argument top image

What role did Fidel Castro play in the Cuban Revolution?
Back to question


< (4 of 4)

Fidel Castro spearheaded a successful literacy program

Fidel Castro launched a nationwide literacy program in Cuba to target the educational element of the wide class divide between Cubans living in rural communities versus Cubans living in urban communities.
< (1 of 1)

The Argument

Prior to Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, there were significant socio-economic disparities between Cubans living in rural communities versus those living in urban communities. Illiteracy was widespread, with twenty-three percent of students nationwide not knowing how to read or write. In rural areas, the illiteracy rate was estimated to be forty-one percent. Twelve percent of children between the ages of fifteen and nineteen years old were enrolled in and actively attended secondary school. [1] Wealthy Cubans sent their children to expensive and highly elite private schools, while low-income families sent their children to public schools that provided a significantly lower standard of education. This inequality allowed Castro to make education reform a tenet of his manifesto. Fidel Castro announced his campaign to “combat ignorance and illiteracy on his island” to the General Assembly of the United Nations” [1] in 1960, which targeted Cubans who were economically and socially disadvantaged. In less than a year, the illiteracy rate dropped to less than four percent and Cuba was declared “a territory free of illiteracy.” [1] Castro’s literacy program also helped to establish a culture of learning where there previously was none, in which young people in Cuba could see the importance and the value of an education. Castro’s literacy program was unique because the facilitators and volunteers who spearheaded the project shared “equally in the daily work of the rural home… the volunteers promoted solidarity through shared labor, and this enabled the workers to develop the motivation and trust necessary for historically marginalized students to learn to read and write what was personally relevant and important to them.” [1] It provided “an inter-culturally recognizable form of literacy that does not ignore local literacy practice and is contextualized and adapted easily to local circumstances and realities,” [1] and as a result, was very successful. Literacy eventually became associated with empowerment, and education was suddenly a pathway to both personal and national emancipation. “The campaign empowered young people to believe that they could change the world. It broke down barriers between the cities and countryside and contributed to the unity and solidarity of the revolution itself.” [2] Castro’s legacy is evident in modern Cuba, where “education remains completely free – from pre-school to post-graduate study. Around 13 per cent of the GDP is spent on education. By contrast the UK and the US spend a mere 5.6 per cent.” [3]

Counter arguments

Although Fidel Castro’s role in the Cuban Revolution did improve the country’s education system, "The academic consensus seems to be that Fidel Castro’s government did increase the literacy rate of the island’s population, at the same time that it clearly used the literacy campaign for propaganda purposes.” [4] Even the structure of the program itself was designed to strengthen the tenets of Castro’s revolutionary agenda. Educated, wealthy, and young facilitators travelled to rural communities to teach poor, disadvantaged Cubans in rural areas how to read and write, therefore experiencing the plight of the lower class firsthand. Simultaneously, these marginalized rural Cubans were witnessing what appeared to be their government’s dedication to their happiness and well-being, thus creating a dynamic in which poor Cubans felt indebted and loyal to their governments, while wealthy Cubans felt galvanized and eager for radical change. The reading materials provided by the literacy campaign were political, with “The teacher’s manual including 76 pages of chapters outlining the glories of Castro’s revolution and the dangers of imperialism and just 20 pages of suggested vocabulary words. Instead of the usual ABCs, the student’s manual featured “F” for Fidel, “R” for his brother, Raúl, and “V” for victory.” [5] Although education in Cuba is state owned and free, it only teaches students material that is pro-government. A popular joke in Cuba is that “everybody can read, but there is nothing to read.” [6] It can be argued that Castro didn’t actually significantly improve education on the island of Cuba for a couple of reasons, one being that “Cuba’s literacy rate was already among the highest-ranking in Latin America when Castro took over,” [7] and likely would have continued to improve without his interference. The second reason is that “'you can’t divorce (the literacy campaign) from the political agenda that Castro had,' said Yuleisy Mena, a Cuba native and high school history teacher in Miami who has been interviewing participants in the 1961 literacy campaign as part of her Ph.D. dissertation at Florida International University. 'This was a mass mobilization used for indoctrination.'" [4] The campaign did not actually educate students, but instead provided them with false, misleading, and biased information.



[P1] There were severe class disparities on the island of Cuba in regards to education prior to when Fidel Castro came to power. [P2] Fidel Castro spearheaded a nationwide literacy program that taught children in low-income, rural areas how to read and write. [P3] The literacy program also helped to establish a culture of learning, in which children were being taught to read and write within a context that was personally relevant to their lives and living situations. [P4] Literacy was viewed as a pathway to emancipation and personal freedom, and education is now highly valued on the island of Cuba even today.

Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Thursday, 30 Jul 2020 at 02:59 UTC