By Esther Borges Moya/ Radio Cadena Agramonte.
Since the very moment young Fidel Castro became a Revolutionary leader, he was already aware that it was necessary to make a radical change in the social state of affairs of the then Cuba.
In the face of decades of ignorance and submission, knowledge should be a spur to tackle misery and desperation. Therefore, it was not surprising Fidel’s announcement of an all-embracing program during the trial following the Moncada rebel attack, in which the young Revolutionary denounced Cuba’s critical panorama and presented the alternatives to reverse it. Implementing these alternatives, once they reached victory, was a priority for the fledgling Revolution.
After succeeding with the Literacy Campaign and the mammoth scope of the “Yo si puedo” educational program, which has benefited even people in old Europe, it is a must to review some data:
In the 50’s, half of the school-aged children did not attend school. How could they, if there only were 17,000 classrooms when there should be 35,000?
No wonder ‘círculos infantiles’ (daycare centers) that were founded on April 10th, 1961, or schools for children with special education needs. Then there were some creches.
Besides, there were 844 schools with 2, 832 teachers and 19, 075 pupils in the westernmost island of the Caribbean.
However, in only one year (from 1960 to 1961), the Cuban Revolution created 15,000 new classrooms in rural areas, and the enrolment of children in elementary schools had rose to more than 1,1 million.
At present, there are 1,139 daycare centers, 396 special schools (40,176 pupils attending them) and 8,999 elementary schools (with over 820,000 students). On the other hand, the student enrolment in pre-school education is now reaching 123, 977 children. I would like to emphasize that 99.7 percent of the child population is attending elementary school.
The first training school for special education teachers was set up in 1967, and Fidel Castro officially opened the Dora Alonso School for autistic children and teenagers on January 4th, 2002.
The giant educational work drawn by the Cuban Revolution started with the eradication of illiteracy, which was key to take a step up the ladder of human development and boost the scholarship system.
Higher education was so elitist and limited that 1,331 students graduated in the only three Cuban universities in the 1959-1960 school year: Havana (founded in 1728), Las Villas (1952) and Oriente (1947).
The Ministry of Higher Education (MES) and its network of 28 universities were established in the 1976-1977 academic year.
In addition, the nation also founded Med Schools and Pedagogic Universities which were attached to their respective ministries. On the other hand, the Revolutionary Armed Forces (Defence Ministry), the National Institute of Sport, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER) and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Culture also founded their respective academies or higher schools. Moreover, the scientific degree system was also created.
At present, there are 67 tertiary educational institutions, and the Communist Party also has its "Ñico López" Advanced Party School.
A total of 104 majors –based on a wide-raging professional profile combining instruction, education, theory and practice - can be studied in our universities nowadays.
The enrolment of the last school year was over 470,000 students, which represents 40.8 percent of the Cuban population whose age ranges from 18 to 24; 58 percent out of this total are women.
Up to date, over 11,000 professionals have concluded their doctoral degrees, and 71,976 are already masters, 1,425 of whom are foreigners.
More than one million Cuban students and 33,511 foreigners from 126 countries have graduated in Cuban universities over the last years.
EDUCATIONAL FACTS IN CAMAGUEY, NOW AND THEN
Camagüey is Cuba’s largest province (it occupies 14.2 percent of its total territory), although it has the lowest population density, with 50.1 inhabitants per square kilometer. However, it was huge in 1959 because it also included Ciego de Avila province, and areas of Las Tunas and Sancti Spíritus provinces. But education was as poor as in the rest of the country.
Its current situation is rather different, for there are eight types of education, with 702 centers, and an enrolment of over 139,500 students. Camagüey’s Ignacio Agramonte University was the first set up by the Cuban Revolution, but today this province has six tertiary education centers with over 4,370 teachers and professors who teach in 21 faculties and 57 majors. More than 34,500 students –including 855 foreigners from 50 countries- are attending this university.
It is meaningful that public health and education represent 69 percent of the provincial budget, which clearly indicates the priority the Cuban State gives to these two sectors.
This is neither vain pride nor trivial outcomes. This is the work of millions of Cubans who have made come true the dreams of José Martí, Julio Antonio Mella, Enrique José Varona and a great many other persons who anonymously fought for centuries so that education could be not a privilege, but a right.
So that what happened in the past does not occur again, Fidel Castro said on January 23rd, 1961: “…who knows what brilliant brains were wasted, what shining talents failed to give the world all that fertile minds can contribute to welfare of their fellow men. Who knows how many lights failed to shine, what flames were never kindled, but which nonetheless will burn tomorrow with all the force of which they are capable.”
And such welfare, such gift cultivated and polished, has become an offer of peace and love to other peoples.
This is the work of a Revolution that has spread its light beyond its borders, and has made this small country a reference for it has grown immensely despite adversities.