As the context of Cuban education changes, the tensions can be expected to worsen. By any measure and in the best of times, Cuba’s education system has achieved impressive results. That these results were obtained after a decade of economic upheaval attests to the strength of Cuba’s investment in education. Nonetheless, the system faces a number of questions. How Cuba faces them will determine the nature and effectiveness of its future education system.
Will government continue to monopolize Cuban education? If not, who will be able to partner with government? NGOs? Private education entities?
Can Cuba maintain the coherence of its education policies in the absence of historically strong state guidance and control ?
Will the system maintain its current standards of access and quality in a more open political system with greater choices available to individuals, families, and the population?
Will the system maintain its commitment to social cohesion, in a less coercive, more diverse environment?
Will the system continue to attract and motivate dedicated high-quality personnel, when other sectors of the economy are likely to pay more?
Is the curriculum adequate to educate resilient citizens, capable of managing change, risk and uncertainty in a globalized and market-driven world?
Can the school system continue to be effective in promoting social cohesion in a less coercitive environment and in a context of uncertainty, growing inequity, rapid social and economic change?
How can the education system move from a system led by the Party and the state to develop a broad consensus around the overall objectives and content of education?
Will the education sector be able to continue to claim high levels of public resources?
How can the education system develop a culture and set of institutional processes that allow individuals to express criticism and air differences, and contribute to a lasting democracy built on individual rights ?
Will Cuba’s strong scientific education curriculum provide students with skills needed not only master known knowledge but to use information in new and unanticipated problem-solving contexts?
How will the education system deal with competition in the labor market, which has been disallowed for the past forty years?
How will Cuba deal with likely competition among schools for resources and high quality students?
How will Cuba develop needed technical skills and personnel in an economy increasingly driven by market forces rather than state planning?
To the extent that Cuba follows the path of other transitional economies, the education system can expect to face profound changes in philosophy, administration, and curriculum. Linkages between education and the workplace can be expected to shift greatly. While the motivation, creativity, and professionalism of teachers have played a critical role in the achievements of the Cuban system, it is unclear how long the system will be able to maintain teacher motivation in the face of low salaries, dwindling resources, and expanding opportunities outside the sector. Curriculum, particularly history, the social sciences, economics, and business will likely undergo thoroughgoing change. The policy challenge will be for Cuba to maintain its excellence in education along with its commitment to equity and quality in a ver different political and economic environment. If Cuba succeeds, however, it will not be the first time it has defied others’ expectations.
This paper has highlighted ways in which the Cuban educational system, despite the dismal economic picture of the past decade, adopted features that research has identified as characterizing a high-quality education system. The Cuban model, while difficult, in an increasingly democratic world, to replicate in its entirety, is quite replicable in much of its detail. Most inspiringly, Cuba demonstrates that a poor country can build an education system of very high quality that truly reaches all.
Source: Data from Laboratoria Latinoamericano de Evaluación de la Calidad de la Educación: Primer Estudio Internacional Comparativo. Santiago, Chile: UNESCO, 1998; published in "Laboratorio Latinoamericano difunde estudio comparativo de lenguaje y matemáticas," CINDE/Dialogo Interamericano, PREAL Informa, February 1999