Cuban excellence in education
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Dec 14 16:48:03 MST 2001
NY Times, December 14, 2001
Cuba Leads Latin America in Primary Education, Study Finds
By CHRISTOPHER MARQUIS
WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 Cuba, a Marxist nation with profound economic
difficulties, leads Latin America in primary education, a regional
task force has found.
In test scores, completion rates and literacy levels, Cuban primary
students are at or near the top of a list of peers from across Latin
America, the task force reported.
Indeed, the performance of Cuban third and fourth graders in math and
language so dramatically outstripped that of other nations that the
United Nations agency administering the test returned to Cuba and
tested students again, according to a coordinator of the study.
"They went back to Cuba and retested because there was some anomaly,"
said Jeff Puryear, the co- director of the Partnership for
Educational Revitalization in the Americas, which helped organize the
task force. "This is a good, solid, reliable comparison."
The task force highlighted the results of the first region-wide test
of primary students, which was administered in 1998 by the United
Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or Unesco.
"Cuba far and away led the region in third- and fourth-grade
mathematics and language achievement," the panel said. "Even the
lowest fourth of Cubans students performed above the regional
Cuba's educational system, along with health care, has been a
priority of the government of President Fidel Castro since the early
days of the revolution four decades ago.
Critics say Mr. Castro has used education as a tool for political
indoctrination. In the past, first-grade reading textbooks have
included such revolutionary slogans as "Study, Work, Rifle," and the
government frequently mobilizes young students for political
The findings are especially remarkable since the island has lived
under an American economic embargo for decades and lost its Soviet
patron and billions of dollars in subsidies a decade ago,
plunging Cubans into a period of austerity, blackouts and food
shortages. Government planners say they have diverted funds from
other areas to bolster schools and hospitals, which nonetheless have
"The question is whether Cuba is going to be able to sustain that
system over time," said Peter Hakim, the president of the
Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based forum of hemisphere
leaders, which co- sponsored the study.
Resources alone do not explain Cuba's success. Most nations of the
hemisphere spend more public money per student than Cuba's allocation
of less than $1,000. The United States spends more than $6,000 per
student, while Chile, Mexico and Brazil all exceed $1,000, the study
"It does show that countries with low levels of national income can
still establish quality education for their children," Mr. Hakim
Some analysts speculated that Cuba's ruined economy has the
paradoxical effect of stacking the schools with good teachers.
According to that argument, opportunities are so limited that many
would-be entrepreneurs and professionals have little recourse but to
The findings for the rest of Latin America were grim. The study,
which is to be presented Friday by the president of the
Inter-American Development Bank, reported that quality remains low,
inequality remains high and few schools are accountable to parents
and local communities.
Louis Proyect, lnp3 at panix.com on 12/14/2001
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