Forming Citizens is Not a Task for Dictatorships
Forming Citizens is Not a Task for Dictatorships / Miriam Celaya
Posted on October 6, 2013
HAVANA, Cuba, September, www.cubanet.org – Official statistics, as
accommodating as they are misleading, have led to international
recognition for Cuba’s educational system, but they mask the poor
quality of teaching our schools, the insufficient qualification of the
graduates, a state policy of automatic promotion from grade to grade,
and the general corruption that contaminates teachers, students and parents.
Each educational experiment implemented by the regime has been crowned
by failure, however, the authorities continue to deny public
participation in finding solutions to a problem that affects the whole
of society and political interests beyond the hallways of power.
The Revolutionary teacher
Contrary to what the government preaches, Cuba’s Republican period was
marked by remarkable development and diversification in education. There
was also progress in overcoming illiteracy.
According to the census of 1953, 23% of Cubans over 10 were unable to
read and write, a figure favorable to the standards of the time, and
although there was a sharp contrast between rural (41%) and urban
(11.6%) illiteracy, educational levels were much higher than those of
many countries which today are among the most developed in the world.
The Law on the Nationalization of Education (June 6, 1961) established
free public education and suppressed private education. With it all
private schools and their property were transferred to the State,
charged from that point forward with educational programs.
Also in 1961, the literacy campaign sent hundreds of thousands of young
people into rural areas as teachers. The Handbook of literacy was to
guide them “technically and politically” , with the Learners Booklet
containing “24 themes on core issues of the Revolution, with definitions
of the words used.” 
It was the beginning of the indoctrination of the masses and of the
teachers, and the start of a trend that would be harmful to Cuban
education: the improvisation of “educators” through brief courses, with
no real training or vocation, in spite of the previous long and rich
pedagogical tradition. The era of the Revolutionary teacher had been born.
Schools of education
In the ‘70s, specialized pedagogical schools emerged, such as the Manuel
Ascunce Contingent and the Salvador Allende Primary Teacher Training
School, for the training of secondary and primary teachers,
respectively, and by the end of that decade, the Enrique José Varona
Pedagogical Institute, which in its glory years came to graduate
high-level teachers with a specialized instruction in all branches of
Also in the ‘70s the Schools in the Countryside became widespread, a
boarding school system for secondary and pre-university levels, along
with several technological specialties. Official policy replaced the
role of parents in the education of the children, for that of the State,
dealing a devastating blow to the family as a source of ethical and
At the same time, the educational process, subject to official ideology,
promoted the teaching of an apocryphal national history and a false
cultural identity in terms of legitimating “Revolutionary” power rather
than the formation civic values, thereby burdening the culture and
eroding national values.
Despite its limitations, the school system was able to extend
instruction to all layers of the population, increased access to
historically disadvantaged social groups in the population and created
awareness of education as a right, but in exchange for a unprecedented
ideological indoctrination in the nation.
After the demise of the Soviet Union and its subsidies that supported
the educational plans of the government, the economic crisis of the ‘90s
caused high levels of student dropouts and the exodus of thousands of
teachers to more profitable occupations. Dozens of schools in the
countryside where they formed the “New Man” were closed, ending abruptly
the most spectacular failure in the largest educational experiment in
the history of Cuba.
Before the crisis
Currently there are no traces on the Island of what was once a
relatively developed educational system. In the last decade, the
successive courses for “emerging” teachers, also known as “instant
teachers,” have exacerbated the deterioration of education.
Government policy continues to address the education of an entire nation
as if it was about war campaigns and battles and tries to overcome the
problem through improvised measures, such as the return of more than
2,000 retired teachers to the classroom, or the authorization of tutors,
usually retired teachers.
The superior results of students whose parents hire the services of
professional educators demonstrate the superiority of the private
sector. These ‘informal’ education pathways, with their successes and
limitations, signal the beginning of a return to the coexistence of a
network of private educational instruction, along with the public
education system accessible to all.
The myth of social equality
The myth of “social equality” has been broken in the creation of
differences of access opportunities between students according to
whether they can or not afford this tutoring from the private education
One of the factors hampering the recovery of the quality of education in
Cuba remains the constant emigration abroad of both teachers and
professors, along with thousands of professionals and technicians who
once were the backbone of the training of students.
It is estimated that just in the last 30 years around 15,000 doctors,
10,000 engineers and more than 25,000 college graduates have emigrated,
as well as a large number of technicians and skilled workers in a
permanent process of disinvestment that affects educational base of
numerous technical specialties, many of which have even disappeared.
In addition to emigrating, tens of thousands of teachers were sent
abroad on “internationalist” educational, depriving many Cuban
classrooms of the better qualified teachers, replaced by “emerging
teachers” barely literate themselves, with disastrous consequences for
the quality of teaching.
It is not the task of dictatorships
Currently, Cuba has returned to specialized teacher training for primary
education, a four course career with approved secondary studies, as in
the Normal Schools before 1959. In the capital they have taken over the
former headquarters of the Normal School teachers.
There is a long road ahead before any recuperation of the education
system can begin, as there must be the investment of substantial
financial resources as well as the participation of all interested
stakeholders and the opening of alternative forms of education,
including the return of private, secular and religious education,
without undermining public education.
There have been proposals from spaces within civil society to overcome,
to some extent, the profound challenges of the education of present and
future generations, but they have been rejected by the government .
However, sooner or later the educational system will be forced to
transform itself with the changes that are occurring in the Cuban
reality. The growth of independent sectors will end up influencing the
renewal of education in the nation.
Half a century of experiments have proved that forming citizens is not a
task that belongs to dictatorships.
 Garcia Gallo , GEORGE GASPAR . The Fight Against Illiteracy in Cuba.
In: Socialist Cuba, No 2, Year I, October 1961, pp. 69-81
1 October 2013
Source: “Forming Citizens is Not a Task for Dictatorships / Miriam
Celaya | Translating Cuba” –