Cuba is the country in Latin America that has invested most in education. About 13 percent of the state budget goes to education, which is the highest in the world. The general level of education has been raised step by step after the 1959 revolution. An extensive literacy campaign in 1961 largely eradicated illiteracy. At the same time, adult schools were set up all over the country, not least in the countryside. In the late 1980s, almost one-third of the population studied full-time or half-time at various types of educational institutions, from primary school, high school to universities and other higher education institutions.
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An important element of Cuban education policy is that studies are to a large extent combined with practical professional experience. This is mainly done in secondary schools in rural areas. The teaching profession is of high status and the country sends out many teachers annually to make assistance efforts in other parts of the third world.
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In the 1970s, the goal was set for all Cubans to have at least six years of primary school. That goal was considered to have been achieved by the end of the same decade. The state’s objectives have subsequently been gradually increased, first to ensure that all Cubans have a general education equivalent to at least nine years of compulsory education. By the end of the 1980s, 82 percent of the working population had reached this level, and 40 percent had upper secondary education (12 years of study). About 12 percent then had university education or equivalent, which was high numbers compared to other Latin American countries.
Prioritization of the education sector (along with the health sector) has continued, although budgetary austerity also hit the education sector in the 1990s following the collapse of communism in Soviet and Eastern Europe. The number of pupils, which rose record-breaking in the 1970s and 1980s, dropped drastically in the 1990s. This is especially true of university education, where the number of students more than halved.
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In 2016, 72 percent of Cuba’s working population had at least 12 years of education. The corresponding figure for people with university education was 22 percent in the same year. Simply put, it can be said that the country has a very well-educated population. The level of education in the country can compare with countries such as Sweden, England and the US.
In 2001, the government began a new program, the so-called universalization (Spanish la universalización de la universidad) of the university. This reform meant that university studies would spread to the entire population. New university branches emerged and between 2001–07 the number of students enrolled at the universities and its branches increased from 145,000 to 744,000.
Since then, however, the number has dropped drastically and was only 166,000 in 2016. This can partly be explained by the fact that the quality of the education dropped and that the reform proved to be very costly.