Cuba. What did you just think of? Communism, Fidel, the revolution? Many people believe things in Cuba are being run wrong and should be changed. I, however, disagree. When I think of Cuba I think of kindness, generosity, and community. It didn’
t used to be this way. Prior to the 1959 revolution only 35.1% of the required age group were attending school. The children that did often only attended for a few hours a day. Even these children did not get very far. In 1950, 180,370 children started the first grade but only 4,852 entered eighth grade. At the time, only one in four of people in Cuba could read and write. Now, after the revolution, more than 97% of people in Cuba are literate; Cuba had the highest literacy rate in the world in 2007. The United States was seventeenth.
I have been attending school in Somerville my whole life. While in Cuba, I spoke with a group of school kids who had just graduated eighth grade like me. They were doing community service. In Cuba, children are required to perform 10 days of community service after school ends. They were going door to door asking people if they had recyclables. That amazed me. In the United States, most kids don’
t recycle themselves, let alone take the time to ask or help other people to do so.
Photo 1: Eighth grade graduates take a break from collecting recyclables in Vinales as part of their community service.
One girl in particular could speak English very well and it was her favorite subject. Some of the other children had favorite subjects like math or Spanish. Their school day is very similar to ours. They have all the same main subjects like math, the humanities, and science. Unlike my school, instead of one 30 minute recess, they had three 15 minute recesses. I thought they were really lucky because of that
. They have snack in school and it consists of bread and milk. Later they have lunch which sometimes includes rice and beans, milk, salad, and chick pea soup. Another difference between my school and theirs is that their schools focus a lot more on physical education and arts then ours do. They have gym and art three times a week and are encouraged to participate in physical activities outside of school as well. One girl does this by dancing. She wants to become a dancer when she grows up and has already placed first in a dancing competition. Cuban salsa dancing is even taught in the schools. The girls will often help to teach the boys how to dance.
Photo 2: Children getting ready for a city-wide dance competition in Santa Clara. Neighborhoods compete with one another. Even the five year olds know how to dance!
In some ways the children in Cuba are very similar to the children in the United States. They were dating and when asked if they had boyfriends or girlfriends blushed. They were into fashion and name brands. Sometimes whether or not an item is considered fashionable is based on whether or not it is a name brand
Photo 3: Kira with girls who just graduated 8th grade. The girl in the Nike polo wants to be a dancer. The girl to her right in the blue shirt wants to go into medicine and the one in a red t-shirt wants to go into the military.
Some things are different. The school day is longer, for example. There are school announcements at 7:30, classes start at 8, and schools ends at 4:30 or 5. One big difference I noticed between Cuban and American teens is what they think is important in their lives. When asked the question “what is the most important thing in your life?”, almost all of them very quickly answered “family”
. The school and government support that priority. For example if a person needs mental health care, one of the first things the mental health counselor does is talk to the family. The counselor, the family, and the community all participate together for the recovery of the patient, adult or child
Community is constantly a higher priority in Cuba and its schools than in the U.S. In Cuba’s primary and secondary school, the goal of their education is based on the principles of “hard work, self discipline, and love of the country.”
Instead of education and job choice being based on how much one could earn, they were based on service to the community. It is like community is the sun and the jobs are the planets. Instead of jobs being valued for money, they are valued based on their contributions to the community.
The uniforms build community. The kids said they prefer their uniforms because it minimized judgment amongst them based on clothing. In elementary school, the tops are white and the bottoms are red. Children equivalent in age to middle school students wear a different color. The girls have yellow skirts and a white shirt and the boys have yellow pants and a white shirt. The girls liked the skirts because they are cooler than pants and because the girls change for gym.
Obviously their ways of education and principles have worked because Cuba has 47 universities and there was a total enrollment of about 112,000. That means that, in 2007, 71.5% of the Cuban girls and 65.9% of the Cuban boys enrolled in college. In America, only 43 % of the girls and 35 % the boys enrolled in college in 2007. That means about 30% more people enrolled for college in Cuba then America. Even though Cuba has only 2% of the Latin American population they still manage to produces 11% of its scientists.
Photo 4: University of Havana. There are universities throughout Cuba. One initiative of the Cuban government was to put medical school satellites in rural areas. There is one doctor for every 20 persons in Cuba.
So even though some people think Cuba is doing something wrong, it seems pretty obvious to me they are doing many things right. And it all starts with community.
Kira has lived in Somerville all her life. She attended Brown School and currently attends Prospect Hill Academy, a public charter school.