabilities, blindness, visual handicaps, amblyopia, physical disabilities, deafness, speech impediments, behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, and language disorders. Often these schools have relationships with local schools, which allows for mainstreaming of students where appropriate (Ministry of Education 1996).
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