The educational system in Cuba has been run by the state since 1961, when private institutions at all levels of education were nationalized by the Castro government.
The education system is 100% subsidized by the government, meaning that Cuban students at all levels can attend school for free. The Cuban government has been investing a substantial part of its budget into education for many years. Unfortunately, it has not yet seen as high returns for its investment as it would like.
Cuba has long held an impressive record of high educational standards, even before the Revolution. This record has improved since Castro took power, with literacy rates ranking a notable 96% as early as 1995. In 1998, a UNESCO study revealed that Cuban 3rd and 4th graders extensively outranked their peers in Central and South American schools in math and language skills. Cuba today continues to place great emphasis on education with the hopes of raising economic standards in the future.
A Look at Primary and Secondary Education
All children from the ages of 6 to 16 must attend school in Cuba. Children are required to wear regulated school uniforms, with different colors distinguishing the various grade levels. Students attend primary school for six years, after which they proceed to basic secondary or high school for a period of 3–4 years. Upon completion of the basic secondary level, education splinters into two categories: pre-university education and technical or professional training. A pre-university education leads to a Bachillerato degree; completion of technical or professional training enables students to attend one of the country’s many technological institutes.
The educational system in Cuba is built on three main principles: self discipline, hard work and love of country. From the time children are small, they are indoctrinated in their schools with the government’s political beliefs of communism. Children and parents alike are expected to uphold the “Code for Children, Youth and Family” which clearly prohibits the teaching of beliefs that go against communism. Parents who violate this code by teaching their children contrary doctrine face the prospect of prison.
A Look at University Education
Cuba is home to over 47 universities with a total enrolment of over 400,000 students. All universities and technical schools are run by the Ministry of Higher Education (Ministerio de Education Superior – MES). It is the responsibility of the MES to manage the schools, regulating teaching methodology and courses, establishing educational policies and ensuring all the schools comply with government standards. Some of the older and more well known universities in the country include:
- The University of Havana
- Universidad de Oriente
- Universidad Central de Las Villas
- Universidad Catolica de Santo Tomas de Villanueva
- Universidad Masonica
- Universidad de La Salle en Nuevo Vedado
The requirements for entering a university or technical institute of higher education in Cuba are straightforward:
- students must show proof of completing a secondary education
- students must pass college entrance exams
- men must show proof of having completed compulsory military service or proof of non-compliance due to medical reasons or family obligations
Before students are allowed to take university entrance exams, they must be cleared by the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. This Committee “approves” or “disapproves” a student’s entrance to university studies depending on his or her political standing. Students with good political standing in relation to their Communist beliefs receive a letter of approval to take college entrance exams. Students with a “poor” political standing may find themselves “blacklisted” from furthering their education.
Distance education is also a viable option for students in Cuba to study for a professional career. Requirements for distance education include completion of secondary education, one year work experience and being between 25 and 35 years of age. Men must also show proof having completed mandatory military service. There are approximately 15 centers for distance education throughout Cuba providing degrees in the following career choices: History, Law, Finance and Accounting, Economics and Science and Technology.
University Degrees and Diplomas
Cuban universities offer a wide range of studies to include technical careers, medicine, education, law, finance, science, economics and more. Students can obtain a professional diploma or Licenciatura (Bachelor’s degree) upon successfully completing a 4-5 year program. A Bachelor’s degree in medicine may require 5 to 6 years to complete. A Bachelor’s degree completes the first stage of higher education.
The second stage of higher education consists of three levels: Diplomado, Maestria and Especialista. Within each of these levels, students must complete a minimum of 200 hours in theory, practicum and internship. Upon completion of this stage, which generally lasts for two years, students are awarded a Master’s degree.
The third stage of higher education is to obtain a Doctoral Degree. Students must study for 3 to 4 years before they are considered for candidacy in a Doctoral program. Once they are approved for candidacy, students are admitted into the Doctoral Program where they will conduct their scientific research, defend the findings of their work and finally be awarded their Doctoral Degree.
Due to economic difficulties, 2012 has seen some major cutbacks in university enrolment for Cuban students. The government has a high interest in maintaining openings for students studying medical and scientific careers which can help move the country forward as opposed to the social science or humanities fields.