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Getting a Reading on High Literacy in Cuba

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Getting a Reading on High Literacy in Cuba

Kate Moody visits with schoolchildren in Cuba.

It’s a question Kate Moody (Ed.D., 1993; Ed.M., 1991) has pondered for years: Why does Cuba, a relatively poor country burdened with an embargo for the past 50 years, enjoy a literacy rate among the highest in the world—higher than that of the United States?
“Not only does Cuba have, by UN estimates, a nearly universal literacy rate, but 94 percent of its students graduate from high school,” says Moody, a former reading teacher and media and communications expert who has written several books, including Growing Up on Television and The Children of Telstar: Early Experiments in School Television Production. “Any reading teacher or researcher has to ask: How do they do this? It’s hard to get firsthand information, because Cuba has been sealed off from trade and most tourism by U.S. citizens for decades.”
 
Moody, who is writing a book about education in Cuba, has been visiting and studying the island nation since 2002. She has observed schools (including those in the Western province of Pinar del Rio, with a retired Cuban physics professor as her mentor) and interviewed scores of teachers and students, as well as some of the pioneers of Cuba’s educational reforms.
 
Her research is still a work in progress, but some images are taking shape. Expectations for students are high. Curricular material is rigorous and challenging— for instance, all high school students take chemistry and physics. Quality education is free to all students, beginning with the circulo (infant day care centers) and continuing through college and even medical school. And the concept of “work-study” is evidenced throughout.
 
“Students are expected to do some kind of meaningful work while they’re students, and as they enter the workplace, they’re also expected to keep on learning,” Moody says. “Cuba is fascinating for its clear educational successes in the midst of socioeconomic difficulties. The schools are successful—and it’s always a good idea to take a careful look at a success story.”
 
Moody says her next Cuba trip, after hurricane season has passed, will be to the city of Santa Clara and the provinces to the east of it. “I think it’s important to look beyond Havana.”
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