Cuba: Revolución Educativa?

Family in CubaWhen I was a child in the 70’s (yes, I’m that old!) I enjoyed a film called Logan’s Run, a science fiction film set in the 23rd century where humans lived under surveillance in a perfect society enclosed in an environmentally controlled dome called “Sanctuary” where all their material possessions and needs were met. There were catches, of course, one of them was that citizens were forbidden to travel beyond the safety and controlled existence of their dome. Curiosity was not encouraged but inevitably some would wonder what laid beyond.


Reflecting on my recent trip I wondered if the society beyond our dome might be Cuba.


It’s fair to say that I was in Cuba on vacation with my family in between the official visits that I am making as part of the Learning {RE}imagined project so inevitably I viewed the country through the rose tinted sunglasses of a tourist but we did manage the occasional escape from the resort dome to explore a bit of the culture and people of this nation.


Being the summer break in Cuba and without official permissions to visit schools I was unable to dig as deep as I would have liked but I left inspired to return and discover more.


In response to my shout-out on Twitter to meet educators in Cuba I received one response from a friend who suggested that I wouldn’t find much to interest me and my project there given that Cuba was the least “connected” country in the region and that few people, if any, have access to the internet at home and very few have access to it in public offices such as schools. 


For me this was probably the most interesting aspect given that without a hysterical rush to adopt “21st century” platforms and capitulating to PISA league tables Cuba has achieved, according to the instruments and indicators applied by international organisations such as OECD and UNESCO, one of the world’s best educational systems. An education system that is free to all students from primary to higher education and has achieved almost 100% literacy amongst its population. An education system that has lead to a key export of Cuba being skilled healthcare and medical professionals as well as an effective literacy programme that has been exported across Latin America and as far as Australia and New Zealand.


This comparison between the educational systems of Cuba and Finland by prominent Ecuadorian educationalist, Rosa María Torres, makes interesting reading.


But for me what really stood out were the casual conversations with Cubans that I met along the way. One evening in a bar sampling local produce it occurred to me that out of the 11 people I was chatting to 7 were educated to degree level of which 3 held a master’s. No offence to my neighbours but it’s not like that in my local back in London.


Lima De La CruzNaturally, not everything is perfect in Cuba. It’s a socialist state and since 1957 the economy has been regulated meaning salary levels are nothing like you would find in Western nations. Some Cubans would complain about increasing unemployment now running at a reported 2% but even if that was under reported it would have some way to go to match 20%+ across Europe or Greece which has been effectively bankrupted. Occasionally I would find myself in “grass is greener” type conversations but I couldn’t help thinking that a university student in Cuba could complete a medical degree and not start their career already tens of thousands of dollars in debt.


After the revolution in Cuba education and healthcare were given the highest priority under Fidel Castro and whatever other challenges are presented it has succeeded in this goal. There is 1 teacher to every 40 citizens in Cuba. How it will change in the coming years with embargoes lifted and the influx of western brands remains to be seen but something a taxi driver said to me on a journey resonated “Cuba is a safe country because of education”.


On that basis I say “Viva la Revolución Educativa!”



Ok, so this isn’t an official project destination however I am excited to be traveling to Cuba with my family for what is intended to be a vacation but never-the-less is an extremely interesting place in regard to the Learning {RE}imagined mission to search the world seeking innovation in learning.


Cuba, after all, has been a highly ranked educational system for a long time where it spends 10% of its central budget. By comparison the UK spends just 4% and the US 2% (source UNESCO).


Children CubaSome interesting points to note are that regardless of income or location in Cuba education is free at every level, school meals and uniforms are free, the maximum class size for primary education is 25 children, in secondary the class size reduces to 15, school days often extend to 12 hours to provide morning or evening child care, half of Cuba’s 150,000 teachers have 5 years experience of higher education of which half is at Masters degree level.


According to the World Bank, Cuba’s literacy rate is now 99.83% which by any standard is phenomenal.


Whilst I’m on “official” leave this blog maybe quieter than usual but you can still follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and if I’m fortunate enough to meet any Cuban educators whilst I am away then you’ll hear about it on this blog – my kids and the pool notwithstanding of course!