Academic journal article Education

Comparing the Challenges Facing Education between the United States and Cuba

Academic journal article Education

Comparing the Challenges Facing Education between the United States and Cuba

Article excerpt

Universal Education: What Does That `Really' Mean?

Both Cuba and the United States philosophically interpret universal education in terms of lifelong learning opportunities, with the greatest efforts being focused on children from primary school ages through young adulthood. In both nations, education is compulsory during this time period and is furnished essentially free of charge to males and females of all social, economic, racial, ethnic backgrounds, as well as to children regardless of handicapping condition.

In both nations, this "universality" of education is a relatively recent accomplishment. At roughly the same time that the Civil Rights Movement in the United States led to the abolishment of separate school systems for blacks and whites, Cuba's "Revolution" was expanding access to education to such previously underserved groups, such as residents of remote areas of the country, the economically disadvantaged, "non-whites," and women, a movement which had begun during the brief occupation of Cuba by the United States at the beginning of the century, but which had not continued.

Education is universally provided for children of special needs in both nations. Cuba tends to provide this education at specialized centers (for the blind/visually handicapped, deaf, mentally retarded, emotionally retarded, behavioral disorders, and physically impaired/speech disorders), whereas the current trend in the United States is for "inclusion" or "mainstreaming." However, both countries provide specially-prepared teachers (and, in many cases, teacher aides) for the various handicapping conditions; hold very similar interdisciplinary team meetings (which include the parents) to plan individualized programs of education for each child; etc.

Today, the challenges of providing universal access continue to be similar. Both nations recognize the research-supported essentiality of extending education to the early childhood years; however, both nations hesitate due to the financial implications. In Cuba, only children of working mothers (or exceptional cases related to child welfare) have the right to attend preschools; in the United States, public pre-school programs are limited to the economically disadvantaged.

Both nations are working to overcome social and cultural stereotypes as to the types of education, and careers, appropriate to each gender. In Cuba I was told that males could not be teachers in pre-schools or elementary schools because they were needed in other sectors of the economy. However, the reverse did not appear to be true, as there was ample evidence of females in the military, in scientific and technical professions, working as physicians, and serving as school directors. In the United States, many school districts sponsor special programs to encourage female students and minorities to consider non-traditional career options and to take high level math and science courses in which these groups have traditionally been underrepresented.

Both nations recognize the need for adult education programs, yet these do not occupy "center stage" in either nation's educational planning. Cuba is famous for its national literacy campaign of 1961, in which formal schools were suspended for the year while 271,000 schoolchildren and literate adults were sent across the nation to bring basic literacy skills to over 700,000 illiterate Cubans (Jolly, 1964). Although on a much smaller scale, similar efforts continue in the United States, with a recent focus on recruiting volunteers to provide basic literacy training within local communities.

Although regular technical school and university education is open only to the young adult cohort, Cuba provides factory or agriculturally-based schools for adults who wish to continue their education. American GED centers, community colleges, technical schools, universities, Job Corps and other re-training centers are all experiencing strong influxes of mid-life or older adults who are changing careers, updating knowledge and skills, or seeking personal fulfillment through education. …

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