Universal Preschool in Cuba
Calls for universal preschool are everywhere, but our country has not delivered. Oddly enough, a model for the United States can be found just 90 miles to the south, in our neighbor, Cuba. That island nation has been acclaimed by UNESCO as one of a few countries to provide universal preschool for all, and cites Cuban education the best in Latin America.
As a lifelong educator from a rich nation, I wanted to see first-hand what teaching systems look like in a poor country that has demonstrated world-class commitment to education. In 2008 I received a travel license from the US Department of Treasury, and have traveled to Cuba regularly ever since. A question: If Cuba, a poor country, can provide early childhood education for all, why can’t we—rather, why haven’t we?
In Cuba, the child’s education begins before birth, when health and educational potential are nurtured by careful attention to the mother’s physical and emotional well-being, and provided to everyone at no cost. When a woman becomes pregnant she is expected to visit her family doctor to begin a program of pre-natal health care, including at least twelve visits. Care includes consultations on pregnancy and the woman’s psychological and physiological readiness to be a mom. The family doctor will reinforce the idea of the normalness of preventive healthcare measures—rather than thinking of healthcare only as a response to illness or crisis.
Other programs support family members as caregivers and empower them as the child’s first teachers. A program called Educa a Tu Hijo, or Educate Your Child, provides coaching about childcare for parents and others close to the child. The parents each receive paid family leave from their jobs.
Beginning at age six weeks, a Cuban child may attend the Círculo Infantil, or Infant Circle, in the neighborhood or parent’s workplace. The círculo is an informal daycare center founded to free women to work outside the home. The government recognized that young children need a safe place to stay during the day. Children may stay all day, while learning about personal hygiene, and sometimes numbers and letters. They eat, sleep, sing and—mostly—play.
Preescolar, or preschool, begins at age five when all children are required to attend for one year before entering primary school. Like daycare, it is free. I visited the preschool of my Cuban friend’s five year-old son in Havana arriving at nine o’clock, and was greeted by fourteen children and their teacher lined up on the front steps, waving and smiling. Cuban youth are taught how to greet a visitor with civility and respect, especially a foreign one.
The school day begins with Saludos, or greetings, then twenty minutes of gym, then Lengua Materna, or Language, Phonics, Math, Recess, Natural Science, Play with Manipulative Objects, Clean-Up Time, Lunch, Naptime (90 minutes), Physical Education, Art, Independent Activities, and Computer Lab. To prepare for naptime, all the children’s tables were pushed to the end of the rectangular room and fourteen catres, or folding cots for sleeping were set up.
The preschool experience in Cuba melds national healthcare and the educational programs described above. According to the World Bank, Cuba spends 13% of its national budget on education, a greater percentage than any other country. Clearly the U.S. has the financial resources to provide free and universal pre-school education for all. The question is: Do we have the political will? #
© Kate Moody, Ed.D., 2018
Dr. Kate Moody is a lifelong educator and author. Her book, The People’s Professors of Cuba: How the Nation Achieved Education for All, was recently released by Lexington Books.
To order with a 50% discount, see the publisher’s website: CLICK HERE, and enter the discount code: MOODY50.