Emeritus Professor Theodore H MacDonald, former Director of Postgraduate Studies in Health at Brunel University, has years of experience in the fields of education, health promotion and equality. He has used his extensive knowledge of a number of education systems, gained by living and working in Cuba, Australia, US and the UK to write about the development of the Cuban education system.
In The Education Revolution – Cuba’s Alternative to Neoliberalism, published in association with the National Union of Teachers, Professor MacDonald gives a carefully chronicled account of the development of Cuba’s education system from the first vestiges of a national literacy campaign through to the current state of education in Cuba today, adding analysis and critique as he follows the timeline of development.
In one of the early chapters, the challenges faced by the newly instated Castro government are outlined, following Fidel’s promise to the United Nations that he would eliminate illiteracy in the country before the start of 1962. The task, Herculean by any stretch of the imagination, was made all the more difficult by the exodus of a significant proportion of Cuba’s professional class who left the island following the revolution. It is with great passion and humour that Professor Macdonald details Cuba’s practical and, at times, rather imaginative solutions to the unique problems faced in the early 60s. The book contains a multitude of anecdotes relating to conversations the author has had with individuals who have either benefitted from or been involved with the Cuban education system: teachers, former illiterates, civil servants and, not least, the students themselves.
The book comprises six chapters, each with several sub-topics. Excursions are also made into the origins and impact of groups that have had a significant impact on the shaping and structure of the Cuban education system, such as the influence of the FMC (Federation Mujers Cubanos- Federation of Cuban women) and the ‘Young Pioneers’.
Less than three years after taking power, Cuba’s revolutionary government succeeded in eliminating illiteracy. Within a decade after the revolution, access to primary education and pre-school education had become universal. Following on from the punctual success of the national literacy campaign, the book’s subsequent chapters chart the development of Cuba’s education system in the following years and decades as it built on its early accomplishments, using the achievement of one goal as the driving force for the next challenge. The defeat of illiteracy was followed by the ‘Batalia para seis’ or ‘battle for the sixth grade’ as the government of Cuba aimed to raise the standard of its populations education level, rolling out a series of ‘Seguimento’ or ‘follow-up’ programmes put in place to further educate the newly aspiring population. Factory and agricultural workers too were enabled to take specialist courses relevant to their line of work. Early reliance on foreign technical expertise was soon replaced by Cuban talent.
Over the coming decades, a free, world class system emerged, from pre-school to tertiary level. The achievements made by Cuba in providing its entire population with access to education would be laudable and enviable by any account; they deserve even greater praise given continual US interference in the form of economic sanctions.
The result, as is outlined in the book, is that Cuba has been left with the most educated population in Latin America. Tests initiated by UNESCO give evidence of the high performance of Cuban children in the areas of mathematics and Spanish language. Not content with providing its own population with a vast array of free educational opportunities, Cuba shares its successes with other developing countries. The Americas School of Medicine, situated in Havana, trains students free of charge from a number of Third World countries. The only stipulation being that the graduates will return to their home countries and set up community health projects for their fellow impoverished citizens.
Cuba overthrew its class structure, and has since rejected the incursions of neo-liberalism into the arena of education, regarding a good education as a human right and essential to one’s own sense of worth and self determination, rather than it being a privilege or a commodity as it is considered to be in some first world countries. One of the key messages of the book is to give living proof of a real alternative to the much lauded and oft cited theory of the free-market system. To quote from Professor Macdonald: ‘History has imposed on Cuba the responsibility and the opportunity to show the world how people can prosper outside Neoliberalism. For this reason, the US is almost compelled to stamp it out because Cuba shows us an effective alternative.’
‘The Education Revolution: Cuba’s Alternative to Neoliberalism’ by Theodore H. MacDonald is published by Manifesto Press, priced £14.95.
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This post was written by Tomasz Pierscionek