Efficacy and Quality of Cuba's Educational Program
Tensions continue to wax and wane between the two countries, but Cuba's economy has largely stabilized and the situation between Castro's country and the United States is also essentially at an impasse (Suddath 2009). The increased stabilization of the Cuban economy and society has led to many internal changes in the country, however, and these have largely been to the benefit of Cuba and indeed of much of the world. As current research and statistics show, Cuba has not only managed to achieve a modicum of stability under Castro's communist regime, but it has actually achieved levels of success envied by many prosperous capitalist nations.
One of Cuba's singular achievements that demonstrates the prowess of its educational program and the country's basic commitment to learning and the advancement of knowledge is its International Pedagogy Congress, which has been held in Cuba every two years since 1986 and sees huge crowds of scientists and educators from around the world -- largely from Central and South America, though the conference is not limited to these nations -- presenting papers and holding discussions on a staggering variety of topics (CMHA 2011). With nearly ten thousand Cubans having presented papers at this conference over its quarter-century history, the International Pedagogy Congress is not only evidence of the importance attached to knowledge and education in Cuban society, but also provides an opportunity for the country to showcase its substantial educational success (CMHA 2011).
The success of the Cuban educational program is not only visible in the higher echelons of Cuban society, however, where the brightest individuals have been singled out for extensive quality education at the expense of a more equitable system. In fact, both in terms of the success of Cuba's high achievers and the general baseline for its educational system, Cuba's achievements in education have been "noteworthy," to use the word ascribed to the country's basic knowledge levels by UNESCO (UNESCO 2011). As far as Central and South American countries are concerned -- even when compared to the United States and many developed and stable European countries, there are some facts about the Cuban educational situation that makes the suspicion of Cuban credentials almost laughable.
The most current statistics available show that ninety-nine-point-eight percent of all Cubans over the age of fifteen are literate, and that one hundred percent of Cuban citizens between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four are literate (UNESCO 2011). This essentially means that pretty much everyone in the country born or in childhood at the time Castro's revolution took hold and stabilized in the 1970s can read and write, and everyone born from the mid 1980s onward can (UNESCO 2011). As Cuba's population ages, the literacy rate in the country will continue to rise despite the fact that Cuba is already ranked as having the second-highest literacy rate in the world, after Georgia (UNESCO 2011). The United States, by comparison, is ranked twenty-first in the world in terms of literacy, with a literacy rate of ninety-nine percent even (UNESCO 2011). Though this is still a fairly high literacy rate, when one factors in the total population of the United States it is shown that the U.S. educational system fails millions of people when it comes to developing literacy skills.
In terms of the basic education of its people and the encouragement of ongoing learning and discovery, then, Cuba compares quite favorably to the United States. The U.S. certainly devotes more absolute resources to scientific and academic conferences and spends more on education, as well, yet Cuba spends far more proportionately on education (as a percentage of GDP) than does the United States (OCLC 2003; CIA 2011). A comparison of expenditure, however, is not necessarily a measure of the relative importance of certain issues as the scale of the United States economy is simply a different realm than Cuba's.
The immensity of the United States' economy allows the country to spend a great deal, in absolute if not proportional, on the advancement of education for its citizens (OCLC 2003). Cuba is obviously not equipped to provide the same level of spending on education, especially with the level of state spending that is required in other areas given the control that Castro's government has over the vast majority of the country's industry and infrastructure. The overall economic and social situations of these two countries are simply not comparable in a realistic and meaningful manner. A better method of comparing the educational systems in these countries and the governments' perspective on education is to examine the details of the programs themselves in addition to their specific efficacy.
The efficacy of the Cuban and United States' educational systems can be compared in a relatively simple and straightforward manner, especially where high school is concerned. The current estimated completion rate for high school in the United States is seventy-three percent, meaning that more than a quarter of all students who start high school in the U.S. don't end up finishing (Weathersbee 2007). This doesn't even include the students that drop out before the official start of high school. In Cuba, ninety-nine-point-one percent of all students that start high school finish high school, and while figures regarding drop-outs prior to high school are not immediately clear, it is safe to assume that these early drop outs are few and far between (Weathersbee 2007). From these simple overview numbers alone, it is clear that the Cuban educational system is more consistent and effective.
High school and education generally is also far more equitable in Cuba than it is in the United States. While the national average high school completion rate in the U.S. is seventy-three percent, there are some areas where the completion rate is hugely lower. These are most often inner-city areas with large minority populations or rural schools that do not receive adequate support form their community or state governments, but regardless of the exact cause or causes of this disparity it makes it clear that the United States is highly inconsistent in the quality and effectiveness of it education. In the Detroit school district with its heavy African-American population, for example, only twenty-five percent of students that enroll in high school ultimately graduate, and there are many other statistics of a racial disparity at work in the United States' educational system (Weathersbee 2007; NCES 2010).
In Cuba, on the other hand, the school system is operated by the federal government and as such is highly centralized and highly consistent, and receives a great deal of support from parents as well as from the community at large (Weathersbee 2007). The task of creating a comprehensive and consistent educational system is easier in Cuba than in the United States, certainly, given the smaller population and the vastly smaller geographical concentration of Cuba's people, but this can by no means be considered the sole reason behind Cuba's success in education. There is a strong commitment to achieving high educational standards in Cuba, and the Cuban government has also found successful methods for actually living up to this commitment rather than simply paying it lip service.
A Comparison of Delivery Methods
While the effects of the educational systems in the United States and Cuba are relatively easy to compare using the above statistics, a qualitative comparison of how the educational systems in the two countries operate is somewhat more difficult to provide. There are several reasons for this, including the inherent subjectivities of different reporting agencies in describing the experiences and operations of education in the two countries -- these are not concretely and discretely measurable items, as are completion rates and literacy figures. In addition, the high degree of variance that exists in high school experiences and educational offerings in the United States makes it difficult to perform a truly meaningful qualitative comparison. In what can be ascertained about the high school experience and curricula offered in the two countries, however, a great deal of similarities can be observed.
In the United States, high school can begin in the ninth or tenth grade, when students are typically fourteen or fifteen years of age (Hammack 2004). The high school curriculum in the country consists of a wide range of topics, with specific requirements in language, mathematics, writing, life sciences, physical sciences, and the students' choice of certain elective artistic and/or technical subjects (Hammack 2004). There is also an increasing emphasis on physical education, largely in response to the growing obesity rates and health problems of the United States' population, but in general this still supports the trend in United States' schools to provide a diverse and comprehensive education (Hammack 2004).
In this regard, the schools in the United States are very similar to the schools in Cuba. The same type of comprehensive education taking place across a broad and inclusive range of subject matter is the goal of all schools in…