Education of students with disabilities in Cuba

By Elsie Alejandrina Pérez Serrano, Professor and Tutor of the Department of Language, Education and Communication Sciences at the International Iberoamerican University, UNINI, and author of a background paper on disability in Cuba prepared for the GEM 2020 Report Latin America and the Caribbean – Inclusion and Education: All means all

This blog discusses some of the core findings of a background paper that we carried out detailing progress and challenges of inclusive education in Cuba for the 2020 GEM Regional Report for Latin America and the Caribbean- Inclusion and education: All means all.

Education in Cuba is a state policy and as a result the government places great emphasis on its financing. These efforts have led to a residual illiteracy of 0.2 percent, 10.1 years of average schooling, and to 10% of GDP being spent on education since 2004.

In 2020, the Statistical Department of the Ministry of Education in Cuba affirmed that 4% of the population had a disability. In 1996, a Council for the Care of Persons with Disabilities (CONAPED) was created, chaired by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, which developed the National Action Plan for the Care of Persons with Disabilities in 2006. There is a legal framework and public policies that regulate the provision of education for persons with disabilities in the country that go beyond operational standards and that propose necessary didactical, methodological and pedagogical approaches to be used. However, the legal framework is dispersed and articulations and updates to the regulations are needed.

Continuous diagnosis and evaluation

The progress that has been achieved in the protection of rights of persons with disabilities is based on an increasing knowledge of this population, their particularities and demands in multiple areas such as education, health, employment, housing, access to cultural spaces, sports, media, transportation and accessibility, among others.

Educational policies call for early identification of learners’ needs, managed by a specialized institution, the Center for Diagnosis and Orientation, which is based in each of the 169 municipalities of the fifteen provinces of the country and the special municipality of the Isla de la Juventud. The process of identification is also managed by organisations such as the Psycho-pedagogical Commission in each elementary school and the Diagnostic Support Commission working in special schools. The Entraga Pedagogica (Pedagogical Delivery) that takes place at the end of each grade, cycle and education level and focuses on ensuring feedback flows from outgoing teachers to new teachers, also helps identify needs at the same time.

Both commissions guarantee the participation of teachers and families in the process of identification, detection and psycho-pedagogical evaluation of the demands, not only of students with special educational needs but of the entire student body. The commissions oversee the organization of an educational response that is suited to the needs of all learners.

Curriculum, pedagogical material, educational modalities

According to the new GEM Report website, PEER, the Cuban legal framework fully considers children and adolescents with disabilities as persons with individual rights and promotes their education in different settings.

Of significance is that special schools and inclusive schools coexist in the country. Out of 10,598 schools in the country in 2019, 342 (3%) are special schools. The curriculum and teaching materials used in special schools are the same as in regular schools, although are flexible so that they can be adapted to the specific needs of each learner. Special schools are conceived as resource centers which help with the transition to regular mainstream education. There are transit and exit strategies designed to help learning continuity from one level and one school to the next for students with disabilities enrolled in special schools.

In 2019, the number of students enrolled in different centers was: 102,477 in regular schools, 33,639 in special schools, 1070 in technical and professional education, and 180 in higher education. Students with intellectual disabilities show the lowest levels of enrolment in regular schools and the highest in escuelas de oficios, which offer vocational training, 51 of which operate in the country, with over 4,000 students enrolled. According to data from UNICEF Cuba from 2020, 15% of the students enrolled in escuelas de oficios are graduates of special schools.

Unity between the school, the family and the community

Among the pillars of basic education of nine compulsory grades -six of primary and three of secondary- is the unit of influence between the educational agents of the home, the school and the community. In the midst of the crisis generated by Covid-19, this unity and collaboration has enabled learning continuity in homes with different distance learning modalities. One of these is Teleclases, which broadcasted education lessons via TV for students during lockdown. Teleclases have a piece dedicated to special education. Sign language interpretation is provided.

Aside from the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the main challenge that we identified for Cuban schools is to improve the process of teaching and learning in order to empower the capacities of all students. Linked to this is professional training, because although all teachers and directors have pedagogical training and trained support teachers are available, the preparation of teachers, from early childhood to higher education, for the education of students with disabilities is limited.

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