Cuba’s literacy is model for U.S.

Efforts to improve literacy in this country as measured by scores on tests of international competition have been largely unimpressive.  That’s why it may be instructive to look to Cuba (“Bernie’s Cuba Illiteracy,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 25).  Prior to the 1959 revolution, the illiteracy rate for those over the age of 10 was 23.6 percent. At last count, only 3 percent of Cubans over age 15 are illiterate.

The dramatic turnaround was the result of making teaching a highly desirable profession, with wages only somewhat lower than what physicians earn and about the same as in other professions.  Hundreds of university students were mobilized to reach out to the lowest-income and most marginalized groups in Cuban society.  Special teacher-training schools were created to produce teachers to work in isolated rural areas under difficult conditions.

The paradox, of course, is that although more Cubans are literate, they can read only what the state dictates. But I wonder what would happen if we adopted some of the instructional reforms that have been so effective in improving literacy.

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4 Replies to “Cuba’s literacy is model for U.S.”

  1. Not sure the Cuban literacy rate is that impressive. The US literacy rate for 2019 for those over 15 was 99% vs. Cuba’s 97%. And, I would guess that, unlike the US, Cuba has relatively few immigrants and even fewer who come to Cuba with zero literacy. For a poor nation, a 97% literacy rate is excellent. But, too many differences between the US and Cuba for Cuba to be a relevant model for US education policy.


  2. Labor Lawyer: Cuba’s progress has to be measured differently because of the rate of improvement in such a short period of time. Prior to Castro, the rural areas of the country in particular were known for their appalling illiteracy. But by making education a top priority, Castro changed matters. Of course, as I noted, Cubans have paid a high price because they can read only what the state says they can.


  3. Cuba has been so demonized by the US that we may not realize other countries have continued to travel to and enjoy the food and culture of the country. My father was there during WW2 and I used to pore over the glamorous photos he brought back. It’s hard to know what to think about statistics and reports showing positive things about Cuba when most of our knowledge comes from a few scenes in The Godfather.


  4. dkhatt: It’s hard to get a true picture of Cuba, although what is undeniable is that there is no freedom of speech. As a result, the impressive increase in literacy is offset by the lack of a free press.


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