Late Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s focus on the importance of education was among the issues highlighted as his life and contributions were discussed at a colloquium held at the University of The West Indies Cave Hill Campus, as part of African Awareness Month celebrations last Friday.
Lecturer at the University Of Havana, Dr Marlėn Sánchez, who spoke on the topic, A True Cultural and Socio-Economic Revolution: Culture, Sports, Health and Education in Fidel’s Cuba, said the revolutionary leader had made education a priority as he shaped the island’s development.
In her presentation, she outlined Cuba’s history and the historical timeline in which it undertook its path of socialism and development from the 1960s to 2017. Dr Sánchez pointed out that Castro eliminated illiteracy, nationalized teaching, reformed the universities of Cuba, developed special needs education and university for all through educational TV channels, and created arts schools in all providences of the country.
“Fidel realized the importance of education, but he also merged it with culture and science,” she noted, providing statistics to show how Castro’s efforts to improve literacy rates had reaped success.
She noted that prior to 1960, Cuba had a very high illiteracy rate, but that was significantly changed with the creation of 1,083 day cares, 9,433 schools, 360 schools catering for special needs students, 43 universities, 37 art schools and 17 sports schools under Castro’s leadership.
During the discussion, Harrison College Sixth Form student Leah Kumar asked the panel how Cuba was able to achieve sustainable development when it had isolated itself from the rest of the region.
In response, both Dr Sánchez and Cuban Ambassador to Barbados Dr Francisco Fernández noted that Cuba had done so through tourism initially, but later through Castro’s implementation of several policies and incentives, including a focus on health, during which he established the Latin American Medicine Schools as well as created a public health national system.
In doing so, they said, Castro laid the foundation for Cuba to be a hub for health tourism in the region.
With his passing on November 25, 2016, Dr Sánchez said, the Spanish-speaking country faces several challenges. She identified a major issue as developing “a clear and concise policy path which is consistent and coherent and one that follows the social achievements that the country has achieved from 1959-2017.”
During the discussion, coordinator of the Caribbean Chapter of the International Network in Defence of Humanity David Comissiong also spoke about Castro not only as a brilliant revolutionary, but also about his personal life, and highlighted his achievements, not only personally but for Cuba as a whole.