Is Literacy a Good Thing?
How many times do you remember saying to yourself, “I don’t want to go to school today.”, or seen commercials where children do whatever it takes to stay home? Well lets just say your not alone, however if you had the government on you, making sure you went, do you still think you would’ve said that, or even worried about anything else like a job or a family? Well when you have a communist government on you it’s no longer a choice but, a forced decision. Education is a priority in Cuban Society. And although we Americans think we are smarter, we need to retest our abilities.
The Cuban Government provides free schooling from primary school to university or technical school. Education is mandatory between the ages of 6 and 11 (which is when children finish primary school). Almost all children continue with secondary education. Cuba has an average of one teacher for every 45 inhabitants. The literacy rate, estimated at 96% in 1995, is higher than that of any country in Central and South America. Cuba has pre-schools available in urban centers, as well as special schools for the mentally and physically challenged. There are schools for students gifted in sports and the arts. Secondary school graduates may take college entrance exams or go to a technical training institute. Cuba has 46 centers of higher education. There is general agreement that the level of Cuban education is very high, but sources disagree as to why. Those favorable to the Castro government claim that it is the result of the emphasis placed on education since the revolution, while anti-Castro sources assert that the level of education in Cuba has always been high. During the Spanish colonial days, there was almost no education available in the rural areas where the peasants and slaves lived, although the urban Spanish population had access to education for its children. During the U.S. occupation of Cuba, plans were laid out and implemented to provide education for all children on the island. Whereas in 1899, only 16% of the school-age population were registered in school, that figure had risen to 40% in 1902, and that 40% was relatively evenly distributed among the provinces. These impressive gains were not sustained during the years of the republic. Although the overall literacy rate reached 72% by 1931, it never went higher than that. School enrollment rates did not go over 60%, and a much higher percentage of urban children attended school than did rural children. The dropout rate after elementary school was high, especially in the rural areas. As mentioned before, one of the immediate objectives of the revolutionary government was to improve the educational system, partially as a medium for the creation of a new culture, but also for the sake of improving the educational level of the populace as a goal in itself. 1961 was declared the Year of Education, and a remarkably effective campaign of adult education was launched. Almost 300,000 children and adults were sent out into the country side to teach under the slogan, "If you know, teach; if you don't know, learn." By 1979, the literacy rate in Cuba was higher than 90%; comparable to the rates in the United States and other developed countries.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Cuban government revamped the school system, abandoning the Soviet model for a more Western one that is difficult to find information on. The recent Cuban entrants went to school primarily under the old system, however, and so we will describe it here. In general, the system was characterized by attention to the "correct line," rigid curricula and teaching styles, and the development of model socialist citizens. Classes were mostly in lecture format, with minimal teacher-student interaction. Students were encouraged to memorize, and discouraged from asking questions and thinking independently. Schools incorporated education into community life by stressing group play, requiring students to care for the school grounds and farms, teaching vocational skills, and focusing on the development of a politically and morally "correct" background on the part of each student.
Education was compulsory for six years. After that, students up to age 16 were required to continue their education at the secondary level or to join the Youth Movement, which combined study with vocational training and service. All schools were under the control of the Ministry of Education, and were uniform in curriculum and scheduling throughout the island. Students passed from one grade to the next via national examinations, and their contributions to and attitudes toward socialism were taken into account when they applied for higher-level schooling. There was a uniquely Cuban emphasis on the combination of education and service. Even the littlest children were required to help keep their school clean and tend its gardens, and many of the older ones attended boarding schools during the week where they spent half a day in classes and half a day at work on farms. The primary level was grades 1 through 6, and was compulsory and identical for all children. They started at age 6 and attended classes 61/2 hours a day; they studied basic literacy skills and composition in Spanish, basic arithmetic, and ideological orientation.
The secondary level was grades 7 through 9, 10, or 11, and a student could choose (or have chosen for him) one of three tracks: general secondary, teacher training, or vocational training. All tracks provided instruction in Spanish, mathematics, the sciences, history, and technical/agricultural production. In the general secondary schools there were 26 hours of instruction per week, in 9 or 10 subject areas, with no electives. Students could go on to higher secondary schools for an additional three or four years of education, so a number of Cubans who finished higher secondary school will have had as much as 15 years of pre-college education.
There are four universities in Cuba: La Habana, Las Villas, Camagüey, and Oriente. A successful university candidate would have completed high school, passed an entrance test, gone through a personal interview, and shown concrete evidence of a correct revolutionary attitude. One of the more interesting aspects of the current problems in Cuba is the emergence of English and its inclusion as a compulsory subject in the education system. It is probably no surprise that English language training has not been a high priority for the revolutionary government. However, the re-emergence of tourism as a source of hard currency has made the ability to speak English more valuable. As it is in the newly independent countries of the ex-Soviet Union, English is now the foreign language of choice, officially acknowledged as the language of entry into the international community. The Ministry of Education has made the study of English compulsory in secondary schools, and several government programs in English have been established for adults.
There is a teacher-training program in English available in all the pedagogical institutes. This program requires the student to spend five years studying grammar, general linguistics, literature, and area studies of the English-speaking countries. The program is remarkably successful considering Cuba's lack of resources. Knowledgeable Americans have commented that these programs are current on recent developments in the field of English language teaching but not surprising, considering that Cuba has always maintained normal s with English-speaking Great Britain and Canada, and quiet s with the United States. A great problem with English teachers at the moment appears to be their abandonment of the profession in favor of the tourism industry. Cubans who deal with tourists have access to hard currency in the form of tips, and this access is enough to make a low-level job at a hotel more lucrative than a more prestigious one as a teacher. Exactly what that figure means is a point of contention. Not all figures from the Cuban government can be believed, and in any country the literacy rate is as much a reflection of the definition of literacy used as it is of the number of people who can read. It is clear, however, that almost everyone in Cuba has gone to school, and the existence of well over a thousand libraries on the island attests to the fact that the population is in general a reading one.
Cuba has a population of about 10.8 million, 70% of whom live in the cities. What most people don’t realize in today’s society is that numbers aren’t always accurate. With such a big populace on such a small amount of land, an education program is easily implemented. Government programs, especially under Cuba, are easy to force on people. With nowhere to run especially from an island, Cubans must obey Government policies. Laws and programs must be followed or punishment will follow. If a bit more force were put into education programs, by the Federal government, the United States’ literacy wouldn’t continue to drop. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, we, the United States, tried to help the education system in Cuba; We should now look at our own history and redo our education system. If a countries' population can’t read then how do we expect our children to advance and lead our nation into the future.
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