In these times, featuring amazing advances in technology, and scientific and academic innovations that are ushering in a new era for humanity, based on knowledge, already with glimpses of Artificial Intelligence, the educational scenario in Cuba is very sad.
The technological, scientific, educational and cultural backwardness into which Cubans are falling, leaving them well behind, back in the 20th century, for political and ideological reasons, should be considered a new type of crime against humanity.
Future generations of Cubans are never going to forgive the dictatorial leaders or those who support the dictatorship, perform "acts of repudiation," or shake flags in public places, for the way in which they marginalized Cuba from modernity. History will judge them all harshly.
The educational situation is dire. Schools and universities today are a disgrace, in terms of teaching, and everything else. Neither the dictator, nor anyone in the dictatorial leadership, even mentions the word "education" any longer. Once a showcase, it has became a taboo subject for the Communist Party.
The teacher shortage is getting worse, at an alarming rate. Suffering from severe technological and informational shortages, there is also a lack of textbooks, uniforms, and equipment essential for classes and laboratory experiments. Pencils and notebooks are scarce.
There is no free access to the Internet, or 21st century curricula. The buildings and furniture are in ramshackle condition, falling apart. Students and teachers are mired in another time.
Due to the very low salary they receive (about $25), teachers leave the profession and become tutors, open paladares (restaurants), go to work in tourism, or as bicycle taxi operators, or they sell croquettes. Or they emigrate.
According to Cuba's National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), 21,600 teachers left classrooms between 2009 and 2017. In the school year that ended in 2017, there were 248,438 teachers, a figure lower than the 270,038 in 2009.
Official data revealed that out of 19,859 slots available in 2015 to study Education, only 4,398 students enrolled. That is, 15,461 slots (almost 80%) were left vacant because nobody was interested in them. Many young people, without a sense of vocation or aptitude for teaching, do enlist, but only to evade compulsory military service. What educators!
Corruption runs rampant among teachers and students. In exchange for "gifts," students receive passing grades. There is hardly a more corrupt and disastrous educational system in Latin America today than Cuba's. It pales compared to the one before 1959.
If we were able to go back in time and compare the knowledge of a graduate from 1958 with one from 2017, we would be appalled at how poorly today's Castroist student would fare.
Few schools before Castroism?
The dictatorship likes to repeat a favorite falsehood: before 1959 in Cuba there were hardly any public schools and teachers, and university education was so expensive that it was only for "rich children," as Castro I often alleged.
This is totally false. In 1958, according to the Statistical Yearbook of Cuba, Cuba had 7,567 public (free) elementary schools and 869 private ones; that is, 8,436 in all. Of those public schools, 1,206 were in the countryside. In the mid-50s public education staffed 25,000 thousand teachers, while private schools employed another 3,500. There were seven times more public teachers than private teachers.
The public education system also had secondary schools (high schools), schools for teachers, home schools, normal kindergartens, trade schools, fine arts schools, surveying schools, arts and crafts schools, journalism schools, advertising schools, and technical schools, among others. In these 150 institutions in 1956 there were 70,029 students. In general, the Cuban educational system was one of the best in entire Latin America.
Today almost no one in Cuba knows that at the University of Havana the annual tuition cost was only 60 pesos (equivalent then to some 60 dollars), payable in three installments. A young man could study Medicine, Engineering, Law, Architecture, Accounting, Physics, Mathematics, or to be a doctor in the Social Sciences, Philosophy and Letters, or Pedagogy, for just five pesos a month.
A high school graduate enrolled to study the subject of his choice. In fact, classes were practically free, as was laboratory work, and sports, including those at the formidable Balneario Universitario in Miramar, with its Olympic swimming pool, and the beach. There was also free medical care at the Student Clinic, housed on the seventh floor of the current Hospital Fajardo.
University only "for revolutionaries"
Under the Castro dictatorship, without a good "revolutionary" resume it is not possible to enroll in college. And one can forget about majors like Journalism, Economics, Philosophy, Foreign Affairs, Social Sciences, Psychology, Pedagogy, History and other fields related to Communist ideology. Copied from a quote by Mussolini, in 1961 Castro I laid down the dogma to be followed: "Inside the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing." And then he clarified: "The university is for revolutionaries."
Thousands of pre-university graduates have not been able to go to college because they are not "politically correct," or have had to study subjects in which they have little interest, because they were barred from those they did.
There are period political/ideological purges of students. Often, of brilliant ones. They are expelled. Those who continue to study must support revolutionary tasks, or they find no employment in their areas after graduation.
As a fan of his brother, Castro II has continued to do the same thing Castro I did, because the regime cannot stop indoctrinating, especially when fewer and fewer people believe in the "Revolution" and socialism. But the Kremlin's money has run out, that from Caracas has dwindled, and the unproductiveness of Castro's economy generates fewer resources than ever before.
Political change or more backwardness
Until 2009 Cuba dedicated more than 13% of its GDP to education. It has decreased it to 10.2% in the current 2017-2018 academic year, according to the Minister of Finance and Prices, Lina Pedraza. But this is still too high.
Not even the most advanced economies in the world post this kind of percentage. Data from the World Bank reveal that in 2016 Germany spent 4.9% of its GDP on education; France; 5.4%, Spain; 4.2%, and Japan, 3.5%. In Latin America, even countries with strong economies devoted only half of what Cuba did in terms of percentages of their GDP: Chile, 4.92%; Mexico, 3.9%; Argentina, 5.33%; Brazil, 5.99%; Panama, 3.1%; Peru, 3.9%. Costa Rica is the country that spent the most, with 7.2%.
Faced with the definitive bankruptcy of Castro's economy, the regime will have to continue reducing the educational budget and will face a vicious and pernicious circle: if it spends little on education, indoctrination drops, human capital suffers, and the unproductiveness of the work force is exacerbated. But, if it spends a lot, it runs out of money to import food, medicines, raw materials and everything that a country that produces very little needs – which could politically destabilize the dictatorship.
The only solution would be to dismantle the socialist model, unleash productive forces to generate resources, and thus finance education and other social expenses. In Cuba, all freedoms must be restored, not only economic ones. Without political change, there is no economic change.
Regrettably, this does not seem to be anywhere on the political horizon under Raúl, no matter who the new "president" is in April. With this totalitarian strangulation, totally marginalizing Cuba from modernity, its society will continue to sink deeper into poverty, backwardness and despair.
Conclusion: Cuba has not yet entered the 21st century. And Raúl Castro ought to be asked: What has the "Revolution" done for education in Cuba?