The experience of the Cuban Revolution showed that one of the essential conditions to overcome economic and cultural backwardness was the creation of a system of public education. The country had many problems: insufficient development of productive forces, lack of natural resources, dependence on agriculture and foreign trade, lack of technical and managerial personnel as well as a severe economic blockade. To solve these problems, profound social transformations such as the elimination of illiteracy, the development of the education system, and the training of national specialists were required.
In the first year after the revolution’s victory, the government headed by Fidel Castro began to create a truly popular education system. Among the revolution’s goals, “immediate initiation of an extensive campaign against illiteracy” was named (Roberg, 2007, p. 783). Already in January-February 1959, the Ministry of Education and provincial and municipal education departments were reorganized (De Jesús Pérez-Cruz). The reorganization was based on the principles of collective leadership, personal responsibility for the assigned task, and democratization of management.
Simultaneously with the reorganization of the administration of public education, the Government of Cuba has implemented a general reform of the education system. The law established that primary, secondary, vocational, and higher education were free. Moreover, the rural population got access to education through a comprehensive system of scholarships, primarily for the children of needy families of workers and peasants living in remote rural and mountainous areas. By providing scholarships to students in need, the State fully assumed the costs of education, food, clothing, and housing.
The methods of the literacy campaign were the establishment of literacy commissions and municipal education councils. In collaboration with public bodies, these organizations saw to it that every child and every illiterate adult was enrolled in school or took an educational course. From the beginning of the campaign, it was evident that it was impossible to conduct it with the help of professional teachers alone. Tens of thousands of Cubans responded to the call of the State to take part in the literacy campaign, voluntarily expressing a desire to teach reading and writing to illiterate people in their free time. These were the first volunteer teachers who began to be called people’s literacy distributors. Students and students of educational institutions united in brigades named after Conrado Benitez and joined the army of “alfabetisadors.” Slogans were put forward in the country: “If you know, learn, if you don’t know, learn!” and “It’s not a shame to be illiterate in 1961, but in 1962 it’s a shame!” (Abel, 2017, p. 35). The literacy campaign had a truly mass and all-embracing character.
The campaign results were staggering: in a short while, a country where about a sixth of people were illiterate could boast literacy levels equal to those of developed countries. At the start of the campaign, the population of Cuba was a little more than 6 million people, of whom about a million could not read and write, and this number went up to 47 % in rural areas (Abel, 2017). As a result of the campaign, 707,212 adults were taught to read and write, and the literacy level in the country increased up to 96% (Abel, 2017). Moreover, the quality of education improved as along with the increase of the number of schools, other educational institutions such as vocational schools and technological institutes were established.
Assessing the significance of the campaign, one should note that it had two main objectives. The first was to teach reading and writing, and the second, no less important, to involve hundreds of thousands of Cubans in the socio-economic life; both these tasks were successfully completed. During the campaign, close collaboration of State institutions and the broad masses gave birth to a truly national spirit, which stipulated further unity of Cuban people. Moreover, the campaign’s successful completion was an important prerequisite for the systematic development of primary and secondary education and created conditions for the gradual reduction of disparities between different levels of vocational training.
Abel, Carolyn Davidson, and Charles Frederick Abel. “Early Literacy in Cuba: Lessons for America.” Texas Journal of Literacy Education, no. 5, vol. 1, 2017, pp. 33-43.
De Jesús Pérez-Cruz, Felipe. “La Campaña Nacional de Alfabetización en Cuba.” VARONA, no. 53, 2011, pp. 10-23.
Roberg, Jeffrey L., and Alyson Kuttruff. “Cuba: Ideological Success or Ideological Failure.” Hum. Rts. Q., no. 29, 2007, p 779-786.