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Posted August 04, 2003 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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By TRACEY EATON | The Dallas Morning News

HAVANA – Near-record numbers of college students are expected to flock to Cuban classrooms this fall in what Fidel Castro calls the most “colossal educational and cultural revolution” ever.

Tens of thousands of students dropped out in the late 1990s, refusing to pursue a professional career that would pay less than $20 a month. So Cuban universities got creative. Instead of trying to persuade students to attend established universities, they decided to take college to them, offering classes at more than 400 new, makeshift locations around the country.

University student brigades also visited the homes of 40,000 people under age 30 and asked them to go back to class. Most of them accepted, said Fernando Vecino Alegret, minister of higher education.

“We discovered that there were thousands of young people who were not studying or working,” Mr. Vecino said. “Many of those young people had become marginal members of society with the potential of becoming delinquents. And that was a problem that society had to solve.”

The educational push is one of many steps officials are taking to try to ensure young people’s loyalty a half century after the July 26, 1953, start of the Cuban revolution.


Youth are key to the socialist government’s survival, analysts say, yet many grew disillusioned in the ‘90s. They dropped out of society. They left school. And some turned to the black market to survive.
In response, the Cuban universities began changing their approach two years ago. They stepped up recruiting. They started offering more courses in accounting, computer science, tourism and business a curriculum that better fits Cuba’s changing economy. And they say all that is now paying off.

University enrollment, which bottomed out at 125,000 in 1998-99, is expected to exceed 300,000 this fall, approaching its record of 310,000 in 1987-88.

Critics say more people may be taking college classes, but that doesn’t mean the graduates will wind up with good jobs or prosperity because the economy still has fundamental flaws.

“Cuban youth are entirely focused on finding a way out of the country,” said a U.S. official who requested anonymity.

Eddy Alfonso Rogers, an aspiring university student from Guanabo, east of Havana, is upbeat about the future. He studies computer science and wants to become a Web page designer. His class scores are high at 99.8 percent, but he said competition to get into the university is tough.

“There are a lot of students at my level,” the 18-year-old said.

Other teenagers are disenchanted.

“The unhappiness of the populace increases every day,” said Elizardo Sanchez, a veteran political dissident.

Hundreds of young Cubans some of them angry, some of them carefree let off steam at a recent open-air rock concert in Havana. They danced, slammed into each other and listened to songs with such themes as youth anxiety, isolation and divorce.

Many teenagers “feel they’re trapped in a very small world,” said Frank Batista, 20, a singer with a group called Rice and Beans.

“I don’t know what kind of future I have here,” said another singer, Raidel Bas Cantillo. “It’s hard to do anything about anything.”

Staying upbeat

Government supporters say most people remain content. Most people support the government and more are taking part in politics, said Kenia Serrano Puig, 29, a deputy in Cuba’s national assembly.
She is also a leader of the Union of Young Communists and says membership has jumped from about 300,000 five years ago to 520,000.

The group’s leaders, she says, are doing more to make sure that young people feel like they are part of the revolution, even though many of the original rebels who fought against the Batista dictatorship in the 1950s are now in their 60s and 70s.

“Our aim is that Cuban society should depend more and more on collective leadership,” Ms. Serrano said. “Each Cuban should know how to be a commander in chief.”

Cubans must also be educated, Mr. Vecino said. And toward that end, universities target all young people, including the poor and disadvantaged, blacks and those of mixed race, he said.

There are a range of educational programs. Some students take college classes during off-hours at 400 existing junior and senior high schools. Others go to existing colleges, including the University of Havana.

Still others, including former prostitutes, black-market vendors, dropouts and others, attend special schools for social workers. While studying, they work in their own communities for two years, telling young people to stay away from crime and vice. In return they are allowed to enter college without passing the entrance exam.

More than 14,000 of these students have graduated in the last two years and have gone on to guaranteed jobs, university officials say.

“Selfish, capitalist” societies don’t offer the same opportunities, Mr. Castro told a crowd of graduating social workers on July 21.

“Our people are achieving justice.”

  1. Follow up post #1 added on April 15, 2004 by stephen c. holler, ph.d.

    I enjoyed this piece and discovering
    this journal.  I will give a talk at the
    University of Havana June 21 or 22 on
      “University and Revolution in Russia
      and Cuba”  which will compare 19th
      century Russian revolutionary student
    bodies with elements of Casto’ heroic
    efforts at the Law School.  Other elements will be contrasted.  Any ideas
    or help you can give me would be deeply
    appreciated.  I already have some good
    bibliography.  I hope that you will stay
    in communication with me.  I intend to
    bring Ricardo Alarcon and Fidel Castro
      some good books.  Thankyou Fidel,
    Ricardo, and all Cuban students for your
    continued heroism.
        I teach Latin American Liberation
    Theology at a small local Catholic college.  I also teach Marxist based
      philosophy,  and courses against
    Capitalist Globalization.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on April 15, 2004 by stephen c. holler, ph.d.

    NOTA BENE -    I will end my talk with
      remarks on how USA university students are captive to a cosumer-
    materialist individualist curriculum and
    life-style,  and with some hopeful
      notes on how Cuba intends to steer
    Cuban university students away from
      the seduction and lure of USA
        culture of capitalism and suburban
      stupor.    I need your help on this.
          Muchas Gracias.  Venceremos

  3. Follow up post #3 added on December 17, 2005 by palma

    hi good day please i am a nigerian secondary school graduate who wishes to study medicine and surgery in cuba please could you help me out i have excellent grades from my final secondary school examinations and i promise not to disappoint your prestigeous college if given this chance. bellow is my e-mail address. i would be anxiously waiting for a repply. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) god bless you and cuba.

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