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UNESCO report:

Cuban education is world-class

By Arturo J. Pérez Saad

The United Nations Education, Scien tific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Nov. 8 released its Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report for 2005. This report specifically focuses on elevating the quality education of all children, especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, by the year 2015.

Cuba, Canada, Finland and Korea are signaled out in the report as high-performance countries and role models to follow in quality of education.

Cuba, a relatively underdeveloped coun try of 11.2 million people, spends 10 to 11 percent of its GDP on education, by far the highest ratio of any country in the world. Finland, the next closest, spends 6 percent.

Cuba's educational system is mandatory through the ninth grade, free to all at all levels including higher education and "promotes the whole individual (including physical education, sports, recreation and artistic education) while explicitly linking education with life, work and production." This is done through what Cubans call emulation, a form of competition where the group works together to win as a collective.

The study calls Cuba's educational feats "impressive." Less than 10 years after the revolution, it had reduced illiteracy by 40 percent, achieving a 96.9 percent literacy rate. Its pupils-to-teacher ratio is now 13.5 in primary school and 15 for all levels of education.

The EFA report refers to the first international comparative study conducted by the Latin American Laboratory for Assessment of Quality in Education (1999). This study measured the levels of achievement in the fields of language, mathematics and associated factors for students in the third and fourth years of primary school in 13 Latin American and Caribbean countries.

The major findings of this report are that "Cuban students achieved the highest scores in Language and Mathematics, and take less time to complete a grade (Advancement Rate). This is the case in all of their schools. Differences in achievement for this country, in terms of gender and socio-cultural levels, are also reduced."

President George W. Bush's program titled the "No Child Left Behind Act" has had the opposite result. It has left not only children behind, but also teachers. The ratio of students per teacher has increased in many schools to over 40 students per instructor. Furthermore, this act has exposed the discrepancy in the educational system here, where low-income children, especially from oppressed groups, will never receive the same quality of education as children in high-wealth districts. The discrepancy is up to $2,000 per year per student.

The act has paved the way to the militarization of low-income schools, which were given two options: either have military recruiters on their grounds to obtain federal funding or risk school closure. Yet the federal government is stonewalling any progress in improving and elevating the quality of education of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged by underfunding the act by $7.5 billion, according to the American Federation of Teachers.

The excuse given is the cost of the Iraq War and the funding of Homeland Security, but in reality it is due to the inherent contradictions in class society. Unlike socialist Cuba, where the revolution considers education and healthcare to be fundamental, the U.S. government deems militarizing young minds more important than elevating the standards of education for all, especially nationally oppressed and low-income children.

According to the American Council on Education, in the $388-billion omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2005 the Department of Education is underfunded by between $780 million and $2.3 billion. More than 84,000 college students are expected to lose Pell Grant eligibility and another 1.2 million will see smaller Pell Grant awards. Those students affected will be from low-income families earning less than $40,000 a year.

The Bush camp is trying to strengthen the immoral and illegal blockade of Cuba. Through its Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, the U.S. government has drafted a blueprint on privatizing all sectors of the Cuban economy that were nationalized after the 1959 revolution.

The nationalization of these sectors provided the revolution with the material foundations to set an example for the world in education and health care. The broad people's movement must stop the Bush administration from trying to undo these great advances.

Reprinted from the Dec. 23, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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