Cuban excellence in education

Louis Proyect 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 
average."

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 
demonstrations.

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 
deteriorated.

"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 
said.

"It does show that countries with low levels of national income can 
still establish quality education for their children," Mr. Hakim 
said. 

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 
teach.

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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